CHARLESTON — About two years ago, Eastern Illinois University Assistant Vice President for Advancement Steve Rich was going through a closest and found something interesting. It wasn't what he was looking for, but it was something of interest for the EIU men's basketball team.
What Rich found was an old ax that was nailed to a massive wooden plaque that had a few dates on it. The dates were the scores of previous EIU and Western Illinois men's basketball games from a few decades ago, but somehow the plaque found its way into a closet at EIU. So Spoonhour and Billy Wright decided to add the trophy, which was named the Old Railsplitter trophy, to their annual games.
The plaque didn't have to go far, from a closet to Lantz Arena, and it stayed there because the Panthers won both contests against WIU last season.
But Spoonhour saw a major problem with the trophy. The wooden plaque was long and heavy. Spoonhour estimated that the trophy weighed about 25 pounds and due to it sitting in a closest for a while, it looked a bit old. So the two programs talked it over and decided to revamp the trophy.
The wooden plaque was done away with, but the ax remained. The two sides of the handle were painted, one side blue and one side purple, and the logos of the two schools were put on the ax head along with the year the trophy was established - 1928.
"It's nice. But it's a real ax so we have to make sure someone doesn't actually use it," Spoonhour joked. "We will pass it back and forth."
Trophies are usually a football rivalry tradition, but the EIU men's basketball team embraced the trophy last season after it won the game at Lantz Arena. Terrell Lewis and former player Patrick Muldoon raised the trophy after the win and the team took a picture with it after the game.
"I think they like it. It's sort of the first year we've did it and made a big deal out of it," Spoonhour said. "I'm looking forward to talking to the guys about it more. I think they like it and have to understand the importance of the game and this adds to it."
Spoonhour was hired in April of 2012 and scheduled Western Illinois his first two seasons, but the two teams didn't play in 2014-15. After Wright was hired as the WIU coach, the games not only resumed, but EIU and WIU have played twice each season for the past two seasons and will play twice again this season.
Spoonhour said the trophy will only enhance the rivalry.
"We were in the same league for so long, but now that we aren't, Billy and I have worked it out," Spoonhour said. "Now we are playing twice a year. It's a close enough game and fans are interested in it. Our fans see it every year and likewise with them and it's a game that should go on."