In one of the oldest rivalry games in West Orange County, West Orange and Dr. Phillips will meet for the 30th time Friday, Oct. 1, to determine who will hoist the Ol’ Orange Crate at the end of the game.
Since it started in 1987, DP leads the series 18-11 and has won three of the five games played since the rivalry resumed in 2015 after a four-year hiatus. The Panthers won the last meeting in 2019 by a score of 14-7.
DP and West Orange did not play each other in 2020.
Before DP opened in 1987, West Orange High School was the only high school that served the West Orange area. Because of that, many of the students had gone to elementary and middle school together, breeding familiarity with each other. When DP opened, that split the two sides and led to an intense rivalry early on.
In 2010, the rivalry took a brief intermission when the two teams moved into different divisions. Because of that, no game was played between them until the rivalry resumed in 2015, when the schools moved into Class 8A, District 9.
Coming into the game, the two teams are trending in opposite directions. West Orange is 3-1 and coming off an unexpected week off — their rivalry game against Ocoee was rescheduled to Oct. 11, because of the Knights’ bout with COVID. Dr. Phillips is coming off a loss to Lake Mary, plunging their record to 2-3.
Outside of a 13-0 loss to Apopka, the Warriors have steamrolled every team they have played so far, allowing only three points and scoring 146. They have a balanced attack on the ground and through the air. On the other side, Dr. Phillips has struggled to find offensive consistency early on — ranging from dominant performances against Celebration and Timber Creek to struggling against top-tier opponents Jones, Apopka and, most recently, Lake Mary.
Despite their records coming into the game, fans know they can expect a tough battle for one of the premiere trophies in the area.
OL’ ORANGE CRATE
But how did the two teams come to play for an orange crate?
The tradition started in 1988, when then-West Orange assistant coach Tim Smith got the idea of the orange crate after hearing about it from two students — one from West Orange and another from Dr. Phillips.
“They’re the ones that got the idea started that when the school opened, (the schools) should play for an orange crate, because both schools have such a long history in the citrus industry,” Smith said.
Smith later got together with West Orange High School agriculture teacher Rick Stotler, who had connections with some of the citrus company owners in the area, and asked him to acquire and design a crate that could be used for the trophy.
“Even in the 80s, the citrus companies were not using the wooden orange crates,” Smith said. “One of the Winter Garden companies, they found one of the old crates and had it donated. … Rick’s connections to the industry is how he tracked down what became the original orange crate.”
Dr. Phillips won the first Orange Crate game 36-0.
Like many high school rivalries, West Orange and Dr. Phillips have had crazy shenanigans happen during the years. That was especially true in the 1990s, which included infamous incidents such as donuts on the football field and spray-painting the rival school with the opposing team’s logo, Smith said. One time, West Orange students burned their school’s initials on the DP football field.
“Back in the 90s, high school students did a lot more crazy stuff,” Smith said. “You’d get arrested for stuff like that now.”
Since then, the rivalry has cooled down considerably.
“The kids didn’t know each other as much as they did anymore since the early 90s,” Smith said. “Due to it being the longest-running trophy game … it’s become bragging rights now.”
One controversy that has seemingly never been answered is the time the crate disappeared while in DP’s possession. No one is sure what happened or how it disappeared. Smith said he found out about what happened after DP asked Stotler for another crate. As the head coach of the Warriors, he used it to fire the team up.
“The day of the game, I told the team that (DP) lost the crate,” Smith said. “(DP) was not happy that I had shared that information with the team. I used it as a pre-game motivation thing, and the administration was not happy about that.”