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Coaches relieved to end baseball rivalry

There were three games every year that Sycamore baseball coach Jason Cavanaugh and DeKalb coach Jake Howells hated: When their teams played each other in a conference series. 

The coaching colleagues weren't caught up in the fervor fans have created in the crosstown rivalry. Instead, as close friends, neither took joy when the other's team lost. 

Those head-to-head matchups will be a thing of the past, however, with Howells resignation as the Barbs' baseball coach at the end of the season. Howells plans to marry his fiancée, Molly Leverty, in August and move to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

"Whether it is golf, cards or Ping-Pong, Jason and I are very compeititve," said Howells, a 2000 Sycamore grad whose Barbs teams were 69-65-1 in his four seasons as coach. "I never really liked coaching against him, but by the end of the day we were still great friends. We play 35 (baseball) games a year. But the three against each other, we just wanted them to be over with.

"If we could have called the series a 1-1 tie, we would have done it."

Cavanaugh has been the Spartans baseball coach for the past 17 seasons. As he prepared to play golf with Howells at Sycamore Golf Club this week, he said he looked forward to competing against Howells, who he coached for three years at Sycamore. Outside the dugout, Howells and Cavanaugh have competed against each other in golf and basketball for 19 years. 

They have played on the same basketball team for the past seven years at the DeKalb Park District, and have played thousands of intense one-on-one basketball games against each other.  

"I hated every baseball game we played against Jake," said Cavanaugh, whose Sycamore teams went 8-4 against DeKalb the past four seasons. "I hated every minute of it because one of us had to win and one of us had to lose.

"Off the field, we make up games to play just like kids do. He's a better golfer. I'm a better basketball player. But we compete in everything we do. It's just fun for us."

Although Howells is unsure if he will continue the baseball career he started at Sycamore and continued as a player at Kishwaukee, Waubonsee Valley and Hillsdale colleges, Cavanaugh said he hopes his friend continues to coach. 

"We might compete endlessly as friends," Cavanaugh said of Howells, who also was an assistant coach at California Baptist University and a player development intern for the Los Angeles Dodgers. "But he provided baseball therapy for me and I will miss that. After a tough game we could always share details. We knew what the other was going through.  

"I hope he gets to coach baseball because he is someone that is way overqualified to coach high school baseball. He could coach anywhere. The players really benefit from his knowledge. He treats them the right way and cares about them as people."

Although he posted a winning record as coach, Howells said he was more concerned with helping his athletes develop character, a trait he believes will aide in their continued development on the field. 

"In four years, I think I've helped build upon a solid foundation to do what was right for the DeKalb baseball game in terms of preparation on and off the field," Howells said. "I feel good that I've taught the game the right way and left the DeKalb baseball program in a good position."

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