Football rivals the Benton Panthers and Bryant Hornets have been battling it out on the gridiron since 1974. Over the 45 years of the games’ history, many memorable plays, performances, and experiences have brought out the best in Saline County like nothing else, pep rallies, tailgating, and fundraising for special causes leading up to the Salt Bowl have created a great sense of pride and united us as a community.
Unfortunately, the 2018 Salt Bowl will be remembered for a much different reason. At approximately 9:00 PM, a fight broke out in the stands. According to the official Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism Final Investigation Case Form, the altercation involved 10 males, one of whom “produced a stun gun and activated it in the stands.” After multiple spectators including some involved in the incident began yelling, “Gun, Gun,” the crowd panicked. Approximately 25,000 fans ran toward the exits, knocking over barricades, which sounded like gunshots, further adding to the mayhem.
After a lengthy investigation and collaboration among many law enforcement agencies, it was determined that no firearms were discharged in or around the stadium that evening. While we all know now what actually happened, the event has led to unprecedented changes in security and communication.
In February of this year, Saline County resident Justin Dorsey came on as Stadium Manager. As a veteran of the Arkansas State Park system, Justin made the decision to transition into law enforcement. In 2013, he and his family moved to Benton where he served as a Benton Police Patrol Officer and a School Resource Officer. “As Stadium Manager I oversee both the day-to-day operations as well as the planning for future development. War Memorial is a unique and special place. There is not another place like it in the country. I want to help ensure that the stadium is around for future generations of Arkansans to visit and make memories of their own.”
In addition to Justin’s plans for upgrading and growing the stadium, one of his immediate priorities has been to establish protocol ensuring every event at the stadium is safe and secure. Justin has been working diligently with various entities to develop a detailed security plan. Those involved in security meetings include Mayors from both cities, the Saline County Sheriff’s department, Benton and Bryant police departments, Student Resource Officers from both schools, Little Rock police, Pulaski County Sheriff’s office, park rangers, Emergency Management, War Memorial security teams and school and community leaders.
In short, security measures are basically the same as for an SEC college football game. A clear bag policy, no loitering in the concourse, a list of items prohibited from the stadium and enhanced communication technology between all agencies that will be onsite the night of August 30. Law enforcement will be patrolling the concourse throughout the evening and the no loitering rule will be strictly enforced. In addition, metal detectors will be in place so fans are encouraged to arrive early to ensure that security can thoroughly process everyone through the gates prior to kickoff.
Justin has taken extra steps outside Salt Bowl security meetings to ensure the safety of every event at War Memorial. “Our head of security attended a National Stadium and Arena security summit in North Carolina this year to gain knowledge and ensure that we are taking every precaution. Also, we are currently constructing a new state of the art incident command center with upgraded security capabilities.”
For players and coaches, apprehension about being back at War Memorial is not a problem as both teams are concentrating on the game. Bryant Athletic Director Mike Lee says playing at War Memorial twice after the Salt Bowl with new security measures in place took the edge off any nerves that may have been there. He has flooded his staff with information about the media stirring that will likely come up that week and has no doubt that Hornet Nation will be strong. Lee says, “We are not going to be derailed. We are going to push through.”
Benton Athletic Director Scott Neathery added, “Everybody wants to feel safe this year and there will be substantial security in place.” He knows that his staff and players are focused on the game and are comfortable after also playing in the state finals at War Memorial last year. “We are here to do a job. We are focused on the game.”
Dorsey adds, “It’s human nature to become complacent in our routine lives until something happens that opens our eyes. After last year’s incident everyone has had a year to evaluate, collaborate, plan, test and train.” He believes everything is in place to ensure the safety of everyone in attendance.
We have learned from last year–and thanks to the hard work, dedication, skills and knowledge of those involved we have new procedures in place that will allow the Salt Bowl to continue as a safe, family-oriented Saline County tradition for years to come.
For detailed information about new security measures including approved bag specifications and prohibited items, visit wmstadium.com.