How do you explain the Dorman-Spartanburg rivalry to someone who’s never experienced it? Who’s never even much heard of it, actually?
I tried once.
Ricky Hardee was my editor/publisher when I worked at the Loris Scene, and you’d have to search for a while to find a finer person. He’s a pillar of the community. He taught me most of what I know about good, community-focused journalism. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.
And, I think because he knew what my paycheck was, he bought me lunch most days, dinner every Monday (because it was city council night), and drove to away football games.
One night, hurtling in an old pickup through the Horry County woods after a particularly tough loss at Hemingway (the Bog-Off was the next day, so there’d be plenty of time to hash that one over), Ricky let me dig on the radio for a ballgame. It was a clear October night, one where a big AM signal carries, and I could JUST make out 950 out of Spartanburg.
Cavaliers at Vikings.
“That home?” Ricky asked me. I told him it was, and a big game. “How many people?”
“Oh, ten or twelve thousand,” I answered.
Mr. Hardee indicated he was skeptical of my estimate in words that I probably won’t print here.
I was right. But I couldn’t explain it then. I’m not sure I can bring much focus to it now. How does one describe a rivalry so intense that two soon-to-be parents, neither of whom attended either school but who found themselves working on opposite sides, bet the high school fandom of their newborn baby girl on the outcome of the school-year series?
That’s why I’ve asked for help from folks who have lived it. I can’t sum it all up in a story, but you’ll see it again as different sports take center stage.
Today, though, let’s introduce you to Farmer’s Day.
“My dad played in the first game in 1965,” Kevin Harrison said. “Dorman was just barely in existence. My senior year, I won the greased-pig contest – just bragging rights for catching him. So, we’ve been involved in Farmer’s Day for a long time. The biggest difference is that it was just a high school event, and now it’s taken over our whole district, at every level, and a lot of our community.
“I think it was probably meant to be derogatory”
Ok, time for full disclosure. I don’t pick sides in the rivalry, I’m a Panther through and through, but I do come to the Farmer side of things honestly. My mother, Mary Lytle, taught at Dorman from 1970 until 1974, the year of my birth. She was kind enough to share a couple of memories with me.
Most of them involve a country school, and a budding rivalry.
“When I walked into Dorman as a first-year teacher in the fall of 1970, the school was only six years old and John L. Martin Stadium had just been built in 1967,” she said. “The school lay outside the Spartanburg city limits, and Westgate Mall and other commercial developments there today were nonexistent. The school, quite literally, was surrounded by farmland and drew its students from primarily rural areas.”
That same year, a gleaming new Spartanburg High School opened just east of Converse Heights on Dupre drive.
The rivalry, just a few years old at this point, began to pick up steam.
“As Dorman and Spartanburg students began to interact in extracurricular activities, especially team sports, an intense rivalry developed between the schools,” Lytle said. “It was basically the city students vs. the country students, and at some point, the Spartanburg High folks began to refer to the Dorman folks as ‘Farmers’. I think it was probably meant to be derogatory, but the Dorman students took it and ran with it, claiming it as a banner of fierce pride, and dressing up in flannels, overalls, and straw hats on Farmer’s Day. During my five years at Dorman, I never saw my beloved Cavaliers beat the Vikings, but I had a lot of fun being a Farmer.”
How deep does the rivalry run? That’s another story.
“Twenty years later, in 1990, I married a Spartanburg Viking and put most of my Cavalier Pride aside,” she said. “Except for periods of complete silence on one fall Friday every year.”
“It was just a wild game”
Dart Collins, who started school at Dorman in 1975, mostly remembers a wasted day. Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas Break, the day before Spring Break, those were hard days for teachers to get anything done.
Farmer’s Day? Forget it.
“That Friday was just a complete waste,” Collins said. “We didn’t do anything. We had a big pep rally, everybody wore their overalls and their farmer’s garb, and we just didn’t do anything else.”
Well, that’s not entirely true. There was the year that Collins and some or his classmates held a kind of parade.
“We piled up after the pep rally, a bunch of us, and we took a tour over to Spartan High,” he said. “They were sitting on the front lawn at the old school, and we went over there and made a lot of fun of them. And they proceeded to kick our tails that night on the field.”
Collins was at Dorman 11 years after what was then the “country” school was started.
“Back then there was nothing between the schools as far as the city goes,” he said. “The only thing out near Dorman back then was maybe Holmes’ Lunch.”
It was also a very different time in the rivalry.
“You could get away with a whole lot more back then,” he said with a laugh.
Collins saw a milestone, too. He was there for the first Dorman win in the series – a 31-27 victory on the road at Snyder Field.
“It was crazy,” Collins said. “I mainly remember how cold it was over there. It was just a wild game.”
Big Ben strikes midnight for Vikings
There have been a ton of absolute classics in the series on the football field. One, of course, was decided by The Catch. Rodney Woodruff’s improbable heave and Brian Wofford’s grab in the back of the end zone, followed by Brian McClure’s kick, saw the No. 1 Vikings stay undefeated and handed the No. 3 Cavaliers their first loss in what would become a wild 1994 season.
But it wasn’t the first thriller in the series. It wasn’t even the first Hail Mary. Before The Catch, there was Big Ben.
Jonathan Evatt was an offensive lineman the night the Cavaliers stunned Spartanburg in the first round of the Big 16 playoffs. On the last play of the game, Dorman quarterback Terry Wilburn found Reggie Gilliam for a 35-yard score, despite the ball being tipped by Spartanburg, and an improbable playoff win.
But there’s so much more to the story than that.
First, Evatt remembers legendary Dorman coach and Athletic Director Dale Evans as a creature of habit. Nearly everything the Cavaliers did was by practiced tradition.
Not on Veterans’ Day, 1988.
That day, Evatt said, the Cavaliers had returned to the old school on W.O. Ezell Blvd. from their trip for a pre-game meal at Quincy’s. As they prepared for the game, they got a surprise.
“We were sitting in the locker room and there was a knock on the outside door, and Coach Evans made sure we heard it,” Evatt said. “He went to the door, and waited, and when he opened it, there was a gigantic spray of black roses.”
A funeral spray, from Spartanburg. It wasn’t, of course. But Evatt said that didn’t dawn on the Cavaliers until years later.
What DID dawn on Evatt and his teammates was the fact that it was getting late. Much later, in fact, than they usually waited to board the bus for an away game, even a short trip to Snyder Field.
“The hype was just different from any other game,” he said. “Somebody was playing some music. A few people had Walkmans. Coach came in at about the time we’d usually load the bus, and told us to get everything on, to bring it out, but to leave our shoulder pads off. He told us to leave our jerseys with the shoulder pads, but to bring everything out, because we weren’t going back to the locker room.”
They weren’t getting on the bus, either. And it was getting late. Dark, actually. The Cavaliers jogged through their warmups, and finally the buses pulled around.
“Back then, Spartanburg didn’t ease in during the first quarter like they sometimes do now,” Evatt said. “They showed up. That place was packed. I remember my dad telling me that people thought we’d broken down or something. Nobody knew where we were.”
Where the Cavaliers were was easing through Spartanburg. When they passed Krispy Kreme, Evatt remembers the lights on the bus going off. The team wound past Wofford’s baseball field and behind Snyder’s visiting stands. Evans pulled the team’s offensive and defensive captains off their respective buses, and walked in with them, where the officials and Spartanburg’s captains were impatiently waiting for the coin toss.
As for Evatt and the rest of the Cavaliers?
“We walked down the sideline 2 by 2 like nothing was out of the ordinary,” he said.
And then the Cavaliers promptly went up 17-0.
The lead wouldn’t last, though, as Spartanburg rallied to lead 21-17 on Terrance Rice’s five yard run with just more than three minutes left.
Plenty of time for Big Ben.
The Cavaliers drove to the Spartanburg 35, where they set up shop on the last play of the game for a desperation pass to the end zone. Evatt remembers that they’d practiced it for most of the year, stopping live practice when two players got injured as they collided fighting for the ball.
“It’s the last thing we worked on Thursdays before we huddled up,” he said. “We had two guys get hurt, and Coach said we’d never do it again, so we hadn’t practiced it live in a while. We’d only worked on the offensive end, the throw and catch.”
That turned out to be plenty. Wilburn heaved it, Spartanburg players jumped to try to intercept it, and as Gilliam tumbled toward the ground, he secured the ball to his chest.
Then the controversy began.
“The ref on our side called it no good,” Evatt said. “Then the umpire called it no good. We figured that was about what we expected. We’re at their place, we’re not getting that call. But then the guy from the other side came running in with both hands in the air. Touchdown. You could see them waving him off, but he was adamant. He could see the ball. They finally agreed with him. It seemed like it took five minutes.”
Passing into legend
Evatt’s story – the story of that 1988 game – is one of the rarest things in sports. It’s a memory that requires no embellishment, because it’s already too good to be true. And the Spartanburg-Dorman rivalry is littered with them.
There’s Woodruff’s miraculous heave, Wofford’s equally-miraculous catch and McClure’s calm kick, which he’d predicted on the bus ride over. There was a stunningly good state championship game that same year, in which, a Dorman player told me later, “We had the perfect play called against what their defense was showing several times, and (Spartanburg, Clemson, and NFL linebacker) Anthony Simmons just decided that we weren’t going to do that”
More recently, there have been a couple of thrillers, including Dorman’s Matthew Powell-led frantic two-minute drive to win in 2018, and back-to-back wins in 2021 and 2022 from Spartanburg – the first on a game-winning pass from Raheim Jeter to Andrew Dantin, and the second on a two-point conversion stop.
The rivalry has deepened into respect over the years. When Dorman’s Hannah Sobeski was battling cancer and was elected Homecoming Queen, the Vikings and Cavaliers knelt in opposite end zones as Links of Love stretched across the field in a sign of support. When the Vikings’ Nick Dixon tragically passed away during surgery, Powell and a few of his teammates, in their Dorman letter jackets, were among the first into Spartanburg’s Dobson Gym for a remembrance ceremony.
That’s a far cry from Evatt and his teammates being cautioned not to wear their letter jackets to the Fair on a particular night, or getting into shoving matches for wearing them to basketball games. And while the rivalry might have cooled in some circles, it’s still mighty important. Take as an example one of Evatt’s first trips after high school to the game with his wife.
“I told her we’d go get a bite to eat early and then head to the game,” he said, explaining that his wife was used to Northern, Saturday-afternoon games. “She wasn’t ready. We got to the game at about 6:30, and thankfully I knew some people who were willing to scoot in, or we’d have been standing up. She looked at me and asked what was so special about the game. I told her it’s just the Steelers and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.”