The Old Wooden Barrel: a look at the decade-old rivalry where UNF prevails

Joslyn Simmons

The “Wooden Barrel” is passed back and forth between JU and UNF every year, depending on who wins the competitions between them.  Photo by Morgan Purvis
The “Wooden Barrel” is passed back and forth between JU and UNF every year, depending on who wins the competitions between them.
Photo by Morgan Purvis

When it comes to sports rivalries, many consider those among colleges to be the hottest. Among college teams, beating a rival school is often one of the highest goals in a sports season, and for UNF, that rival is crosstown neighbor, Jacksonville University.

In the fall of 2005, the season-long series between the Ospreys and the JU Dolphins came into existence as the River City Rumble, as it would be later officially named on January 23, 2006 during a press conference at the University of North Florida. This was a rivalry where the ultimate prize wasn’t just bragging rights. There’s also a very unique trophy: an old wooden barrel is awarded to the winner of the series to keep for the whole year as a sign of the previous year’s dominance.

The Roots of the Old Wooden Barrel

Richard Gropper, UNF athletic director emeritus, vividly remembers how the “Old Wooden Barrel” and the River City Rumble came into existence. At the start of Gropper’s tenure in 1995, UNF was not classified as Division I unlike Jacksonville University, making competition between the two universities not as desirable or exciting.

“My feeling was that when we were making that transition to Division I it opens the door for us to have a great competition in every sport and to really build a crosstown rivalry that would translate into a lot of excitement for the student body and the people of the community” Gropper said.

With the reclassification process already in the works, what were once just talks of a legitimate crosstown rivalry suddenly came into existence. The name “River City Rumble” was finally settled upon as a way to link the city of Jacksonville and its rich history to the rivalry itself.

The physical resemblance of the trophy fed off of this idea. An actual “old” wooden barrel was chosen to represent the way a lot of Jacksonville’s commercial cargo was packaged and shipped up and down the St. Johns River over a century ago.

Gropper explained that the first year of the official River City Rumble between the two schools saw significant crowd improvement, with close to 4,000 people turning out to the UNF Arena during basketball season.

These same crowd turnouts can still be seen today during River City Rumble competitions, proving the allure of the prestigious Old Wooden Barrel.

“It has become a nice tradition,” said Gropper, “and I can tell you that the competition with JU as a result has really blossomed and really fulfilled the vision that we initially had.”

Current Standings

This competition involves all sports that the two schools share, totaling 22 matches in a year. These are typically the most anticipated, highly energized games, and they often generate the highest crowd turnouts. Each game equals a point for the winning team, which gets tallied up for a final score at the end of the school year. For individual sports, such as golf, the team with the higher finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship will receive the point.


North Florida men’s basketball head coach Matthew Driscoll believes one of the greatest factors of winning the wooden barrel is how the entire athletic department contributes to winning, rather than a single team. For Driscoll, having the barrel visible gives the athletes a sense of pride about what they’ve accomplished.

This year, the Ospreys won the barrel over the Dolphins 14-8, the second largest margin of all time, to keep the  coveted trophy for a fourth consecutive year. Before the Ospreys’ four-year run, the Dolphins held the barrel for three years. For six of the 10 years the rivalry has been official, the old wooden barrel has resided in the Ospreys’ athletic department.

“I think we have come a long ways and it’s something we don’t take for granted,” UNF Athletic Director Lee Moon said. “Our coaches understand. I tell them at the beginning of each year, our number one goal is that we are going to win the wooden barrel and then win the conference championship in each sport.”

There are numerous inter-conference sports rivalries in the nation. One of the most notable ones is the men’s basketball rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Like the River City Rumble, these rivals are only separated by a few miles, allowing their home fans to come out in full support.

As one of the younger rivalries in the nation, the River City Rumble and its traditions are still growing, along with the allure of the Old Wooden Barrel, for coaches, players, and all who compete.

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