For many years Little Rock dominated the state in football. First as Little Rock High School, then as Little Rock Central, the City’s oldest high school won over 20 state championships from the 1910s through the 1950s. With the emergence of Little Rock Hall, the 1960s were dominated by the City’s newer high school. Together these schools led the state in football for over 60 years.
While the 1970s and 1980s saw less consistency in the quality of gridiron prowess at Little Rock’s two oldest public high schools, it did not matter. A Hall vs. Central Turkey Day football game was often like a football season unto to itself. The previous weeks of the football season did not matter – all that mattered was the Warriors against the Tigers.
The games were always played at Quigley Stadium, which was at the time the home stadium for all three of the Little Rock School District’s high schools (the third high school Parkview opened in 1968). Each year Central and Hall would alternate which was the “Home” team.
The week leading to the game would feature skits and pep rallies at both high schools. Pranks, rumors of pranks, and threats of retribution would abound between the schools. Cars wrapped in orange and white would circle the Central campus one day, while black and gold cars would encircle Hall’s campus another day.
On game day there would be special performances at the stadium by the drill teams, cheerleaders and bands of both schools. The Tiger and Warrior mascots would taunt each other. Friendships between students at the rival schools were put on hold. It was all about the tradition and THE GAME. Church services, family dinners and any other activities were scheduled around the festivities at Quigley.
Hall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season. The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958.
During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools. Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played. The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.
With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last. In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game. Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs). This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.
The next year classes were back in session at Hall and Central. The future of the series was not in doubt. Hall achieved its first win with a 16-13 victory over the Tigers. Hall also captured a state championship with the win.
Over the years, the Thanksgiving Day game would deliver state championships to Central in 1960, 1975, 1978, 1980 and 1981. Hall walked away on Thanksgiving Day with championships in 1964, 1966, 1969, 1977, and 1979. On several other occasions, Central or Hall kept the other team from winning a championship.
Three times the teams fought to ties: 1962, 1963 and 1969. (The latter two games ended in 0-0 ties.) The 1980 game was notable for being played in snow at Quigley Stadium. While the Thanksgiving Day games at Quigley (and its predecessor Kavanaugh Field) had often been played in the rain, snow was a new experience for the day.
With the changes of state athletic conference classification, the 1982 game was announced as the final Thanksgiving Day game between Hall and Central. The top two classifications were being combined which would necessitate conferences and playoffs to determine the state champion. This would mean that Hall and Central would need to meet before Thanksgiving. Going into the game Hall led the series with 13 wins to Central’s 8 wins.
The 1982 edition lived up to the hype. This was the 25th edition of the Hall and Central rivalry. While there was no doubt that Hall would end up with the most wins, Central wanted to make sure that they ended it in the way they started it in 1958 – with a win.
Central boasted a 4-1 record. Pine Bluff and LR Parkview were both 4-1-1. Hall was 3-0-2. As long as Central or Hall won outright, the winner would be state champ. A tie (and there had been three previous ones) would result in a four-way tie for first place. Hall’s coach C. W. Keopple had led the team since 1964 and amassed a 10-6-1 record against Central. The Tigers were mentored by Bernie Cox who was 4-3 against the Warriors since taking over in 1975.
Nearly 9,000 fans packed Quigley Stadium for a cold but dry day. As the buzzer sounded after four quarters, the Hall High Warriors were jubilant. They had won the game 14-3 after putting together a nearly flawless offensive effort. The win moved them into first place with a 4-0-2 record. Central, which had sat atop the conference most of the season, ended up in fourth place with a 4-2 record. The defeat also ended the Tiger’s hopes for a third consecutive championship. This game, like so many before it, provided high drama and excitement as it confounded some pundits yet also lived up to billing.
And with that, the series concluded. In the end, Hall had fourteen wins while Central had eight. There were also three hard-fought ties. Central achieved four shutouts of Hall, while the Warriors blanked the Tigers three times. In the twenty-five games, Central scored 228 points, and Hall scored 297 points.
From 1983 until 2005, Hall and Central continued to play each other in football. This time, they played for the ceremonial bell in what became known as “The Battle for the Bell.” Today, the bell is proudly displayed at Quigley Stadium. After 2005, Hall moved into a lower classification than Central. This put them on separate tracts facing different sets of teams.