On September 19, 1974, two high school football teams met for the first time. Benton and Bryant clashed on the grass of C. W. Lewis Stadium in Benton and, unbeknownst at the time, the beginning of a fall classic was formed. Each year, the final game of the season for each team was for bragging rights in Saline County. Victories were hard fought and treasured.
Eventually, in 2000, both team coaches agreed there wasn’t enough room in Bryant’s or Benton’s stadium to hold the overflow crowds who had made this single game a yearly tradition. The only venue in the vicinity that would accommodate the crowd was War Memorial Stadium. The teams made the move and thus was born the Salt Bowl.
This year will be a first in the long established rivalry. The game will be played on Saturday, September 2, instead of Friday night. The theme for Salt Bowl 2017 is “Keepin It Salty” #SaltySaturday.
Shane Broadway, chairman of the Salt Bowl Committee, is excited about the change and explains why it was required.
“When the Razorbacks game against Florida A&M was moved for TV to Thursday night at War Memorial, Jerry Cohen the General Manager contacted us about possibly moving to Saturday,” says Broadway.
The extra time would be needed to fully clean the East and West sides of the stadium, the entire grounds and tailgate areas that are used for the Salt Bowl and Academy Sports + Outdoors Tailgate Party.
“There will be a high school game there on Friday night, but they will only use one side of the stadium.”’ Broadway continues. “That was the main reason, but as a committee, we have frequently discussed the option of playing on a Saturday to give our coaches, players and fans a unique atmosphere and also it would help our parents and fans greatly with traffic and parking.”
A coaches’ and players’ press conference will be held at War Memorial Stadium at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, August 28th. Coach Brad Harris, Coach Buck James and two players from each team will be available to speak about this year’s game.
There will be two community pep rallies at Everett Buick GMC the week of the game. The Bryant Community Pep Rally will take place on Tuesday, August 29th, at 6:00 p.m. and the Benton Community Pep Rally will be held on Wednesday, August 30th, at 6:00 p.m. as well. There will be free hot dogs, drinks, and Kona Ice at each rally.
The tailgate party begins at 3 p.m. on the east side of the stadium. Saline County banks and credit unions will be passing out free hot dogs and drinks, and over 50 vendors will be set up to visit with and enjoy.
Pre-game festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m. with recognition of the Future Benton Panthers and Future Bryant Hornets and cheerleaders, as well as our Community Service Awards, the Rob Patrick Award and the Donnie Burks Award.
At halftime, the “Throw it Like a Pro” and “Kick for Chicken” competitions are back. Both bands and cheer squads will perform as well.
But the characteristic that continues to set this game apart from all the other high school games is the same as it was way back in 1974 through the move to War Memorial Stadium in 2000 to the highly anticipated battle in 2017 – The sense of community it embodies.
“It is the most unique atmosphere for a high school football game in Arkansas and quite possibly the country,” says Broadway. “Two communities so close to one another. We work together, go to church together and for most of the year we are one community. On Salt Bowl day one of my favorite things is to see a sea of Maroon and Blue Salt Bowl t-shirts walking around the tailgate party together and the fellowship the exists and then for a few hours everyone cheers for their team and when it is over they go back to being neighbors.”
There are many tales woven in the fabric of this game that reveal the passion from both towns. In the mid-70s, we listened as the Benton Band played the Pink Panther theme song each time Benton scored. In what now seems a logical prank in return, we woke to find the Panther in front of the school painted pink.
Bryant saw the dropping of a full load of marshmallows onto their football field from a helicopter. There have been many such memories in the decades of this rivalry that stung at the time but now are cherished.
We’ve seen the full spectrum of everything a great rivalry has to offer, from blowouts, tight games, torrential downpours, to one exciting tie game. When the fourth quarter ends, and it’s time to go home, regardless of the score, we all win.