GARNER — The NCAA tournament won’t even have brackets for about two weeks, but the North Carolina League of Municipalities has deemed March Madness underway.
A competition for votes on Facebook will determine which town or city advances in each round of a 32-municipality bracket organized into four regions: Beach, Mountain, Piedmont and Sandhills. The contest in a way seems designed for Garner to make a Final Four run, although the “selection committee” has made the road tricky. You can find the competition by searching for the N.C. League of Municipalities on Facebook.
Right now, the town appears to own first-round opponent Holly Springs, 254 likes to 110. No shock: Garner won a national All-America City award along with nine other cities, thanks to its demonstrated commitment to veterans, community service, diversity and burgeoning arts program. This is just a throat-clearing.
And no offense, Holly Springs, but in 1990 your population was around 1,000. In 2000 it hadn’t reached 10,000. This is not to say the now-Garner-sized town isn’t an utterly lovely place from which to commute to Raleigh. And new can be an advantage. But winning this thing will require roots stretching further back than the outset of the Easley administration. Garner Mayor Ronnie Williams has flowers in front of his house older than Holly Springs’ relevance.
Garner, meanwhile, has long been known as a one-high school, fiercely-loyal and distinct hometown despite its proximity to Raleigh. I’ve reported on this town for about a year and a half. In my experience, the proportion of people who have lived in Garner for roughly their whole lives defies logic and statistical probability when you consider town growth.
Don’t get me wrong. The Internet is crazy; Holly Springs could get viral-hot quicker than Duke burying a run of 3-balls before the March 7 Round 1 deadline. So go vote; great teams hit the accelerator when ahead, not the brakes.
But in the “Sweet 16,” life gets tougher. In total “likes,” Garner is trouncing every team in the “Sandhill” region…except one: Clayton leads Durham 309-5 (not a typo). As with every bracket you’ve ever filled out, the two teams that seem destined for the Final Four meet all too early and someone has to go home.
But here’s the thing: It. Won’t. Matter.
Current figures don’t reflect still-limited awareness of this competition. Despite a solid showing so far, my analysis (which rates in quality between “blind faith” and “hokum”) indicates Garner’s still sitting on untapped reserves that would make Venezuela blush. So use this to sink a well into it.
Why so confident? First, though more deeply rooted than Holly Springs, Clayton is 35-40 percent smaller than Garner, leaving fewer voters. As for the town itself, whatever’s not in Clayton is a lengthy drive; in Garner broader urban conveniences are literally a stone’s throw. Besides, long commutes are overrated; I like my days with something close to 24 useable hours in them. And on top of the extra gas, Clayton residents pay a 27 percent higher property tax rate than Garner residents.
But let’s not underwrite the ultimate measure of small town bragging rights: high school football. I already knew of the superiority of Garner, 4AA playoff regulars. I didn’t realize Garner had not lost to its current division rival since 1985. Hey, but Clayton did win a state title since Garner’s lone 4A title in 1987, right? Wait, what? A 2A title in 1989? That’s cute. To be fair, that’s all in the past; what about the future? Well, the JV team only lost 48-0 to Garner last year...so there’s that.
The road is paved to the Final Four after Garner finds a way to beat Clayton. Zebulon? The only other town with more than 150 “likes” in round one (194) is interesting. But come on. It posted a picture of Town Hall, just like Holly Springs. Real distinctive. At least Clayton got original with a pic of a pile of oversized Christmas ornaments glued together. (Garner’s shot, of Williams and Scotty McCreery, at least has people, you know, that thing that makes up the substance of a town.)
(After writing but before posting, Wallace made a run to 276 “likes.”)
In Garner, housing is sprouting like crazy and industry and commercial is too. Leadership is stable and respected. Miss North Carolina and American Idol and state football runners up and All-America City all have happened in the last few years. Momentum is key come tournament time, and when you combine progress combined with strong, loyal roots and a little bit of hometown pride, you have a combination as effective as size, depth up front, good shooting and better defense on the hardwood.
The only thing that can stop Garner? Garner. So vote. This week. Next week. And the week after that. You know, if you’re into the whole town-pride thing.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland