Everything has a sound to it, whether working in an office, going to school or attending a sporting event. So when the sound of the annual Salt Bowl football game between rivals Benton High School and Bryant High School suddenly changed, Mark Scarlett knew something was wrong.
“From the press-box standpoint, we didn’t know anything was going on until we heard the sound of the stadium change,” said Scarlett, who has been the public announcer for the Bryant home football games since 2009.
“When a game is going on, there is talking and chatting. There is a normal sound of anything you go to …,” Scarlett said. “When you are sitting in the stands watching it, there is a general sound of the game, such as cheerleaders and the noise of the crowd and the band.
“So it went from a normal sound to a very abnormal kind of sound. We noticed something wasn’t right because the noise changed. It didn’t have a rhythm to it. It was very up and down.”
According to multiple Arkansas Democrat-
Gazette reports, an incident involving a fight, falling barricades and the firing of a stun gun caused a mass panic and more than 38,000 fans to flee the game.
Scarlett said that from his position, he didn’t have a great view of the stadium, but “it was a complete breakdown of all the normal sounds you hear.”
“You could hear fear,” he said. “It just spread like crazy, the sound of complete chaos. I have never heard anything like that before, and I hope I never hear it again.”
Bryant head football coach Buck James said Scarlett’s experience and training as a principal gave him the credentials it takes to handle the situation.
“I think [Mark] handled it like a rock star. He was a calm voice in a very adverse situation,” James said.
“I know he had a son on the field, and his family was in the stands. He was a voice of reason in a chaotic situation. If he hadn’t handled himself the way he did, it would have been a more serious situation. He was calm under fire,” James said.
“It was easy for me to be calm,” Scarlett said. “The people on the field — that was a tough situation.”
Scarlett’s son, Cameron, is a junior at Bryant High School and plays middle linebacker for the Hornets. Scarlett’s wife, Karen, is the high school cheer coach, so they were both on the field. His two older daughters, Kristen and Kelsi, were in the stands.
“In the midst of everything that was occurring, Mark handled it like a pro …,” said Shane Broadway, vice president for Governmental Relations at Arkansas State University and Salt Bowl chairman. “He stayed calm, cool and collected, even though what many don’t know is that he had family, just like many of us, there and that he was trying to put eyes and ears on at the same time.”
Mark Scarlett has been the principal at Bryant Elementary School for four years. Before that, he was a coach and a high school science teacher. He served as an assistant basketball and track coach and was a head coach for tennis.
Scarlett started his career at Sylvan Hills Junior High School in 1992 and moved to Oak Grove High School for a year, before coming to Bryant in 1993.
“I truly enjoyed teaching and being a coach,” Scarlett said. “I really enjoyed that. Every day, it was fun to come to work.
“[Moving to administration] was a shock to my world, but it was the best thing I have ever done. I love being an elementary principal.”
He graduated in 1985 from Bryant High School — where he met his wife — and earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He said that as an elementary principal, he gets to see kids in their fundamental state.
“They are all still sweet, and they all want to come to school and learn,” he said. “They are excited to be here, and they have no outside views that have been skewed by anything.
“You get them at their fundamental basic selves. You see them for what they really are — just sweet little babies. They are just fun to be around.”
He said he wouldn’t be able to do the job he does without the help of Tim Adams, R.C. Penfield, Bryan Godwin and Roger Scherder.
Scarlett said having his son on the team makes it worse.
“I am like any other dad,” Scarlett said. “I have to watch myself. When he does good, I have to temper myself because I can’t go all out. But when he does bad, I have to also temper myself.
“It is a double-edged sword.”
Scarlett said being a public announcer allows him to really watch the game and see how the strategy develops.
“You can really see the strategy on both offense and defense. You can see the strengths and weaknesses of the team and how to attack it,” Scarlett said.
“I think he makes every fan understand what is going on in the game,” James said. “He makes it fun and exciting for the kids and gives everyone their due.
In the time since the incident at War Memorial Stadium, Bryant has had five home games. Scarlett said attendance has dropped off some, but most of that can be contributed to the weather.
“I feel like the atmosphere during games is more controlled,” he said. “There are less students moving around without a clear purpose.
“Other than that, nothing has really changed. Bryant fans come to see their band and their cheer, dance and football [team members].”
Broadway said the Salt Bowl Committee is already working and planning for next year.
“We have great leadership at the city, county and school-district level, along with those of us on the Salt Bowl Committee who are committed to do whatever we can to ensure the safety of those attending the Salt Bowl,” Broadway said.
Scarlett said he has no plan to ever leave his post as announcer because, as he put it, “he bleeds Hornet Blue,” sometimes to a fault.
“I get in trouble sometimes because my voice carries through Rob Patrick’s live feed [on Fox Sports Arkansas 99.3 FM/690 AM] while he is calling the game,” Scarlett said. “I tend to complain about the officials being too loud when I am not on the mic. I am sure Rob is ready for a new press box because of this.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.