The North Charleston High School and Garrett Tech football teams were supposed to play each other on Friday, October 28, 2016. Unfortunately, deadly violence in the community, and threats of more violence, lead to a tough decision for school and Charleston County School District administrators: cancel the game for the 2016 season.
Due to weather-related schedule changes from earlier in the season, and the playoffs starting in a few weeks, the rivalry game could not be made up. That ended a stretch of six straight years of the Cougars and Falcons facing each other on the football field.
“We were all disappointed that the game had to be canceled,” remembered Garrett Principal Charity Summers. “Our hearts were breaking for our children. Our student-athletes, parents, and coaches were very disappointed. The parents and coaches understood and were grateful that we did not jeopardize the safety of students, however the students didn’t think it was fair for community issues to result in the cancelation of their game.”
Remembering what happened last year, and in light of incidents involving students bringing guns to CCSD campuses this school year, the idea of the first Unity Day Game between the two programs was born. Leaders at both North Charleston and Garrett wanted to inspire and unite their students and the communities that support them.
“With the canceling of last year’s game due to security concerns, and some of the perceptions the public has had this year with school safety, I felt that we needed to do something,” said Garrett Assistant Principal Dale Metzger. “[If we could] create a family-friendly event, the parents in our community and the teachers and staff at our schools, would feel good about bringing their children to [the game with North Charleston] and to be able to enjoy it as a family.”
“Irrespective of location or locale, it is a community affair,” thought North Charleston Principal Henry Darby. “It evinces a message to the community, and beyond, whereby a competition takes place that at the end of the game, win, lose, or draw, everyone can behave in a respectful manner.”
Earlier this month, Metzger, along with Principal Summers, and Athletic Director Michael De Jong spoke with North Charleston leaders, Principal Darby and Athletic Director Raymond Knauer, about moving the regular season finale on Friday, October 27, 2017 to the following morning at 11:00 a.m. at Hibbie Ayoub Stadium, so the game could be a focal point of a day-long celebration in the city of North Charleston.
Once school leaders made the decision official, and informed the South Carolina High School League, they began reaching out to community partners to involve them in the event. CCSD’s afterschool program, Kaleidoscope, local ministry “Take it to the Streets,” and Harvest Point Church have already signed on to support the cause.
The event will start at 10:00 a.m. for community members with games, jump castles, and face painting in the parking lots next to Hibbie Ayoub Stadium.
The North Charleston Athletics Department will host a tailgate party as well, preparing free food for every North Charleston and Garrett student who attends with their school ID.
Garrett is also providing free admission to every elementary and middle school student from CCSD that attends with a paying adult chaperone; children six years old and under already receive free admission at the Falcons’ home games.
According to scfootballhistory.com, North Charleston leads the all-time series with Garrett, 17-13, but the Falcons have won the last two meetings. More importantly, the hope is that the Unity Day Game will become a tradition.
“It could become a yearly affair whereby local businesses, civic leaders, and other stakeholders can build upon to build a greater relationship among all community stakeholders,” Darby said.
“I would love to see this become an annual event that would include games played by all the high schools in North Charleston,” added Summers. “I sincerely hope that as a community, we learn that division and strife among us prohibits the potential for growth and success. Through unity, we can solve a multitude of problems.