When my parents were students at what's now Ouachita Baptist University in the 1940s, the school's president was James R. Grant. When I was a student at Ouachita in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the president was Daniel R. Grant, the son of James R. Grant.
Dan Grant is 95 now and recently wrote Tiger Tales: Four Generations of Memories and Legends Surrounding Ouachita Baptist University. I'm not surprised that a chapter is devoted to the Battle of the Ravine, the annual football game between Ouachita and crosstown rival Henderson State University. They'll play again Saturday afternoon at Henderson's Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. It's the only college football game in the country where the visiting team literally walks to a road game. State troopers will stop traffic on U.S. 67, and the Ouachita team will walk across to play the game. ESPN should show up one year for that unique sports moment.
The series is almost even (Henderson leads 43-42-6) after all these decades. The game has been decided by a touchdown or less in 42 of those 91 contests. The series was suspended from 1951-62 due to excessive vandalism. When the two schools started playing again in 1963, I was 4 years old. You can bet I was there, as I've been for almost every Battle of the Ravine the past 55 years.
The actual ravine, which is filled with kudzu, is less than a mile south of the two stadiums. The Battle of the Ravine should be on every Arkansan's bucket list. Few things in sports can compare to a contest between quality small college football programs whose stadiums are within walking distance of each other.
"When I was 11, my father came home for supper and told us of a visit from B.F. Worley, a sculptor who felt God's call to be a preacher and wanted to enter Ouachita to prepare for the ministry," Grant writes in his book. "The 25-year-old had no money but offered to carve a marble tiger in exchange for his tuition. My father agreed and asked the senior class to raise $2,000 to buy seven tons of Batesville marble for carving the tiger. They did, and with the help of Marvin Faulkner, another Ouachita student, the tiger was completed and placed on campus where it now stands. Worley got the idea of carving the tiger from the University of Texas, for which he had carved a school mascot longhorn when he was employed by a stone company."
The sculpture was completed shortly before the 1934 Battle of the Ravine.
"The new tiger attracted the attention of Henderson students who were looking for good targets to paint red," Grant writes. "The night before the game, word spread through the campus that a mob of about 200 Henderson students was heading to Ouachita armed with sticks, rocks and paint. A similar mob from Ouachita, with sticks and rocks, gathered to meet the Reddies and protect the tiger. The two groups met not far from Cone-Bottoms Hall and the president's home. I sat on a stucco fence nearby, clicking two big rocks in my little 11-year-old hands. My father walked out between the two mobs and asked to speak to leaders from each group. He pointed out that there was imminent danger of serious injury and that it would be far better for both sides to return to their rooms and let the conflict be settled by well-trained teams on the football field. He was a peacemaker that night, but it was not always possible in later years."
A decade later, Dan Grant was a college student and the president of the Ouachita Student Senate.
"The night before the football game, I led a large delegation to meet at a halfway point in the ravine, where I met my Henderson counterpart, Roy Scoggins of Pine Bluff, also with a large delegation," Grant writes. "We discussed war and peace and negotiated a truce. In 1977, when I was president of Ouachita, B.F. Worley returned to campus for a visit. I showed him his tiger with no tail, teeth missing and many of the delicate contours scratched and burned by efforts to remove countless layers of red paint. I explained that it was decided in the 1960s to stop the damaging paint-removal efforts and simply spray gold paint over the red. He offered to carve a new tiger, but we were afraid it would just be vandalized again. We thanked him but decided to live with the alternating layers of red and gold paint."
Ouachita officials decided to restore Worley's tiger to honor its 75th birthday. There's now a fence around the tiger, and security cameras are aimed at the sculpture. Still, Ouachita students are guarding the tiger 24 hours a day this week. Henderson students, meanwhile, are keeping an eye on campus landmarks such as the fountain and bell. The lights are on each night in both stadiums, and black tarps cover campus signs.
"In July 1976, two Ouachita students snuck inside Henderson's stadium and sprayed 40-foot OBU letters in liquid nitrogen on the end zone hill," Grant writes. "By late August, the letters were a deeper, richer green than the rest of the grass. This prompted the Henderson grounds crew to paint the letters HSU in bright red in the grass, complete with a white painted background. Despite their best efforts, the nitrogen-enriched grass flourished and showed through the paint job throughout the fall. Years later, I found out that one of those Ouachita students was my son, Ross. ... The Battle of the Ravine is one of the greatest rivalries in college sports and contains many traditions and legends. Athletic competition between Ouachita and Henderson has helped bring people together, build friendships and create memories."
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 11/07/2018
Print Headline: Battle of the Ravine