The Battle of Waterloo: Taking a look at how the local rivalry has been re-ignited

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File Photo/ by Garrison Oosterhof

Wilfrid Laurier University’s varsity football games against the Western Mustangs usually create the highest amount of excitement for Golden Hawk fans.

The games between Western and Laurier feature a ton of passion from both players and fans, and the rivalry has seemingly gotten bigger and better every year.

However, the Golden Hawks’ rivalry with the University of Waterloo has the potential to overtake Laurier’s rivalry with Western in the future.

The games between the two neighbouring schools are promoted as “The Battle of Waterloo” and although the ‘Battle’ hasn’t garnered the same attention as football games against Western in recent times, the rivalry is making a strong comeback.

The Battle of Waterloo has now become a full-fledged competition between the Hawks and the University of Waterloo Warriors. The schools keep track of the result of every Battle of Waterloo game throughout the year, and whoever has the better record at the end is presented with a trophy and more importantly, bragging rights.

“The Battle of Waterloo has been promoted as that since the beginning of time. But this series [between the two schools] really began through Roly Webster, a Laurier alum who is the Director of Athletics and Recreation at the University of Waterloo.

Two and a half years ago, we sat at Mel’s Diner with myself, Roly Webster, and the two football head coaches from the two teams. We discussed that the Battle of Waterloo has always been a big matchup in football, but we wanted to expand it to all the varsity sports,” Peter Baxter, Director of Athletics and Recreation at Laurier, said.

“It’s something that both [Laurier and Waterloo] athletic departments are helping market to students. We want to build [the series] over a three to five-year period and hopefully we can sell out all the varsity games that are played between the two schools.”

The competition officially began at the start of the 2017-18 school year and it was Laurier who came out on top at the end with 11 wins, four losses and four draws overall to win the series.

Even though football season is over, there are still plenty of ‘Battles’ left in the 2018-19 season. A total of four basketball games and two hockey games are remaining between the two universities.

The Golden Hawks are currently leading the Battle of Waterloo for 2018-19 with seven wins, five losses and a draw as they look to defend their Battle of Waterloo throne.

The hype behind the Battle of Waterloo has been intensified not only because of the competition itself, but also because of the marketing done by both schools.

“We sit down in the summertime with the marketing teams and they come up with ways to make [the rivalry] fun. It’s just a way to get people talking about the rivalry and trying to generate some excitement around it. Even when we have the matches between the schools, we try our best to get the fans engaged in the event itself,” Baxter explained.

The tremendous marketing effort has been put on display especially through social media.

The Laurier Athletics Instagram account has featured numerous videos involving the mascots from both schools and the mischief between them has provided a lot of entertainment for both sets of fans.

The launch of the Battle of Waterloo competition shows a clear intent from both schools of re-igniting a rivalry that was more prevalent than ever in the late 1990s.

“In football, we used to play the opening game of the season on Labor Day Monday against Waterloo.

We used to share a stadium and of course that game would be full of students every year. 20 years ago, Waterloo was winning the Yates Cup in 1997 and 1999, and they beat us in the final in 1999. They beat us in a capacity, homecoming, type of crowd,” Baxter said.

“Over the years, when the league expanded with Queen’s and Ottawa coming in, we couldn’t schedule that game on the same weekend all the time. Waterloo also had some challenges with their record, but when they hired [coach] a few years ago, things changed.”

The Warriors had the footballing edge over the Hawks in the 1990s, as their two Yates Cups topped the Hawks’ solo Yates Cup in 1991.

However, the tides have turned since then. The Hawks have captured two more football OUA championships in the 2000s, while the Warriors have failed to reach the finals since 1999.

Things have started to change for the Warriors in recent times. The Warriors hired head coach Chris Bertoia four years ago and the team has shown major signs of improvement.

Bertoia played for Waterloo during their Yates Cup wins in the 1990s and he has also had a successful coaching career since then. He has been able to carry that success into his Waterloo coaching tenure. Bertoia was named the 2017 OUA Coach of the Year, and the Warriors football team finally beat the Hawks in 2018 after a 16-year drought.

Although facts, statistics, and wins and losses make this local rivalry intriguing, the idea behind the Battle of Waterloo competition wasn’t to see what school will come out on top, it’s all about making the rivalry more competitive and exciting than ever.

“It’s not necessarily about who wins or loses, it’s about getting a competitive game and creating a great experience for both sets of fans. It’s also great for the student athletes because there’s nothing better than playing in front of a packed gym. We want to create a great rivalry,” Baxter concluded.

Even though football season is over, there are still plenty of ‘Battles’ left in the 2018-19 season. A total of four basketball games and two hockey games are remaining between the two universities.

It is going to be interesting to see if the Hawks can defend their Battle of Waterloo title or if the Warriors will make a comeback to tie the annual series at 1-1.

No matter the result, this initiative has already taken big strides towards re-igniting the rivalry and the competition will only make the Battle of Waterloo better every year.

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