The first Friday night of high school football is three weeks from tonight. I can’t wait.
I realize there are some high school games earlier that week. But the full schedule of games statewide begins on Friday, Sept. 4. And it’s the night of the Salt Bowl at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium, a game that could attract almost 25,000 fans if the weather is good.
“I think everybody is ready for football,” said state Sen. Shane Broadway at a news conference earlier this week.
No one is better at promoting Saline County than Shane. He and the other members of the Salt Bowl committee have done a tremendous job of putting together a week of activities surrounding the Friday night contest.
What a great tradition this has become the past few years — having the fans of the two Saline County rivals drive a few miles up Interstate 30 so the Panthers and Hornets can play in the second-largest stadium in the state and everyone can be guaranteed a seat.
Last season, the weather could not have been worse. Hurricane Gustav was blowing through the state on the schduled playing date — Tuesday, Sept. 2. At the news conference, Bryant head coach Paul Calley talked about having once been an “old school coach” who believed that you should play football in all kinds of weather. About three minutes into pregame warm-ups, he realized a mistake had been made in not postponing the game until later in the week. It was raining so hard that you could hardly see from one side of the field to the other.
“Even though we won the game, our kids and fans really didn’t get to fully experience the atmosphere that usually surrounds this rivalry,” Coach Calley said.
Let’s hope the weather is much better for this year’s game and all the activities that surround it. It has become my favorite high school rivalry even though I played my high school football at Arkadelphia. My dad was a Benton Panther in the 1939, ’40 and ’41 seasons, so I guess I will sit on that side of the stadium.
If you don’t already have a team you’re following, you should go to this game. Tickets are only $5 for all ages and already are on sale at all Big Red Valero locations in central Arkansas. Each ticket has a coupon on the back to get a free burger at the Sonic of Benton with the purchase of another burger.
This will be the 37th meeting between the two schools and the 10th time that the game has been billed as the Salt Bowl. Benton leads the series 24-11-1, but the growth of the Bryant School District has swung the pendulum the other way in recent years. Bryant won last year, 36-12.
Coach Calley has established a top-notch football program. Steve Quinn, who last year was at the college level as the head coach at Southern Arkansas University, is in his first year at Benton.
I have great respect for both coaches. Paul and I are both Clark County boys (he hails from Gurdon). And I have known Steve since he was a freshman player at Ouachita Baptist University. He’s a winner and will turn the Benton program around.
If you have a copy of the Arkansas Sports 360 preseason football magazine handy, you will find a feature I wrote on Coach Quinn. He noted that he has now coached in seven states and is living in his 13th house in 18 years. Obviously, Steve, you married a saint.
“I’ve been around some great rivalries, but I’ve never seen two communities come together quite like this to put on an event,” Coach Quinn said. “People were asking me 10 minutes after I had accepted the job if we were going to win the Salt Bowl.”
He talked about the memories that will be created by this game.
“High school football is about the memories you will have 20 years, even 50 years down the road,” Coach Quinn said.
The game even has its own website at www.bentonvsbryant.com. Check it out and buy a Salt Bowl T-shirt online.
Among the other events surrounding the game:
— At halftime, three fans will be given the chance to win a truck from Everett Buick-Pontiac-GMC. People can sign up at the dealership. Three names will be drawn during a pep rally at the dealership from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 3. Coaches, players, bands, cheerleaders and drill teams from both squads will be on hand for that pep rally.
— The Salt Bowl committee has partnered with the Arkansas Rice Depot to raise funds and collect peanut butter for those in need. Before the game, an Arkansas Rice Depot truck will be outside the stadium collecting jars of peanut butter and donations.
— The banks and credit unions in Saline County will sponsor what is being billed as “Arkansas’ largest high school tailgate party.” The event will begin at 5 p.m. that Saturday in the east parking lot of War Memorial Stadium and last until the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. There will be games for children along with free hot dogs, chips and soft drinks. Those wanting booth spaces to showcase their businesses should call the Benton Chamber of Commerce at (501) 315-8272 or the Bryant Chamber of Commerce at (501) 847-4702.
— On Labor Day (the Monday after the game), the Salt Bowl Golf Tournament will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Longhills in Benton. Those wishing to participate in the four-person scramble should call 316-3000.
Just a few hours after the Salt Bowl ends on that Friday night, folks will begin setting up their tailgate parties on the adjacent golf course. They will party all day prior to the University of Arkansas opener against Missouri State.
The Salt Bowl on Friday. The Razorbacks on Saturday. We’re only three weeks away.
Let me know your favorite high school rivalry and why it rates at the top of your list.