On Friday Night, for the 33rd time I will attend an event that I have come to love more than Clemson –USC football, more than the Braves EVER making it back to the World Series and definitely more than another NFL SuperBore game. Friday Night is THE GAME and once again I will be ready as the Viking and Cavaliers take the field in what is arguably the best high school football rivalry in the state of South Carolina.
While every school has a rival and to each school that rival is the most important game of the year, nothing compares to the Spartanburg City showdown. For the past 38 years, the entire town of Spartanburg stops to witness this game. No other town comes close to the intensity of this rivalry. Nothing has the proxsimity of these schools, only 5.5 miles apart. Nothing has the history of playing the game 44 times in 38 years including a state championship in 95 and a State Semi Final in 99.
Nothing draws the crowds that cause this game to sell out on Monday morning, 5 days before the game. Only in Spartanburg do all these intangibles come together to produce a piece of Americana that is unequaled for excitement, intensity and pride.
This year's game is again important for both teams. At stake as always are the bragging rights for the year. But also this year up for grabs is positioning for the upcoming playoffs. The winner has the chance to lock up the home field advantage throughout the playoffs and avoid the trip to Stratford on the Friday after Thanksgiving. But most importantly the winner will know they competed with the best and were victorious.
A Little History
Spartanburg High School has always been the city school of Spartanburg going back over 70 years. In those days the Vikings were known as The Spartanburg Crimson Tide. The name was changed in the 60's as a way to further integrate the school after desegregation occurred in Spartanburg in the 1960's
Dorman on the other hand was the county high school which came together in 1964 with the combination of Fairforest, Roebuck and the segregated Lincoln High School on the west side of Spartanburg. Back in those days Dorman was in the middle of a field with nothing around for miles and miles. It was truly the rural county high school.
As time passed and the west side of Spartanburg grew, Dorman slowly began to catch up with Spartanburg first in enrollment, then in size and finally in ability. Today the west side of Spartanburg has surpassed the east side in terms of development, new housing, and in student enrollment. Now, the new Dorman High School has opened giving Dorman the premier facility in the state of South Carolina.
Spartanburg dominated the series early on and won the first 13 games before Dorman finally broke thru in 1975 for their first win. Dorman's first win was played at Wofford's old Snyder Field and provided a chance for Dorman to finally announce to the state that they could play with the big boys by defeating the Vikings 31-27.
For the remainder of the 70's and into the 80's, The Vikings continually had the better of the Cavaliers on the field and amassed a 22-1-1 record against their rivals. Also in 1981 the game was moved from the final regular season game to the 3rd game of the season when SCHSL placed Dorman in Region 1 and left Spartanburg in Region 2. Two years later Dorman moved back into Region 2 and the game up until this year has been the 7th game of the season since then. Sort of like the 3rd Saturday in October for Tennessee and Alabama.
My first taste of the rivalry
1975 was my first Dorman – Spartan High game and an event that I will never forget. I remember vividly as a 8 year old driving across town to the Wofford Campus and sitting in the corner of the end zone to watch the game. It was a special occasion as my Godparent's son was the QB for Dorman and led the Cavs on a last minute drive to defeat the powerful Vikings. I was hooked immediately and forever.
I still have a photo of the scoreboard reflecting the final score of 31- 27. More than anything this one game made me a fan of high school football. For some reason games were played in colder weather back then and I will always remember wearing so many layers of clothing and socks, sweaters that I could barely walk. The players were so much bigger then, or at least they seemed so to me, in fact they were larger than life and faster than a speeding bullet. I was hooked. And now nearly 30 years later and a thousand games late, I still get that rush of adrenaline that I had as a 8 year old sitting in those stands for the first time.
Tradition plays a large role in the rivalry sometimes even out shadowing the game. As Spartanburg was the city school and Dorman the county school, Spartanburg began to refer to the Cavs as farmers. Thus the tradition of Farmers Day began where the students, faculty and administrators at Dorman began dressing up as farmers on game day to enjoy the "farm" experience.
Over the years there has been pig races, cow milking contest, hay baling competitions and of course fans dressing the part. Somehow over the year, Spartan High decided to "mock" their country cousins and also began the tradition of Farmers Day. Now both schools follow the tradition of Farmers and Hayrides and Pep Rallies. Of course today both schools are in the middle of the urban sprawl and both are definitely city schools but the image of the City vs. Country still plays in on in this rivalry.
As the years progressed, The Vikings continued to own the Cavaliers on the gridiron winning the majority of the games. Of course the powerful teams that Spartanburg had in the 70's and 80's under Bill Carr dominated everyone they played and were certainly one of the top teams in the state despite never winning a championship during this time. Dorman did manage a second win in the series in 1982 and progressed all the way to the Upper State Championship where they lost to Irmo and their All State QB Rodney Williams who later starred at Clemson.
Spartanburg again enjoyed on field superiority as they began to rack up win after win in the series and began their collection of trips to the state championship. The one exception was the 1988 first round playoff match-up at Snyder Field. Dorman defeated the unbeaten, top-seeded, Vikings on a Hail Mary pass to end the game. The series was still dominated by the Vikings as the Dorman program fell on hard times and struggled to beat anyone in the late 80's and early 90's.
In the 90's both schools hired new coaches that have influenced the direction of high school football in the state. Doc Davis was hired from a successful Chapman program and Dave Gutshall was brought in from a championship Burlington Cummings, NC program. Immediately the rivalry was rekindled resulting in the best games of the year in 1994.
The regular season 1994 game was played at Dorman and matched 2 undefeated teams, Player of the Year QB Derek Brunette led Dorman and Spartanburg was led by their all everything LB Anthony Simmons. The game was played at a fevered pitch with incredible plays by both teams. In the end Spartanburg completed 3 passes in the final minute to edge the Cavs 31-28 and retain the Championship of Spartanburg.
6 weeks later Dorman traveled to Sumter and defeated the Gamecocks to set up a rematch with the Vikings in Clemson's Death Valley for the Big 16 Championship. It was the first time that 2 schools from the same city would compete for a football championship. Over 27,000 crowded 1-85 for the trip to Clemson to view the Game. The last person out of town cut off the lights and Westgate Mall reported slow business only 3 weeks before Christmas. In a game for the ages, Spartanburg held the Cavs 4 yards away from the end zone as time expired and claimed a State Championship for the Vikings by a score of 21-17.
Last year the scenario was exciting once agian as the two teams battled to an overtime game. Dorman played a near perfect 4th quarter with a punt blocked for a TD by Steven Mills and the overtime was kind to Dorman as they defeated the Vikings for the and in the end it took everything the Cavs had to withstand a furious Viking rally.
The past 6 years have seen the most competitive stretch of games between the 2 rivals. Dorman has won 5 times since 1994 while Spartanburg has been victorious 4 times. Still as the 2002 regular season game approaches, both teams enter the contest with high hopes and great confidence.
2002 and beyond
So now once again we approach the 44th renewal of this special game.
Fans will line up before 5:00 to get a seat, by 5:45 it will be Standing Room Only.
By 6:30, the autumn sun will start to fade behind the far goal post and the lights will slowly take effect, hopefully.
The bands will be in full dress uniform and the cheerleaders dressed in their cool weather uniforms.
About 7:00 the kickers will come out to warm up and will receive a standing ovation. 10 minutes later both teams will have all their players on the field and ready for action. Final warm ups, final walk thrus and a return to the field house for last minute instruction will follow. Who will be more nervous, the players or the coaches? Or the fans in the bleachers waiting for the game to finally begin
At 7:15 the Dorman Marching Cavaliers will take the field all 300 strong and will lead the crowd in honoring our country. By this time 17,000 will have jammed into the new Dorman Stadiu,. Hope you have your ticket because the game was sold out on Tuesday morning. Only place in the world where scalpers are out front trying to make a buck off a high school football game.
5 Minutes before kickoff and the electricity in the stadium is intoxicating. No one dares to sit down and noise level is deafening.
The captains come on the field to another rousing salute.
The band makes a formation for the Cavs to run through.
The Spartanburg Cheerleaders unfurl a banner:
REVENGE 2002: Vikes crush the CAVS
Boos and Cheers everywhere.
The Dorman Cheerleaders bring out their banner:
PROUD TO BE A FARMER: CAVALIER PRIDE.
More Boos. More Cheers
The teams run onto the field, the bands play the fight songs, the crowd is so loud you can barely hear yourself think. The excitement spills all over the stadium. The game is now at hand.
The referees take the captains to the center of the field and toss the coin. Fans start to settle down for what surely will be a classic.
Finally it's Game Time.