The "Hatchet" Game.

It has come to be synonymous with the matchup between Dodge City and Garden City on the football field.

The "Hatchet" Game.
     It has come to be synonymous with the matchup between Dodge City and Garden City on the football field.
     Each year, the two squads meet for what has become the biggest game on the schedule for both sides. The winner of the game is presented with the hatchet to symbolize that team's victory. The score is then etched onto the hatchet, a mark that has become crucial to the goals of players and coaches.
     This will be the 74th contest in which the hatchet has been involved, a battle that has seen Dodge City come out on top fairly often. The Demons have hoisted the hatchet 47 times, while the Buffaloes hauled it home only 25 times.
     Even though the teams have been playing each other since 1903, the hatchet did not become involved in the series until 1938, a game that Dodge won 12-6.
     The history of the hatchet has been dominated by streaks. Garden City boasted the longest winning streak, claiming the hatchet 13 consecutive years from 1995-2007, which was halted by Dodge in 2008 and has found a home here for the past three seasons.
     The Demons claim the next four longest winning streaks: Nine from 1982-1990, six from 1941-1946, six from 1965-1970 and six once again from 1975-1980.
     Before the Buffaloes' 13-game hatchet streak, they had gone from 1938 until 1995 without ever winning back-to-back contests against Dodge.
     Last season, in current Dodge City head coach Dave Foster's first year, the Demons overcame a 26-0 deficit at home to defeat Garden City 29-26. It was an experience that he says will stick with him.
     "The last minute, you could just hear the roar. The hillsides were lined with people, and it was just absolutely amazing," Foster said.
     Why the series introduced the hatchet has yet to be revealed, but the significance behind it has stood the test of time.
     "I didn't know what to expect coming into this last year," Foster said. "But when it was hatchet week, they want you to know it's important to this community that it comes back. They don't pass a hatchet in any other sport. It's one of those deals where it's unique. It's a big deal — it's braggin' rights."
     Dodge City athletic director Jay Gifford said he thinks a hatchet would have been on the bottom of the list of trophies that a buffalo would want.
     "If you were a buffalo, you wouldn't think that would be your first choice," Gifford joked. "If you're a demon, I don't think it's too offensive. If you're a buffalo, you'd think it probably wouldn't be the best thing."

Hatchet stories
     Other rumors around the hatchet and what prompted its creation can be heard throughout town.
     One such rumor, mentioned by former Demon coaching great J.C. Riekenberg, is that the hatchet was created a way to bury the problems between the two teams. But those problems arose in the '70s and '80s, not in the late '30s, when the trophy was introduced.
     Another fun fact that most people do not know is that there are two hatchets in use right now. There are two because during Garden City's run of 13 straight wins the hatchet was stolen from the athletic department and a new one had to be made to keep the tradition running.
     Several years later, the old hatchet was rediscovered and has joined the new hatchet in signifying the winner. The old hatchet does not have any of the new scores engraved on it, the last being the year it was stolen.
     However, on the new hatchet, the scores are engraved directly onto the flint of the hatchet head, not on a silver plate, which was the method of carving out the winner on the old one.
     Regardless of its origin, the hatchet has taken on a whole new meaning — something Foster discovered as the new Demon coach last year.
     "It became apparent, from the random person walking down the street, to the person who sees you in Wal-Mart or out to eat that recognizes you, they bring up the hatchet during hatchet week," Foster said. "You can't help but understand the importance of it, and after having gone through one last year and seeing the environment on game night, you gain an appreciation of how important it is to these two communities."
     On Friday night, the two sides will play for the hatchet and a district championship, further putting fuel on the Dodge City-Garden City rivalry.
     Who will walk away with the hatchet? Only time will tell, but one thing's for certain — it will be a war in Garden Friday night under the lights.