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One man's rivalry: Former North Hall football player is assistant principal at Cairo High
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David McCurry is assistant principal at Cairo High School. His daughter, Lindsay is a senior cheerleader for the Syrupmakers.

McCurry has been wishing for two years for this weekend’s matchup. Last year, a victory by Washington County kept North Hall from facing Cairo in the quarterfinals.

Why the interest in a showdown between the Trojans and the Syrupmakers?

From 1980 to 1984, McCurry wore No. 25 for the Trojans. He graduated in 1985 as a letterman in football, track and wrestling.

"It’s pretty exciting," McCurry said. "I’m hoping to see some old friends I graduated with."

But the big question: For whom will he cheer?

"Right now, I guess I’d have to say my allegiance is to Cairo High School," McCurry said.

In Cairo, which is pronounced kay-roh, a large portion of the 25,000 residents of Grady County can be found on a fall Friday night at West Thomas Stadium, home of the Cairo High School Syrupmakers, who will face North Hall in the Class AAA semifinal on Saturday in the Georgia Dome.

Grady County is located 230 miles south of Atlanta on the Florida border. Like a lot of rural Georgia counties, its residents are mostly Baptists and Methodists.

They might not agree on religion or politics, but the one great unifier is football. Cairo High is the only public high school in the county, and the whole town will show up at the stadium, dubbed by some as the "Syrup Bowl," to cheer for their beloved Syrupmakers.

They haven’t made syrup commercially in Cairo for five years.

The Roddenberry Co., which became a part of Dallas-based Dean Foods, moved the production of the famed syrup to North Carolina.

They still make cane syrup at festivals like the annual Mule Day in the tiny town of Calvary, which sees its population swell to 100,000 one day each year.

McCurry’s mother, Marguerite, still lives in North Hall and along with her husband, Allen, who died earlier this year, sat through many of the lean years at North Hall.

She is a walking history book on the playing years of David and his older brother, Hal. Her stories contain anecdotes of broken noses and broken hearts.

"Some of our fondest memories were sitting on the 50 yard line at North Hall," she said.

This season, Friday night became cell phone time between mother and son as they compared notes on the respective teams."We were back and forth all during the games," she said. "He wanted them to meet each other in the Dome."

And while her son’s allegiance is clearly pledged to the Syrupmakers, his mother said there’s still a glimmer of Trojan pride.

"He’s proud for his school to know he’s from North Hall," Marguerite McCurry said of her son, who left North Hall as the holder of a track record in intermediate hurdles.

"He always wanted to be a coach," his mother said.

She makes it clear, she’s cheering for the home team, the one nearest her home. But because of her son’s affiliation she said she will be proud whoever wins.

After graduating from North Georgia College, he first coached at South Hall Middle School. From there, he went to the South Georgia town of Pelham, where he coached wrestling and was an assistant football coach. He went on to Cairo, where he moved to administration.

In Cairo, the town is celebrating the team’s first visit to the Georgia Dome since 2000. The annual Christmas Parade, which steps off Thursday night, will be followed by a community-wide pep rally.

State Rep. Gene Maddox, R-Cairo, is a retired veterinarian with a granddaughter playing in the marching band.

"We haven’t had a state championship since 1990 and we’ve got a real good little football team," Maddox said. "The people here are supporting them 100 percent."

The storefronts and message boards of town businesses are filled with messages of support for the beloved football team. There are chartered buses which will bring the faithful to Atlanta for Saturday’s game.

"I’ll be right there with them," Maddox said.