As the clock struck zero, and Garner High’s state championship hopes faded to black, some fans in the bleachers stood still in disbelief.
A few left disappointed. And others waited, still cheering for the players as they walked up the steps of the stands one-by-one – with their heads down low – to greet their family and friends.
Regardless of what people were doing, it was obvious the game meant something big to them.
Lisa Ellis consoled her son, David Remy, when she saw tears coming down his eyes. She gave him a big hug and told him the team had nothing to be ashamed about.
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“He needs to hold his head up,” she said. “They played a good game no matter if they won or lost. They poured their hearts and souls into it.”
For years, Garner has been a “one school, one team, town.” Residents bleed Trojan blue and yellow. If you walk in a barber shop on Fifth Avenue, it’s easy to spot which team they support. With the Garner High football team’s schedule on the shop’s bulletin board, customers can view Garner’s upcoming games.
Ellis, a 1990 Garner High graduate, was there when the school won its last state championship in 1987.
“The whole town erupted,” she said. “Everybody in the town was at the championship game. Literally the whole town.”
She said the love and support from the community has always been there, from then to now.
“Everybody came out for Garner to watch this game,” Ellis said.
Other supporters and former graduates say the same. When asking why they support Garner High School sports, the answer is always the same: “It’s tradition.” And that goes for Ellis and even Mayor Ronnie Williams, a 1966 graduate.
“Going back to 87’ I felt that sense of pulling in the community, and it’s reminiscent of that time,” Williams said. “When all the people came together, and they were supportive.”
But in two years, that will change, when the new South Garner High opens its doors to alleviate some of the overcrowding at Garner Magnet High and to sustain the city’s continual growth.
Garner has had a steady growth over the years. It started with a few thousand and has now grown to 27,000 people
“It was bound to happen as we grow,” Williams said. “I think it may be two climates almost. Garner people will continue to support both teams, I think, as they should, but it’s going to take a lot of conditions to get to used to it.”
Darlene Stanley, a New Bern native and former educator, whose grandson plays for the team, echoed his sentiments.
“I feel for the community, because it will be split,” Stanley said. “So people who wanted their children to graduate from Garner will never have that opportunity. But eventually the other school will get its following. That’s what high schools do.”
Two schools, one community
“It’s going to take a long time to build the tradition, the loyalties,” she added. “It’s a split in the community but you have to do it because kids need to be in a school where they’re not overcrowded.”
Matt Thompson, an a resident of Garner for two years, has grown to love the team in short time.
“On the field it’s going to be a rivalry,” he said. “That how it’s got to be, but as soon as they get off the field, I guarantee all the players off-the-field are going to be friends again, the parents are still going to know each other. They all went to high school together before it split.”
He said he expects Garner residents to cheer for both teams when they aren’t playing each other.
“If either team goes to states or playoffs, the whole town will be there, period,” Thompson said. “It’s all for the town.”