Andrew Dys

Finally, town has rivalry of its own

The Fort Mill Yellow Jackets storm the field Friday night at home against Nation Ford. It was the first football game between the schools.
The Fort Mill Yellow Jackets storm the field Friday night at home against Nation Ford. It was the first football game between the schools.

Fort Mill vs. Nation Ford: Jackets win first meeting of new rivals

FORT MILL -- Fans in York County, where football is king, packed both sides of the football stadium Friday night.

They sat on hillsides because there wasn't a seat left anywhere. Rain fell but most didn't leave. Students in face paint and body paint stomped. Fans old and young, thousands of them, let the rain soak their clothes. Two bands played and fought for ears. Old men talked about what it was like when they played.

No, this wasn't Rock Hill against Northwestern. Or even York against Clover.

It was the first Fort Mill High versus the brand-spanking new Nation Ford High.

Fort Mill's better known for SAT scores. But Friday, a thief could have stolen the old cannon in downtown, or carried off the roller coaster on the South Carolina side of Carowinds. The stadium holds 5,000 people. The last estimate was 6,500 through the gats, and that might be low.

Growth finally didn't mean boring school board meetings and bond votes and new roads and a choice of grocery stores and pharmacies.

Growth meant what marks time in Southern lives. The in-town rivalry football game. Fort Mill, not the school but the place, grew up some Friday night.

The teams played at Fort Mill High because they have to: Fort Mill has the only stadium. But it was a home game for everybody.

I have been to dozens of Fort Mill games in the past several years, and was at the Nation Ford home game last Thursday. At some of those games I could have sat on the 50 yard line in the stands. This was different. Goosebumps-on-your-arms-as-the-teams-run-out-onto-the-field different. I had to elbow some kid in the ribs to steal his good seat near the 30 yard line. Then the national anthem played and your throat is dry and you know that you're part of something special.

The first game was full of firsts. First touchdown, first fumble, first win and loss. As expected, Nation Ford got the first loss.

It's never good when the public address announcer says about your team, "Fumble, again."

So what. The game was great.

First tussle. No. 22 for Nation Ford, late in the first quarter, wrestled a bit with No. 76 from Fort Mill. No punches, just some good old-fashioned tugging and pulling and sweat flying.

I applauded them as the guy next to me said, "Kill 'em, Nation Ford."

First metaphoric threat of maiming.

First lost kid, maybe ever at Fort Mill. Fort Mill's stadium was so packed a kid about 5 years old screamed, "Momma, where are you?" and started crying when his mother was about two feet away. She grabbed his hand and picked him up and hugged him and he knew that he was in the greatest place in Fort Mill there maybe ever was on a Friday night. At a football game between rivals, in his mother's arms.

Now that is what Fort Mill has now that even in winning seasons it never had before. Passion. A good old-fashioned, knuckle-busting, teeth-gnashing, foot-stomping rivalry.

Every town needs one. A smart guy, great guy named Steven Barker told me that. I wish I had thought of it but he said it first so here's his credit. He ought to know, too. His son Peyton, a senior, plays for Fort Mill and his daughter, Nia, a freshman, goes to Nation Ford. The rivalry in his house extends to who gets the bathroom first.

It smelled like a football rivalry Friday night. A good dislike bordering on hate, for a couple hours on a Friday night, cleanses the soul.

Nation Ford opened the game by recovering an onside kick and there was a feeling that a huge upset was possible. Not probable most knew after a few plays, because they punted and fumbled, then fumbled, then punted. By the second half, Fort Mill wore down Nation Ford like they were supposed to.

Final score, Fort Mill 32, Nation Ford 0. But again, so what?

The fans still cheered, even as some left finally when the rain got to be too much. That is what rivalries and sports, which are so much a part of who we are, mean. The soaked cheerleaders still cheered. The players never gave up. The fans of Nation Ford vowed to "Get them next year."

Because in rivalries, even ones that are just three hours, there is always next year.