It’s not the story Mark Dietel desires to tell when asked about the centerpiece of the trophy in one of the premier rivalries in Indiana high school football.
If only the Copper Kettle, awarded annually the past 18 seasons to the winner of Center Grove’s game against Carmel, had been dug up in a remote part of the state or found in the corner of a barn somewhere.
Instead, Dietel said the kettle, for many years the property of his parents, Don and Marge, was given to Mark and his wife, Mary, right around the time the couple moved to Greenwood in 1986.
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What now represents nearly two decades of cherished gridiron memories was used for something altogether different before being carefully positioned atop a sturdy walnut base.
“My mom and dad had it. They had magazines in it next to a La-Z-Boy recliner,” Mark said with a laugh. “I would like to make up a better story, but that’s all there is.”
The copper kettle found a different purpose in the late 1990s.
Center Grove and Carmel were charter members of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference at the start of the 1996-97 school year. The league in its infancy also included Ben Davis, North Central, Lawrence North, Warren Central and the two Terre Haute schools (North and South).
From a strictly football standpoint, it appeared an unusual mix.
Carmel, Ben Davis and Warren Central had combined to win 24 sectionals and 11 state championships prior to the 1996 season.
The Trojans hung their hat on one Class 5A sectional title in 1987, though then-coach Dave Conrad’s crew did make it to semistate before losing, 49-0, to Ben Davis.
Center Grove eased into the MIC in 1997 by playing three conference foes — Warren Central, Lawrence North and North Central — and was scheduled to play all league programs the following year.
Jon Zwitt, who in 1996 was hired as the Center Grove High School athletics director, had an idea.
“Since we never played Carmel in football before I wanted the first one to be special,” he said. “I happened to be talking to Mark Dietel, whose family had been living here for years.
“He said he had a copper kettle and would donate that. We turned it into a trophy, and we’ve been playing for it ever since.”
A Week 3 tradition since the beginning, many Copper Kettle games have been classics.
Eight were decided by four points or less, including Center Grove’s 24-21 victory on the Greyhounds’ home turf last season. Twelve of the 18 (67 percent) have finished with single-digit winning margins.
“As I remember our conversations, we were searching for a way to generate a rivalry between the two schools, and, to Jon’s credit, the Copper Kettle was born,” said IHSAA commissioner Bobby Cox, who was athletics director at Carmel High School from 1997 to 2000.
“As I have witnessed the rivalry between the schools over the years, I believe the Kettle has been a great incentive and something to play for each year.”
The programs have met twice in the postseason. Not surprisingly, the games were decided by four and three points — the latter the Trojans’ wild come-from-behind 36-33 triumph in the 2008 Class 5A championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Looking back, Zwitt thought a Center Grove-Carmel football rivalry had the chance to grow into something special.
It’s exceeded expectations.
“I think it was just because the two schools are so similar,” said Zwitt, who said the Copper Kettle is the lone rivalry trophy of any kind at Center Grove High School (not counting the annual Johnson County Tournaments in various other sports).
“It was a north-south rivalry, and we had never played Carmel before. So it was a first. If we had one every time we played Whiteland or every time we played Warren Central … this one makes it special. It’s the only one we have.”
Center Grove coach Eric Moore has been part of all but one of the Copper Kettle games.
He frequently points to the Trojans’ first win against the Greyhounds, a 10-9 nail-biter in 2000, as the outcome that helped steer Center Grove toward becoming one of the state’s premier high school programs.
The Trojans, for no less than one year, could display the Copper Kettle in one of its many trophy cases.
Belief among those in the community began to run rampant, the long-awaited corner finally turned.
“When I first heard about the Copper Kettle, I was intrigued because of the trophy. As I studied it, it was Carmel,” Moore said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I don’t want this to be a 19 (wins) to nothing series.’
“Honestly, that 2000 game in my book is the biggest win in my time here. That’s what turned the program around. Now we’ve got a rivalry.”
In copying the Old Oaken Bucket awarded each November to the winner of the Indiana-Purdue football game, the Copper Kettle adds a blue plastic “C” onto the chain with each Carmel victory. When the Trojans prevail as they have two of the past three seasons, a red plastic “CG” is added.
Only in the bucket’s case, the letters are brass.
Also, the Copper Kettle’s base presents a blue plate complete with that year’s score when Carmel wins and a red plate when Center Grove is victorious.
Blue nameplates outnumber red ones 11-7.
Moore’s program has proven at different points an ability to rally against one of Indiana’s true blue-blood football programs and overtake it at the end in dramatic fashion.
For the Trojans, tonight’s Copper Kettle matchup is all about gaining ground.
“I’ve never thought Carmel has taken us as seriously as we’ve taken them. Even now,” Moore said. “We’re still that school on the Southside. Heck, they’ve got more boys in their school than we’ve got people.
“But it’s a fun rivalry. And cool for the kids.”
Year-by-year results in the Copper Kettle game between Carmel and Center Grove:
Sept. 4, 1998;Carmel 28, Center Grove 25
Sept. 3, 1999;Carmel 26, Center Grove 23
Sept. 1, 2000;Center Grove 10, Carmel 9
Aug. 31, 2001;Center Grove 26, Carmel 13
Sept. 6, 2002;Center Grove 42, Carmel 10
Sept. 5, 2003;Center Grove 27, Carmel 20
Sept. 3, 2004;Carmel 25, Center Grove 21
Sept. 2, 2005;Carmel 35, Center Grove 17
Sept. 1, 2006;Carmel 49, Center Grove 7
Aug. 31, 2007;Center Grove 32, Carmel 31 (2OT)
Sept. 5, 2008;Carmel 33, Center Grove 32
Sept. 4, 2009;Carmel 17, Center Grove 14
Sept. 3, 2010;Carmel 21, Center Grove 14
Sept. 2, 2011;Carmel 42, Center Grove 17
Aug. 31, 2012;Carmel 31, Center Grove 21
Sept. 6, 2013;Center Grove 35, Carmel 26
Sept. 5, 2014;Carmel 21, Center Grove 14
Sept. 4, 2015;Center Grove 24, Carmel 21
Series wins: Carmel 11, Center Grove 7
Total points: Carmel 458, Center Grove 401
Longest winning streak: Carmel 5 (2008-12), Center Grove 4 (2000-03)