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Carnival atmosphere surrounds gameOriginally Published November 15, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated November 14, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
On a November Saturday that felt more like early September, a gathering larger than the population of Arkadelphia came together on an open field at Henderson State University.
The official reason for the gathering was the tailgating/carnival festivities before the annual Battle of the Ravine football game between HSU and its neighbor/arch-enemy Ouachita Baptist University.
This was the 86th football game between the schools, but for the last couple of years, it had become more than an event between two schools. The game is now celebrated by the entire community and is the largest public event in town.
“This may be the biggest crowd we have ever had,” said Carrie Roberson, director of institutional advancement at Henderson. “There have been a lot of people all day, and more keep coming.”
She nodded toward the street that leads into the parking lots where cars and pickups were almost bumper to bumper.
More than 12,000 attended the game, and a majority of those enjoyed the food, carnival rides and activities on the field before the game.
“Today was much like a second homecoming for us,” HSU President Glen Jones said. “The Battle of the Ravine is the game everyone from both schools wants to attend.”
As members of the HSU Reddies Showband of Arkansas had a box lunch, along with family members and other spectators, a band made up of alumni played. A former band member told today’s musicians that being part of the band meant being part of “a family where friends are formed that will continue through their lives.”
Several small groups set up tents that provided shade for long conversations or to watch the University of Arkansas Razorback game with the University of South Carolina on large televisions.
One tent was easy to spot. In a field filled with the red of HSU and the purple of OBU, the tent top wore the blue and orange of the University of Illinois. The tent had been set up by Bert Steck, formerly of Chicago, now a resident of Haskell.
“We’re from Chicago, but when I retired, we had a place in Hot Springs Village,” Steck said. “My wife got a job in Little Rock, so living near Benton was closer.”
The Stecks are the proud parents of band member Andrew, a drummer and music major at Henderson State.
Steck said his son was in the band at Benton Harmony Grove High School before joining the Showband of Arkansas at Henderson. The family regularly attends the games for which their son plays.
Along with the Stecks were a collection of Big Ten alumni, including graduates from Ohio State. All were decked out in Henderson shirts.
Henderson fans donned red or black T-shirts, while OBU students and alumni wore their home-team purple.
“I cannot believe I am out here before the rivalry game in a T-shirt and shorts,” said Steve Fellers, public relations director for HSU. “This is a great day for all the activities and the game.”
With the warm, sunny weather, a sales booth, operated by the Henderson bookstore, in the tailgating area sold more than 100 black Battle of the Ravine T-shirts. At the north end of the field, business was good for shirts in Ouachita purple. The shirt fronts urged the team to “Best HSU,” or as one shirt named its foe, “HS Who?”
There was competition for the food as well. Henderson’s Aramark Food Service cooks fed their fans with a Cajun theme, offering roast pig, boiled shrimp and grilled bratwurst. Served under a red tent, tables were set with red-and-black tablecloths, and flowers were on every table.
Just more than 100 feet away, under a purple tent, Sodexo, the food service provider for Ouachita Baptist, also roasted a pig and offered submarine sandwiches, along with barbecued turkey drumsticks. Diners’ tables were dressed in OBU’s purple and white.
Both food areas were serenaded by the universities’ bands during the afternoon.
Along with celebration of the schools’ rivalry, community members and football fans enjoyed the carnival rides set up along the roadside. A large Ferris wheel gave visitors a bird’s-eye view of the festivities.
Around 2 p.m., after the OBU Tigers took the traditional walk across the road to their away game at Henderson, the crowd made its way up the hill to Carpenter-Haygood Stadium for the contest.
Attendance did set a new all-time record, with the grandstands that were built for 9,600 including almost 3,000 standing spectators.
“I think the efforts by the Rally on the Ravine people to bring the school and the town closer together are working,” said Elaine Kneebone, general counsel for Henderson State and an Arkadelphia native. “The idea that grew from the Clark County Leadership Class has brought a lot of new people to campus and to the game over the last two years. The group should be proud of what they have done.”
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.