Friday, September 2, 2011

Only a Game? Not Around Here!

Only a Game? Not Around Here.
By the time you read this, Salt Bowl 2011 will be in the history books. I can visualize the dumbfounded look on some of your faces, but those who live anywhere near Saline County know that this is one of the biggest high school events in the state, nay the Nation! Because of the way that city limits and school district boundaries overlap, people who live in Benton and Bryant could live down the street from each other, go to church together, and still end up on opposite sides of the stadium once a year. What started as a conference rivalry over 30 years ago has evolved into “The” event of the football season. So big it outgrew both towns, and had to be moved to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. On that night, tumbleweeds run rampant in both cities, as the entire population heads east to gather at a huge tailgate party that rivals some of the Razorback games for enthusiasm.
Speaking of the Razorbacks, does every city have a countdown clock on the local TV station’s website measuring the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the first football game of the season? Although the University is located in Fayetteville, Hog Mania covers the whole state, and little red pig symbols adorn hats, t-shirts, golf club covers and babies’ pacifiers. For those who graduated elsewhere, the Hogs are one of their top two favorite teams. There are Razorback clubs across the country for ex-patriots who often place slogans like RAZBAX on their personalized license plates.
It’s just football, right? So what is all the fuss? When you get down to it, it’s a rather silly game. I remember hearing an old recording by Andy Griffith who described accidentally wandering into this big place where folks were lined up hollering at a bunch of boys who were trying to take a flattened out pumpkin from each other.
It’s really about community spirit, after all. Around here, football unites us. In other parts of the world, it might be soccer (also called football, but only a distant cousin to the American game), or running from bulls in the streets, or even rolling a huge cheese wheel down a hillside. It gives the residents something to get excited about, a cause to rally around, a reason to cheer.
Along with the football players themselves, other groups get a chance to show off their talents at the games. Cheerleaders, dance teams, and marching bands add pageantry and variety, and bring along their own very vocal cheering sections. These teams also compete at their own exhibitions, and the Ouachita Area has been fortunate to bring home many state and national trophies. You may see things at half time that you’ve never expected, like routines featuring Broadway show tunes, or movie themes. Dancers dressed as Cats, and strange noises that suggest Jurassic dinosaurs keep you wondering how next year’s students will top this year’s show. Once, we witnessed a whole marching band “disappear” under a giant tarp, causing a collective gasp in the stands. Not sure what old John P. Sousa would think of that, but it was great fun to watch!
Family traditions are born that span generations. If your Grandpa and your Dad were fans of a certain team, you most likely will be too, no matter where you went to school. Attending games together gives you common “war stories” to share for years afterwards. When you can’t be there in person, you can tune in on the TV or radio, and share the experience across the miles. Our family has often updated each other with text messages and emails when one member lives out of range of the broadcast.
I guess my favorite story of how football and the Salt Bowl affects us took place several years ago when a friend’s son joined us at the big game during a few hours of leave from military training at Camp Robinson. He received a phone call from someone who was on base. What we could hear of the conversation went something like this:
“Yeah, I’m with my Dad at a high school football game …. Well, it’s actually in Little Rock, at War Memorial Stadium …. No, my brother graduated a few years ago …. No, we don’t know anyone who’s playing on either team ….. Well, it’s just what you do on a Friday night around here…. Yeah, pretty cool… Okay, see you soon.”
Go Hornets, and Woo Pig Sooie!

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