Standing room only

Putting on Haywood County's largest event
By Kyle Perrotti | Oct 13, 2016

It’s not easy putting on the largest yearly event in Haywood County.

No, it isn’t the Fourth of July or even Labor Day — it’s the annual Pisgah-Tuscola high school football game, which will be held in Canton this year.

Over the course of the week, people change their Facebook profile pictures to show their allegiance and throughout the county, people can be seen proudly wearing shirts with marked with either a giant P or a giant T. The rivalry divides houses and workplaces. And this year, it’s been dubbed the Game of the Century.

“Just go into any restaurant in town or stand on the street or go into any store and that’s going to be the conversation,” Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said.

For many citizens, the game brings back memories of times way back when, said Canton Mayor Mike Ray. He also noted how the rivalry has changed. The week of the game used to be laden with pranks and vandalism, but the rivalry has since grown more positive. In recent years, at the end of the game, players respectfully exchange handshakes and from time to time, they will even stand in the middle of the field and say a prayer.

“The rivalry used to be bad,” Ray said. “They were mad at each other, but we’ve come past that.”

On a more serious note, Brown highlighted how important it is for the people of Haywood County to take some time out of their stressful lives to enjoy some good-spirited competition.

“Somebody will have someone die this week,” he said. “People have all these other things going on, but this is a relief point and a focal point where we can talk about something that is unrelated to the bad stuff in the world.”

But that isn’t to say things won’t get rowdy in the stands. There are varying estimates on how many people will be at the game, but Ray said he expects one of the heartiest turnouts ever.

“It is the true meaning of the words standing room only,” he said.

Haywood County Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte believes the attendance will be on the higher end of peoples’ estimates.

“It’s a nationally recognized rivalry game,” he said. “I can tell you there will be between 11,000 and 15,000 people there this year since both are undefeated.”

The task of putting on such a huge event with so many people in attendance is daunting. Pisgah High School Athletic Director David Pressley said it makes sense that the night is so monumental. When you throw in the magnitude of this game and the fact that it is part of the Great American Rivalry Series, there’s a lot to do.

The entire event, from 6 p.m. until the game ends, is laid out in Pressley’s playbook, which he plans on following religiously throughout the night.

“The one thing we’ll have more of for this game is going to be security,” he said.

In fact, Pressley has already met with law enforcement officers from around the county. Although Canton Police Department will be providing much of the security, the Sheriff’s Department and Waynesville Police Department will be helping out. Fans can expect to see uniformed personnel, along with the booster club members,  at every gate, among other places. Overall, Pressley expects to see somewhere between double and triple the normal security presence.

“They will be trying to keep people off the field as much as possible, especially once the game is over,” he said.

There will be no change in medical personnel present. Pressley said that at every game, each team comes with their own medical personnel and the town always has EMS personnel on standby.

Such an event brings in a large chunk of money for the host school. Although Pressley thinks the actual number of people in attendance is often exaggerated, he said the money brought in is huge. He noted that one year, the game netted over $40,000. Because of a reduction in government funding and the fact that they only receive revenue from the game every two years, the revenue from the night is vital.

“That allows us to pay for coaching supplements and travel,” he said. “It allows us to continue to operate the way we have been.”

One of the toughest things to determine is what to pack into the pregame ceremonies, held from 6:45 to 7:30, when the game begins. Pressley said it is amazing how many calls he gets from people wanting to get a chunk of the time — so many in fact, that he can’t fit everyone in.

But even with all the stress and the struggle of figuring out the logistics. one thing he said he appreciates is the enthusiasm that the residents of Canton and even Haywood County have displayed.

“You’ve got to have a lot of people helping you out,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have that here.”