Salt Bowl 2013.....Here we are again, friends. Arkansas' largest high school football game. Ok....I don't have actual stats to that fact....but, I'd bet it is. Not many high school games are in front of 30,000+ people. So I'd accept that challenge. To my 16 year old son? It is more than a game. To sound super cheesy, corny and SOOO like a mom....its a dream.
You don't have to be a "sporty" person to understand rivalry. Every school has it. Growing up in the small Northeast AR town of Newport, I learned to "hate" Batesville at an early age. "Way back when," the game was played on Thanksgiving Day. The home team would decorate along the highways starting just outside the town (for Newport? the "big blue bridge") for the whole 30 miles or so.....so the players and fans to see on their way to the game. I was a sophomore cheerleader in 1987, the year that the benches AND the stands cleared with less than a minute left in the game for an all-out brawl. I mean grown, professional, men in suits out there slinging punches. Cookooo crazy. Did we really HATE Batesville? Nah. But the rivalry ran THAT deep. Emotions were that high.
To this day, when I meet someone new....from Batesville....I can say, "I'm from Newport"....and we automatically silently have this friendly "ewwww" on our faces. :)
When I moved to Benton, 12 years ago, I quickly learned that Benton/Bryant were much the same. Times 20. I remember going to the Salt Bowl when my kids were younger....for the social gathering.....not really caring who won or lost because I wasn't "from here".....just didn't matter to me. UNTIL....I had a dog in the fight. Funny how it gets in your blood....when your own blood gets involved.
The Salt Bowl is a production. They begin its planning in January. All of Saline County is involved with the tailgating, press conferences, give-aways, pep rallies, etc. The media blows it up that week, and the hype surrounding this game is unbelievable. Played at War Memorial Stadium (where the Razorbacks play its Little Rock games) each year, because there is no place in Saline county large enough to house that many people. It really is an incredible event.
I don't claim to be a Salt Bowl historian....but I know for years, Benton beat Bryant year after year. Then the tide turned and Bryant has beat Benton year after year. Benton used to be a much bigger school in earlier years, and now Bryant has that advantage. They are in a larger conference and have much more students. That said, it is a game that will forever be played.
Sam began playing football in Benton for the Future Panther program as a Titan, in the 4th grade. All four years as a "Future Panther", they were dressed in their jerseys and are allowed to be announced on the sidelines at War Memorial for the Salt Bowl. For my little boy? that was a big deal. He loves football. When most kids were watching cartoons, mine was watching SportsCenter. Every year, he talked about this game.
When he played for the Jr. Panthers, he would say, "2 more years, that will be me mom." Then, "Next year, I'll be out there mom." etc. As a Benton Panther growing up....this was THE game. Last year, few sophomores got playing time. In fact, there were 4 letterman from Sam's class. Sam was playing as a receiver. The Monday of Salt Bowl week last year, a teacher saw him with his cell phone..... OFF....in the parking lot of the school, moving it from his backpack into his football bag and he got 2 days of in school suspension. He was unable to practice those 2 days, and for that reason, was benched. I find it interesting that he received such a harsh punishment for that when this year, they are allowed to have their phones in class! Go figure. They just flat picked on a good kid.
Anyway, Sam was devastated. While he dressed out and stood with his team, he didn't get to play. His heart was crushed. As a mom, that was tough. While he played all year, and lettered, all he remembers about last year, is not getting to play in the Salt Bowl. So this year, he is ready. Coming off of two wins, the last of which the Panthers put 66 points on the board, they are confident and pumped. This just could just be our year.
As his momma, I am a nervous wreck. All of the hoopla and sensationalism surrounding this game is lots of pressure for these young men. I've heard more than once from our fans, "I don't care if we don't win another game all year, we just wanna beat Bryant." These boys work so hard. I remember when I was a kid, football practice started with "two-a-days" in August. Arkansas now has a state law that they get 2 weeks off in the summer. Dead weeks. Because every other day in the summer, they are practicing. Football is a commitment. They work year around. And with each game....THIS is the one settled in the back of the minds of each player.
When you see these kids....Pat them on the back. Both sides. They are both fighting for their schools. The pressure is insurmountable. Like "tryout week" for cheer and dance, all region week for band, etc. They are a bundle of nerves, and are doing their best to focus and do their job. Coaches are depending on them and expecting a lot. If you love a football player, let him know it. Win or lose....support them. If you are their girlfriend....please wait until NEXT week to break up with them! lol Please do everything in your power to keep their focus on the game and their part in it. Bottom line....these boys need us. ALL of us. Let's not let them down.
Here are my Salt Bowl Prayer Requests:
Pray for sportsmanship and safety. Ask the Lord to place a hedge of protection over each and every person involved.
Ask Him to comfort the team with the lesser score. Since both teams cannot win, there will inevitably be some broken hearts.
Pray for thanksgiving of the talents you will see displayed. From the hard work and dedication you will see come to light after weeks and months of preparation.
Pray for those who are a part of the team, but are not given the chance to take the field. Like my Sam last year....they, too, have worked so hard and are just as important. Those jerseys are earned. And each player deserves to wear them....and with pride.
Pray for the Coaches.....that they lead our boys into a great game, placing each player where they need to be for the best interest of the team.
Pray for the officials...that they keep the spirit of the game in check and be completely neutral and fair.
Pray for the fans, that they respectfully support their school and their opponent. And for God's sake....stay til the game is over. The boys won't leave the field until the last second is off the clock. No matter what the scoreboard shows, you shouldn't either.
Pray for the Seniors, who have been excellent leaders to my son. On AND off the field. That they know they have left a legacy with us. Forever.
Also, pray for all of the spirit teams. Cheer, dance, band, etc. This is also their "big game of the year" and is no less important to them.
Yes, this IS just a football game. But....it is much MORE than a football game. Do we hate Bryant? Absolutely not. Sam has many friends taking the field against him wearing blue. Rivalry really comes down to love and respect. We love our schools. Pretty dog-gone cool.
In two days, my #21 will take the field. And I will be his biggest fan. Out of 30,000 peeps, he will scan the stands and find his momma. He knows there is one person that loves him the most. He also remembers his special fans in heaven. :) A couple of grandparents are cheering loudly! I know there are plenty mommas out there just like me...."Salt Bowl" mommas need prayers too! :)
If you look real close on his right wrist.....He is still wearing my bracelet. His constant reminder of Phil 4:13. "I can do ALL things through CHRIST who strengthens me."
I love you, Sam. "Hustle til the whistle blows....."