Football rivalries are nothing new. Long before there was a Salt Bowl, games like Auburn vs. Clemson (first game in 1899); Army vs. Navy (1890) and Arkansas vs. LSU for the battle of the Golden Boot (1901) met to determine dominance on the field and claim bragging rights, if not an actual trophy. The Salt Bowl has been a major event in Saline County for 16 years, but long before that, do you remember the other great Benton rivalry: Westside Bulldogs vs. Eastside Cougars?
In 1948 Benton had one junior high – the Benton Junior High Bulldogs. The newly formed football team was led by Coach Elbert Kizzia. Mr. Nubbin Wray, fullback for the first team, remembers the excitement he and his teammates had to be playing for BJH. “We spent a lot of Sundays playing tag football wherever we could. We all had to learn our assignments, but we were thrilled to have a team.” After playing together as one team for 20 years, in 1968 the junior high was split and the Westside Bulldogs and Eastside Cougars were formed. The two teams met that year on the playing field led by Head Coaches Jim Thorworth (Bulldogs) and Frank “Corkey” Chenault (Cougars). That first well-fought Benton vs. Benton game ended in victory for the Westside Bulldogs with a score of 34-0.
Fast forward to 1985. The Bulldogs and Cougars have played 16 games against each other to this point and now that the schools were being combined the following year to form the Benton Junior High Warriors, the teams were competing for the last time at C. W. Lewis stadium under the direction of Bulldog Head Coach, Jack Roseberry, and Cougar Head Coach Tom Farmer. Throughout the course of the rivalry, the two teams proved their athleticism and teamwork skills on the field. Eastside won more games (Cougars won 9; Bulldogs won 8 and they tied 1 game) but Westside won the first and the last Bulldog vs. Cougar game. Each had their own bragging rights.
Even though all Benton Junior High students are now united as proud Warriors, many remember that intense rivalry, especially the historic 1985 game. Head Coaches Roseberry and Farmer share their memories of the game and the lessons that can be learned from the first Saline County rivalry.
Westside: “The most memorable play would have to be the only score of the game. On the first play of the fourth quarter Kirk Shelnut took the handoff from quarterback Brad Crouch and scored from 1 yard out. Brad threw to Greg Steed for the two point conversion. From there our defense played lights out to secure the win in the last Westside/Eastside game.”
Eastside: “Every time the cougars took the field it was memorable. The players gave us 100% every time the ball was snapped and it did not matter whether our opponents were bigger, faster and stronger, because they all were that year. We came out with the desire and ambition that we would win the game. The kids had determination. They were truly all winners.”
Westside: “In my 34 years of coaching nothing compares to the excitement level in CW Lewis Stadium. The level of excitement was off the charts. The fans being so close to the field helped add to the atmosphere.”
Eastside: “There was an air of excitement, but at the same time, for the parents that had attended the two schools there was also an air of regret. Benton is a very traditional school where people like the idea of their kids playing and graduating from the school in which they attended, so even though the school was moving onto to a new conference with new opponents, it was bitter sweet that night.”
Westside: “I encouraged them to always remember their time as Bulldogs but to learn to work with the Cougars to become Warriors. I had the pleasure to move on to the high school the next year to coach the 10th grade Panthers.”
Eastside: “The attitude was that as Warriors we were one. That we were united in preparing to become a Panther. We would act as one, we would play as one, we would do everything we could to make each other better.”
Westside: “To prepare and practice each day leading up to the game so you will be at your best so you can play your best. Play within yourself. Don’t try to do too much – just do your job. Play each play to the whistle. When the game is over don’t look back and say, ‘I could have played a little harder.’ Leave it all on the field.”
Eastside: “Cross-county or cross-city, the thing about both is that we all live together. The competition is great, but once the game is over, we all live together. You can have a friendly game, knowing that you are going to give everything you got to win, but when it is over, the only thing remaining from the game is bragging rights until the next year. The friendships that are developed from rivalries last forever and this gives each person a chance to reflect on great times of playing the game.