St. Thomas Aquinas baseball coach Troy Cameron was looking for a way his team could help out after Hurricane Irma.
Once he heard a nearby school needed a hand, Cameron rallied his kids together.
But he knew he couldn’t immediately tell them it was their fiercest rival - Nova.
"He just told us bring extra baseball gloves or gardening gloves to protect your hands," Aquinas senior outfielder Chris Ruckdeschel said. "Then he bought us breakfast at Chick-fil-A…and then he told us where we were going. We were shocked."
For a few hours Saturday morning, one of South Florida’s fiercest baseball rivalries was put on hold.
Players and coaches from Aquinas worked together with players and coaches from Nova to spruce up the Davie school’s home ballpark - Pat McQuaid Field - that was left with a damaged scoreboard and a mess of fallen trees in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
Cameron took a group of roughly 35 players and coaches over and they assisted in the cleanup effort.
"When I pulled up in the morning, I was really shocked," said Nova junior third baseman Jordan Campbell. "I was like ‘Why are they here?’ But then I saw they were here to help. I figured maybe we can put the past behind and put everything aside.
"We started working together and everything clicked."
CALL FOR HELP
Former University School coach and Nova alum Dan Rovetto, who stepped down last October after guiding the Sharks to their first 25-win last year to become a pro scout for the Seattle Mariners, put the word out on Facebook to help his alma mater.
Athletic staff from nearby Nova Southeastern University including baseball coach Greg Brown also came to help as did staff from University School.
Cameron, who is friends with Rovetto, quickly reached out when he saw the post.
"Troy told me that St. Thomas luckily hadn’t taken much damage, but he felt he wanted his kids to give back to the community and do something better for others," Rovetto said. "Knowing the history of this rivalry, seeing the two groups of players come together was really a sight to see."
Since 1999, Nova and St. Thomas Aquinas have met in the regional playoffs seven times with the Titans holding a 4-3 lead in that series in addition to numerous other times in the regular season.
Nova beat St. Thomas 4-3 in the Class 8A regional finals this past May before losing in the state semifinals to Tallahassee Lincoln. The regional win was Nova’s first over Aquinas since 2005 the same year they won a state and national title.
St. Thomas had won 11 previous meetings against Nova including a controversial regional semifinal win in 2015 in which the Raiders prevailed despite the Titans rallying from a two-run deficit in the final inning. Officials suspended the game prior to beginning the bottom of the seventh due to heavy rain causing the field to be rendered unplayable. By rule it reverted the outcome of the game to the last complete inning where Aquinas led resulting in a Raiders’ win.
A court injunction was later filed on Nova’s behalf, but subsequently denied.
PUTTING FEUD ASIDE
Cameron returned to Aquinas five years ago to coach his alma mater, and remembers vividly the intensity of the rivalry with Nova.
"When I used to play in these games, I remember how much we didn’t like each other," Cameron said. "It was different when I came back to coach. The schools would do activities together in the offseason. I remember thinking we’re not supposed to like those guys. They’re our rivals. We’re not supposed to be friends with them.
"But in this situation, you put that aside and do what’s right. I think the kids understood that and that’s what I wanted to see out of them."
Nova and St. Thomas are once again in neighboring districts in Class 8A heading into the 2018 season.
Both Ruckdeschel and Campbell think the intensity of the rivalry won’t change when the teams face each other despite Saturday’s cooperative effort.
But both agreed when the final out is recorded both sides have developed a measure of mutual respect for each other.
"It’s probably going to change the way we’ll play each other," Campbell said. "Before it was straight up hatred what we felt for [Aquinas]. I think now we earned some respect for them."