Thirty years ago, a state championship football team helped shape the sense of community that still thrives in Garner today.
Longtime sports writer Tim Stevens chronicled his hometown Garner High School Trojans over that 1987 season while working for the News & Observer. Stevens has now written a play, titled “87,” that brings the memorable football season back to life on the stage.
Garner was a textbook underdog that perfect season, defeating tradition-rich programs like Richmond County and Northern Durham and claiming the state title with a 40-21 triumph over Charlotte Harding despite often being outsized.
“Garner had a population of about 12,000 and took about 10,000 to Charlotte for that game,” Stevens said. “I don’t know if there’s ever been anything that united a community as much as that did.”
One of the play’s lines reads: “The great thing about the team of ’87 is it didn’t have any white boys and it didn’t have any black boys. It just had our boys.”
“It was a team that united all kinds,” Stevens said. “Everyone was pulling for this team.”
People who attend the show March 30-31 and April 1 at the Garner Performing Arts Center will notice familiar faces in the cast.
Longtime Garner coach Eddie Gray plays Hal Stewart, the storied Trojans football coach. Elmo Vance plays star Trojan Anthony Barbour, who set the national rushing touchdown record that year with 47 and the state rushing record with 3,125 yards, even though he sat out the second half of most games.
“The whole year they dressed 36 players and pulled up four more for the playoffs,” Stevens said. “They were small in number, small in size, but they were fast. It was a group that you could back – that you felt good about. Of course, they had Anthony Barbour, who if you went to a game might show you something you’d never seen before.”
Players and others who were involved with the 1987 team are urged to attend the April 1 show and a reception to follow at South Garner High School.
This is the third of 12 historical plays Stevens intends to write about Garner. He typically researches his topics for six months and writes for three months.
His first play was about Garner during the Civil War. His second, about the town during World War II, won awards from the N.C. Society of Historians.
“We always tape (the plays), so if someone wants to know something about Garner, like if we have an eighth-grade teacher who wants to show what happened in Garner in the Civil War, they can look this up and say, ‘One day, this is what happened here,’ ” Stevens said.
The same will soon apply to Garner’s championship run. Stevens said the town has many newcomers who might enjoy this piece of the town’s history.
“All the people here in ’87 can probably tell you the starting lineup for the team, but there’s more people here now who don’t know what it was like,” he said. “The community here was changed by what this team did.”
If you go
What: Tim Stevens’ play “87”
Where: Garner Performing Arts Center, 742 W. Garner Road, Garner
When: 7:30 p.m. March 30-31; 2 p.m. April 1
Tickets: $15 in advance at nando.com/4mf or by calling 919-661-4602; $18 at the door