NORMAL — Ben Witzig and Shea Cupples attend rival high schools. The rivalry, Normal Community (Witzig) vs. Normal West (Cupples), is intense. When it resumes Friday at Normal Community, both will go all out to win in a 7:30 p.m. Big 12 Conference basketball game.
Yet, in some respects, Witzig and Cupples have been on the same team for years.
They’ve attended church together “our whole lives,” Cupples said. They played together as youths in Eastview Christian Church’s Upward basketball program. They’ve attended Illinois Wesleyan basketball camps together.
The senior guards also share this: their fathers are their head coaches — Dave Witzig at Normal Community, Brian Cupples at Normal West.
“It’s cool that West has the same thing going on,” Ben Witzig said. “I grew up with Shea.”
“We were good friends (growing up),” the younger Cupples said. “There were sleepovers too and camps.”
Friday night, they could end up guarding one another. Cupples is a starter for West and Witzig is among the first Ironmen off the bench.
Would that feel strange?
“Not really,” Cupples said. “We used to go at it sometimes (as youths).”
Both sons will tell you they have enjoyed playing for their fathers. Shea Cupples called it “an extra experience that no one else usually gets to have.”
“I love playing for my dad. It’s fun,” he said. “When people say, ‘Daddy’s boy,’ I love it. That’s fine. It gives me motivation.”
For the Witzigs, ground rules were established early on. Basketball is a big part of their lives, but it has its place.
Home is not one of them.
“We’ll talk about it (basketball) on the way home in the car, but as soon as we hit the door, we’re kind of done with it,” Ben said.
Brian Cupples has tried that with Shea and his older son, Brady, who graduated from West last year. Often they have been successful, but sometimes it creeps in.
“You try to go home and play cards or something and kind of forget about it,” Brian Cupples said. “Obviously when you win, it’s fun to talk about wins. When you lose, it’s more fun to say, ‘Let’s talk about something else.’
“It’s a short time in their lives and they’re in high school. I want them to enjoy their time in high school.”
Brian Cupples has an appreciation for what his sons have experienced. He played for his father, Dale, at Ford Central High School.
“That’s helped, but it’s a different world now from when I played,” Brian said. “It’s just been fun to be around my kids and watch them play.”
Dave Witzig said he and his son “have had a fun two years together and made some good memories.” But while Ben Witzig has been a varsity player only the past two seasons, he has been on NCHS bus rides, in the locker room and/or at practices much of his life.
He has that in common with NCHS senior starting guard Blake Foster, son of longtime Ironmen assistant coach Nate Foster.
Now teammates, the younger Witzig and Foster have played 1 on 1 against each other “as long as I can remember,” Ben Witzig said. They were water boys for the Ironmen growing up.
Friday, they’ll try to help NCHS (12-3, 3-1 in the Big 12) earn its second win over West this season. The Ironmen defeated the Wildcats, 59-49, in the season-opening Intercity Tournament.
“It was a very tight game and we pulled away in the fourth quarter, but it was down to a few possessions,” Dave Witzig said. “That was early in the season when they had some juniors playing their first varsity games. I know they’re a lot more experienced now.”
The Ironmen have been led by 6-7 senior CJ Wilbourn, a Milwaukee recruit averaging 17.6 points per game.
He will go against a West zone defense Dave Witzig called “unique.”
“No one else plays it like they do,” he said. “Their guys are really schooled on their slides and where they need to be. We’re going to have to take care of the ball, get good shots and get some offensive rebounds.”
Shea Cupples leads West (5-10, 1-3) with 14.3 points per game. His father pointed to rebounding as a priority Friday.
“They beat us on the glass (the first time),” Brian Cupples said. “They got 10 second-chance points and we lost by 10. I know nothing is a carbon copy. Every game is a new adventure. But we have been rebounding better lately. That was really our Achilles heel early in the year.”
West also will play Saturday in a 6:30 p.m. home game against Rock Island.