Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

Turkey Day Football in LR – Little Rock High vs NLR

lrhs-nlrhs-grid-1957After 20 years of playing a variety of schools on Thanksgiving, in 1934 Little Rock High School had started the new tradition of playing the North Little Rock High School Wildcats.  These cross-river rivals had played a few games previously in the 1910s and early 1920s. The competition was resumed in 1931, but was not on Thanksgiving Day until 1934.  With that game, the Tigers of Little Rock would begin a 49-year tradition of taking on their biggest rival on Turkey Day.

For much of the 1920s and 1930s, a Thanksgiving Day game for Little Rock High School meant rain.  That was the case in the 1934 meeting at Kavanaugh Field. (Located at the current spot of Quigley Stadium, it was a baseball field on which football games could also be played.  In 1936, the current stadium opened.)  The Tigers and Wildcats played to a 2-0 win achieved by the southside Bengals of Earl Quigley.

Another notable matchup was the 1938 game.  Little Rock won 12 to 7. With that win, it captured its first official state football championship. (Though the Arkansas Activities Association does now credit LRHS with several prior championships.)

The 1939 edition took place on Arkansas Thanksgiving.  That November featured five Thursdays.  President Roosevelt issued a proclamation that Thanksgiving would be the fourth Thursday, as it traditionally was. However Arkansas and a few other states chose to observe it on the final Thursday.  Little Rock won 6 to 0, but it was a messy game. Some sports fans joked that the game was FDR’s revenge on Arkansas for ignoring him regarding Thanksgiving.

In 1941, only a few days before the US would be plunged into World War II, North Little Rock achieved its first Turkey Day win over Little Rock.  The score was 26 for the Wildcats and 0 for the Tigers.  This was only the third ever loss for the Tigers on a Thanksgiving Day.  The Tigers were so dominant on Turkey Day games, a student had once remarked to a Gazette reporter that the matchup against Pine Bluff should be moved to Thanksgiving since the Tigers always seemed to win on that day.  (Pine Bluff was the state’s other football powerhouse at the time and often gave the Tigers fits in games.)

North Little Rock repeated as winner in the 1942 game, this time with a 31 to 12 score.  Writing for the Gazette, Orville Henry wondered if this would be the final meeting for the duration of the war.  He opined that many of the players might be in a different type of uniform for future games and that rubber might be needed for the war effort instead of athletic equipment.  While some colleges and high schools did drop football during the war, neither LR nor NLR did.

The Tigers were back on top in 1943 by a 13-7 score.  (It would be the last football game for the NLR coach who had been drafted.)  The 1944 game also featured a 13-7 score, but this time it was flipped and the Wildcats were winners.  The 1945 edition ground to a 13-13 tie.

In 1947, both teams were undefeated heading into the Turkey Day classic.  The inky wretches and scribes were predicting another evenly matched slugfest.  Instead Little Rock owned the game and came out with a 13-0 win.

The teams met eight times in the 1950s on Thanksgiving.  Little Rock won seven of the eight, losing the 1951 game by one point (13 to 14).

With the anticipation of a second Little Rock high school to be opened in a few years, Little Rock High School was rechristened as Little Rock Central High in 1954. The new school, named Hall High, opened in 1957 but played much smaller schools for its first year on the gridiron.  Plans were underway for Hall and Central to meet on Turkey Day in 1958, so the 1957 meeting of Little Rock and North Little Rock would be the final time the two teams would meet on Thanksgiving Day.

Little Rock Central High had dominated world headlines in September and October 1957 with the integration of the Little Rock Nine.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.  In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.

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Author: Scott

A cultural thinker with a life long interest in the arts and humanities: theatre, music, architecture, photography, history, urban planning, etc.

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