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Friday, November 8, 2013 - 7:32pm
El Paso, TX (KDBC) — Every November, students from El Paso High and Austin High walk the halls, looking forward to the Battle of the Claw, their annual rivalry game dating to 1930.
The significance of El Paso's longest and biggest high school rivalry was not lost on El Paso in the 1960's.
"You have to remember, whether it's the 1960's or now, it was the game that matters," said Linda Troncoso, President of El Paso High School Alumni Association.
By 1962, the rivalry had become so large, it was moved to Kidd Field, where 20,000 fans watched Austin win its' seventh straight game over El Paso. Confident Tiger players plotted their revenge leading up to November 1963. Pat Wieland, a player on the 1964 El Paso High team said "We were going to eliminate seven years of frustration."
But the Seniors never got to fulfill that dream of running into Jones Stadium on November 22, 1963. Three rifle shots 600 miles away in Dallas took away one life and altered millions more.
The morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode through the streets of Dallas.
Athletic events were canceled, including the Battle of the Claw. The world mourned the loss of the 46th President.
"Absolutely, shock and awe in the hallways, people were crying, students, teachers, everyone was crying." Troncoso said.
Wade Phillips, former Dallas Cowboys Football coach was then a player at El Paso High School, "My generation knows exactly where they were, and when they heard about it. I was walking down the hall in high school and girls were crying, everybody was crying."
"It was right around lunchtime, and we knew we weren't going to play the game, so the rest of the afternoon was just mixed feelings of 'WOW.' Not going to be able to play the game and 'WOW,' just a tragedy for the country that Kennedy had died," 1964 Austin High football player Walter Kolowski said.
Nearly all Seniors at the two football schools would never play again, the opportunity to win the claw denied by the events in Dallas.
"Most of our careers were over, most of us started in grade school, were not going to play in college. This was it, and it was over." Wieland lamented.
Koslowski had a similar wish, "Missing the game was less significant because of the national tragedy, but still a lot of us to this day say we wish we could have played it."
There was some delayed satisfaction. Two decades later, in 1983, El Paso High played Austin in a flag football game and El Paso High won, 36-28, claiming a victory that was 20 years in the making.
"It was fun. It got serious, but it was fun." Wieland remembers.
A dark day in Dallas darkened El Paso's athletic landscape at the time, yet the rivalry remains. This year, in the Sun Bowl, the Austin Panthers will once again take the field against the El Paso High Tigers.
The Battle of the Claw is set for 6:00 p.m. Saturday, November 9th, 2013 at the Sun Bowl.