There will be a number of big games across Horry County this fall, but none is more highly anticipated than the annual Battle for the Victory Bell between Conway and Myrtle Beach.
Both Carlton Terry and Mickey Wilson participated in the game as Conway Tigers before becoming head coaches at their respective schools.
“I always enjoyed playing Myrtle Beach as a football player because it was such a great rivalry,” CHS coach Terry said. “It’s equally exciting as a coach because you’re looking at it from a different standpoint. The kids have friends they’re playing against and Mickey and I communicate a lot. We’re good friends. We’re friendly before and after the game and go to war during the game.”
“It’s just a big rivalry,” he said. “You have two tradition-rich programs who have had a lot of success through the years. We know our kids will be a little extra excited that week. As far as preparation, we don’t really prepare any differently.”
Conway and Myrtle Beach have been bitter rivals for more than a half century. One tie contest withstanding, Conway won 37 of the first 44 games between the neighboring towns. Some of the games were nail-biters, but many others were not.
The Seahawks’ luck against Conway was so bad that even in the good years it was easier to win state championships than beat the Tigers. Myrtle Beach won four state crowns in the early 1980s, but lost to Conway most of those years. The trend remained true through the late 1980s, the 1990s and beyond. The Seahawks were so bad in the late 1990s and early 2000s that Conway dropped Myrtle Beach from its schedule for a couple of seasons to avoid losing points in the S.C. High School League’s complicated 4A points system that penalized larger schools for playing smaller schools with losing records.
The tide began to turn for Myrtle Beach in the mid-2000s with the hiring of Scott Earley. The competitive Earley gradually built Myrtle Beach into a solid program. Although Earley lost his share of heartbreakers against Conway, including a 7-6 defeat in 2007, the Seahawks won a state championship in Earley’s final game at Myrtle Beach in 2008. He still couldn’t beat the Tigers.
Myrtle Beach has fared better under Wilson, a former Conway quarterback who assumed the reins of the Seahawks’ program in 2009. Wilson defeated his alma mater 24-7 in 2009, and has won seven of the past nine meetings.
Although Conway continues to hold a commanding lead by more than 20 games in the all-time series, the Seahawks have held the upper hand of late, winning nine of the past 11 games. Wilson believes there will be a little extra interest in this year’s game due to the fact that the 2018 contest was canceled because of the flooding caused by Hurricane Florence.
“That will make it more interesting this year,” he said.
Wilson believes the rivalry game helps prepare his troops for the postseason when it’s win or go home.
“The thing about it that makes it unique is it’s been such a huge rivalry in our county it has a playoff feel to it,” Wilson said. “That’s a good experience either way whether you win or lose because it gets you used to that feeling.”
Although Terry has not yet mentioned Myrtle Beach to his 2019 players, he relishes the opportunity to get his first win in the series as a head coach.
“It’s a chance to get the Bell back,” he said. “That’s exciting in itself. Myrtle Beach competes at a very high level. That’s a testament to Mickey and his players.”
The Conway-Myrtle Beach duel isn’t the only game on either team’s schedule that attracts a lot of attention, but it remains the headliner.
“We’ve done this for a long time,” Terry said. “Even though Carolina Forest is here, the rivalry between Conway and Myrtle Beach has been going on for decades.”
Wilson likes the history of the series.
“Even back in the earlier years, the 1960s and 70s, it was a big game, too,” he said.
Wilson believes there are a lot of good rivalries in Horry County because of the closeness of the schools.
“The big thing in our county is we have a lot of big schools,” Wilson said. “Whether they’re in our region or not, there’s a little bit of a rivalry because of the closeness. That makes it good.”
In addition to Conway-Myrtle Beach, other Horry County battles to watch include Carolina Forest versus Conway and Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach versus the Seahawks, Loris versus Green Sea Floyds and Aynor, the Blue Jackets versus the Trojans, and Socastee versus St. James. Let the games begin.