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Rivalries exist in all sports. Whether the rivalry is Duke University-University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees or Liverpool-Manchester United, the experience is special for each athlete and fan involved.

For Western New Yorkers, fans are familiar with the rivalry between the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a result, these games often are highly anticipated. However, there are more than 150 high schools in Western New York, and high school rivalries are prominent, too.

Canisius High School, located on Delaware Avenue, and St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute, located on Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda, are private boys schools rooted in Catholic faith. Canisius, founded in 1870, and St. Joe’s, founded in 1861, are a little more than four miles apart, which heightens the passionate feelings of the rivalry.

Bryan Karas, a junior at Canisius, and David Maher, a junior at St. Joe’s, know all too well about rivalries and the emotions they bring. Both went to St. Mary’s of Swormville for elementary school and played basketball together every winter. They have been close friends since the third grade.

“I think the friendship makes the rivalry almost that much better,” said Bryan, who played against David in grades nine and 10 in basketball. “I’ve never had a friend quite like him.”

David agrees the friendship he shares with Bryan makes the rivalry more meaningful.

“There’s nothing like throwing on opposing jerseys and playing against one of my friends since I was a kid. I will distinctly remember each rivalry game against Canisius that I played in for the rest of my life.”

Bryan and David, like many other boys who attend these schools, are legacy students. That is, several members of their families have attended the schools before them.

“Once the ultrasound revealed that I was a boy, the decision was already made that I would be a Marauder,” David said. “To be known around the school as part of such a great family is an honor, yet I love the ability to make my own name for myself at a place such as St. Joe’s.”

Canisius and St. Joe’s match-ups are well-known. Last season, basketball games between the two schools were moved to Canisius College’s Koessler Athletic Center to accommodate the growing crowds. More than 2,000 people were in attendance at each game.

The fan sections rooting for the Canisius Crusaders and the St. Joe’s Marauders don’t go unnoticed. Decked out in their school colors – navy and gold for Canisius; maroon and white for St. Joe’s – fans bring their passion to the scene.

“It’s just something that you can’t experience anywhere else,” David said. “It’s all about the hype and the select number of minutes that you can be in a moment that carries so much weight, something that’s so special to be a part of.”

The Canisius “Blue Crew” and the St. Joe’s spirit group, the self-proclaimed “rowdies,” are always visible at games, coordinating cheers and holding up signs.

“The rowdies … we are something else,” David said. “Such camaraderie in our student fan section. We don’t only bring it for rivalry games, we bring it every game; maybe just a bit extra when we play Canisius.”

Not only are students and alumni from each school in attendance, but girls from local private and public schools are often there to show support, too.

Danielle Dolan, a junior at Buffalo Seminary, looks forward to going to the games every school year.

“Because the rivalry is so known and both schools have such good teams, you’re guaranteed a good game,” Danielle said.

Danielle was a student at Holy Angels Academy before it closed last spring after 152 years of operation. Most of her friends went to different high schools, and she views Canisius-St. Joe’s games as the perfect place to see them.

“We don’t see each other every day anymore,” Danielle said. “It’s sad, but these games make getting together again just like old times.”

Even though the sports rivalry between Canisius and St. Joe’s seems to divide the community, students at each school understand the rivalry is nothing more than just that.

“We both represent two highly respected schools,” Bryan said. “You play for the legacy of your school, which is something much more monumental.”

Carolyn Hoffman is a junior at Nichols School.

Longtime friends at rival schools have fun as foes