The Battle of Sterling: the History Behind the Decades of School Rivalry


Photo by: Karwaan Kotwal

Starting off the season, Potomac Falls continues the tradition of playing against Dominion as the first game with a win of 47-7.

The Battle of Sterling, the long awaited first football game of every season, is one in which the Potomac Falls community bands together against their rival, Dominion High School. This tradition started almost two decades ago in 2003, when Dominion first opened, and the two teams have played a grand total of 21 games together since then. 

In 1997, when Potomac Falls was built, it was one of the only high schools in the area besides Park View and Broad Run. It was the fifth high school in Loudoun County. Quickly, the school became overcrowded and the need for another high school grew.

Potomac Falls assistant athletic Director Christopher Tully said “Most of the [Dominion] kids came from Potomac Falls. So it started right then, like the kids were former classmates from Potomac Falls.”

Student’s who had known each other for years were now going to two separate schools, former teammates and classmates now competing. Ultimately,  this led to the beginning of the friendly rivalry. “Those kids all played against each other or played with each other in the LLBFL [Lower Loudoun Boys Football League],” said Tully. “So they grew up together, they were like ‘we’re gonna go to go to Potomac Falls guys’, and then all of a sudden, you know, Dominion opened.” 

It was not until 2014 that the “rivalry” started to get serious. In the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, the teams played a total of four games together, one at the beginning and one at the end of each season. In the first game of 2013, Potomac Falls won with a score of 23-19. Star panther football player, Wanya Allen, fanned the friendly fire after this particular game. “And after we beat Dominion,  [Allen] goes, ‘Yeah, we’re the Kings of Sterling’. And that’s where it all starts,” said Tully.

The winner of the Battle of Sterling now became known as such, and the fight for the crown began. Later that year, when Potomac Falls and Dominion faced off again, it wasn’t so pretty.

“They [Dominion] had Kings of Sterling t-shirts that they were wearing and holding up. And, you know, they were flaunting at our field holding them up walking through the endzone,” Tully said.

Along with the t-shirts, Dominion had taken their school spirit online with a hype video. After the game, both schools started to sell their own Battle of Sterling shirts in their respective school stores starting the theme of black-outs and whilte-outs for the game. 

Even though the two schools are not in the same district due to size, they still play against each other every year as the first game of the season. Varsity football coach Paul Barnes said, “So [excitement] just accumulates during the offseason — the kids coming back to school, the teachers come to work and everybody gets excited.”

Right after summer, students don’t have too much school work and are fired up for the first game of the season. The Battle of Sterling craze brings in everyone, from family and students, to people all over the community. Before online tickets, the schools would pre-sell them the week leading up to the game. Starting with a roll of 1000 tickets, the schools, combined, almost sold them all.

Out of the 21 Battle of Sterling games, Potomac Falls has only lost four. “Oh, we’ve been having a good run. I’ll put it that way. That hasn’t been easy. They’re always a good football team,” said Barnes.

The past few years were victorious for the Panthers with the 2022 game win of 47-7. Currently, the Panthers have a record of 1-2 for the season after falling to Lightridge 6-7 and Loudoun County, with a final score of 0-26.

The Battle of Sterling is more than just a football game. To the schools, it’s a tradition, something to look forward to every year, something that riles up school spirit and kicks off the school year with a bang.

“You knew it was something special because the crowds were enthusiastic and excited. And, both fan bases were just, you know, depending whether you play home or away, there were a lot of fans there,” said Barnes, “They’re a part of this community. They know each other. And so that’s why it’s such a big rival.”

The friendships between the students at these schools is really what makes it special. Kids who had grown up together playing football were now competing against each other.  “It’s not just kids. It’s the community that says ‘I want to go watch,’” said Tully.