Not Ready to Bury the Hatchet

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

The rivalry between Garden City and Dodge City burns brightest on the gridiron. Image Courtesy Brad Nading/Garden City Telegram.

The rivalry between Garden City and Dodge City burns brightest on the gridiron. Image Courtesy Brad Nading/Garden City Telegram.

When it comes to sports in Kansas, friendly competition between rivals is the norm.

But as just about every sports fan knows, friendly competition has its limits.

Because there’s always that one team. The team that makes your blood boil. The team you just can’t stand.

Separated by an hour’s drive in southwest Kansas, the Dodge City Red Demons and Garden City Buffaloes have made an art out of that kind of heated rivalry.

The competition between the two teams is so intense, in fact, that in 2012, USA Today voted the annual Garden City-Dodge City game the greatest high school rivalry in Kansas.

The Hatchet Game, as it’s called, is a season-defining event for the Buffaloes and the Red Demons. A win can redeem a string of losses. A loss can cast a shadow on an otherwise strong season.

The game takes its name from the trophy given to the winners, a small hatchet first awarded in 1938, 30 years after Dodge City and Garden City started facing one another on the gridiron.

It’s not just a football thing, either, according to Laura Roddy’s interview with Dodge City sportswriter John Curtis.

“‘Throw quiz bowl out there, and they’ll go after each other,’” Curtis told Roddy, adding that the towns themselves are also regional rivals for development dollars.

Historically, Dodge City has more often been the winner, taking 47 of the 76 Hatchet Games played through 2013. In recent years, though, Garden City has been dominant, winning 13 consecutive games between 1995 and 2007. Before that, Dodge City had the hot hand, taking 17 of 20 contests in the 1970s and ‘80s.

It’s those kinds of long-term win-lose streaks that set up the most passionate clashes on the field.

If the teams were trading the hatchet every year, maybe the rivalry would cool.

But then again, maybe not.

There’s always that one team, after all.