Little Rock Look Back: 60 years ago today – the inaugural Central vs. Hall Thanksgiving Football Game

A Central vs. Hall Thanksgiving Day game (though not from 1958)

On November 27, 1958, the Central High Tigers and Hall High Warriors faced off for the first time in a Thanksgiving Day football game.

Playing on Thanksgiving had been a Central High tradition since 1914. But for Hall High, in only its second year, this was a new occurrence.  The Tiger-Warrior faceoff on Thanksgiving would be a 25 year tradition.

The games were always played at Quigley Stadium, which was at the time the home stadium for all 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.

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Thanksgiving Football 1969 in Little Rock: Hogs, Tigers, Warriors, Bearcats and Rockets

The Hogs stop Texas Tech at War Memorial Stadium

On Thanksgiving 1969 (November 27), four Little Rock high schools AND the University of Arkansas all played football games in Central Arkansas.  It was a day for football in the Rock!

It appears this was the only time this feat has happened.

It was a cool and misty day which seems to have made balls slippery and grass fields sloppy. But the precipitation seemed to be more an annoyance than a barrier for the players and fans.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, ranked Number 2 in the nation, played host to the Texas Tech Red Raiders at War Memorial Stadium.  The two teams played before a crowd of 35,287.  This was the smallest crowd in LR that season, likely due to it being Thanksgiving and the presence of the Central/Hall football game the same day.  It would have been hard to fit in two football games, Thanksgiving meals, and a possible church service all within one day.

The Hogs were 16 point favorites for the game with a 1:50 kickoff.  It was broadcast on ABC, and fans were encouraged to wear red to show up well on the color telecast.

The Hogs beat the Red Raiders by a score of 33 to 0 in their penultimate regular season game.  Turnovers were the key with the Hogs recovering a fumble and intercepting five passes.

This game set the stage for the final Hogs regular season game, which was the December 6, 1969, shootout against the Number 1 Texas Longhorns in Fayetteville.

Earlier in the day, Little Rock Catholic took on NLRHS north of the river with a 10am kick off. The Rockets, under head coach George Loss, were 9-2 heading into the game. The Wildcats (coached by Ken Stephens) were 5-4 and had won four in a row. At the end of the game, NLR was triumphant by a score of 21 to 12.

Later that day, Jones High hosted Horace Mann at the same stadium. This game, with a 2pm kickoff, would be the final game between Jones and Mann. Jones was being closed at the end of the year.

The teams had met earlier in the season with Mann triumphing 13 to 8. Mann had a record of 2-8, playing in the larger AAAA classification. Jones, with a record of 4-6, played in the AA classification. For years these all African American schools were not allowed to play in the Arkansas Activities Association. But by the late 1960s, they were now playing in AAA conferences.

Jones scored an upset victory over the Bearcats by a score of 19-8.

Quigley Stadium was less than three miles from War Memorial Stadium. With a 10am kickoff before a sold out crowd, people who had wanted to go to both the Hogs game and Hall/Central game also had the option of listening to the high school gridiron competition on KARK radio (now KARN).

Prior to the game, Hall had captured the AAAA State Championship by virtue of its record. (The top classification did not participate in playoffs until 1983.) C. W. Keopple was the Warriors’ coach, while Gene Hall was the Tigers’ mentor.  The damp field and high stakes of the game turned it into a defensive slugfest.  Hall had 2 fumbles while Central fumbled four times.

At the end of the fourth quarter the scoreboard showed a 0 to 0 tie. And that one went into the record books.  Hall’s season record was 9-0-1, while Central’s was 6-2-2.  It was the best season record Hall had amassed in its 13 years of football.

Four football games within a few miles of each other were a peek into Little Rock life:

  • The Hogs were riding the crest of their 1960s football superiority in the Southwest Conference.
  • The final Thanksgiving football game in Arkansas between two segregated public schools.
  • Continued alternating dominance by Hall and Central in the state’s largest school sports classification.  Soon, Parkview would be added to the mix. Throughout the 1970s, all three Little Rock public high schools would rotate winning state championships.

Little Rock Look Back: Final Thanksgiving Day High School football game in Arkansas

Since the early 1960s, the Arkansas Activities Association had been discouraging the playing of games on Thanksgiving Day.  With the advent of state playoffs, these Thanksgiving games were an interruption. By 1982, only one such rivalry still existed. The Little Rock Central vs. Little Rock Hall game.  Both schools were in the largest classification (5A) which did not have playoffs.

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.  Played on November 25, 1982, 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 trajectories facing different sets of teams.

1969 Turkey Day Football in LR: Hogs, Tigers, Warriors, Rockets, and Bearcats

The Hogs stop Texas Tech at War Memorial Stadium

The Hogs stop Texas Tech at War Memorial Stadium


Thanksgiving 1969 marked not only the Culture Vulture’s first foray into the holiday, it saw three high schools and the University of Arkansas all playing football games in Central Arkansas.  November 27 was a day for football in the Rock!  It appears this was the only time this feat happened.

It was a cool and misty day which seems to have made balls slippery and grass fields sloppy. But the precipitation seemed to be more an annoyance than a barrier for the players and fans.  

The Arkansas Razorbacks, ranked number 2 in the nation, played host to the Texas Tech Red Raiders at War Memorial Stadium.  The two teams played before a crowd of 35,287.  This was the smallest crowd in LR that season, likely due to it being Thanksgiving and the presence of the Central/Hall football game the same day.  It would have been hard to fit in two football games, Thanksgiving meals, and a possible church service all within one day.  

The Hogs were 16 point favorites for the game with a 1:50 kickoff.  It was broadcast on ABC, and fans were encouraged to wear red to show up well on the color telecast.  

The Hogs beat the Red Raiders by a score of 33 to 0 in their penultimate regular season game.  Turnovers were the key with the Hogs recovering a fumble and intercepting five passes.  (The final Hogs regular season game was the shootout against Texas in Fayetteville on December 6.)

Little Rock Catholic took on NLRHS north of the river with a 10am kick off. The Rockets, under head coach George Loss, were 9-2 heading into the game. The Wildcats (coached by Ken Stephens) were 5-4 and had won four in a row. At the end of the game, NLR was triumphant by a score of 21 to 12.  

Later that day, Jones High hosted Horace Mann at the same stadium. This game, with a 2pm kickoff, would be the final game between Jones and Mann. Jones was being closed at the end of the year.  
The teams had met earlier in the season with Mann triumphing 13 to 8. Mann had a record of 2-8, playing in the larger AAAA classification. Jones, with a record of 4-6, played in the AA classification. It is notable that by 1969 the teams were in Arkansas Activities Association classifications and playing integrated schools.  

Jones scored an upset victory over the Bearcats by a score of 19-8. 

Quigley Stadium was less than three miles from War Memorial Stadium. With a 10am kickoff before a sold out crowd, people who had wanted to go to both the Hogs game and Hall/Central game also had the option of listening to the high school gridiron competition on KARK radio. 
Prior to the game, Hall had captured the AAAA State Championship. CW Keopple was the Warriors’ coach, while Gene Hall was the Tigers’ mentor.  The damp field and high stakes of the game turned it into a defensive slugfest.  Hall had 2 fumbles while Central fumbled four times.  

At the end of the fourth quarter the scoreboard showed a 0 to 0 tie. And that one went into the record books.  Hall’s season record was 9-0-1, while Central’s was 6-2-2.  It was the best season record Hall had amassed in its 13 years of football. 

Four football games within a few miles of each other were a peek into Little Rock life: 

  • The Hogs were riding the crest of their 1960s football superiority in the Southwest Conference.  
  • The final Thanksgiving football game in Arkansas between two segregated public schools. 
  • Continued alternating dominance by Hall and Central in the state’s largest school sports classification.  Soon, Parkview would be added to the mix. Throughout the 1970s, all three Little Rock public high schools would rotate winning state championships. 

Little Rock Look Back: Central & Hall Football at 2-0

lrchs-lrhhsAfter two weeks of prep gridiron (that is high school football to those who don’t write like a 1950s inky wretch), Little Rock Central and Little Rock Hall are both posting records of 2 wins and 0 losses.  This feat has not been achieved in quite a while.

How long?  37 seasons!  It was 1979, the last time that the Tigers and Warriors were both out of the gate at 2-0.

1979

Jimmy Carter was in the White House. Bill Clinton was in his first term as Governor. First Lady Hillary Rodham was several months pregnant with Chelsea. Hall High and Razorback standout Webb Hubbell was Mayor of Little Rock.  The City’s population was in the 150,000s (it would be 159,151 after the 1980 census).  Little Rock had an area of approximately 80 square miles.  (Today it is approximately 200,000 citizens over 122 square miles.)

Lou Holtz was coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks in the Southwest Conference.  Harry Hall was in his first season as Commissioner of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference.  Rex Nelson was a student at Ouachita.  Paul Eells was in his second year with KATV, while Dave Woodman was finishing his first decade at KARK.  Gary Hogan was anchoring sports for KTHV.  Hogs football games were broadcast on KAAY radio.  While Bob Buice and Jim Elder were ruling the airwaves at KARN, Craig O’Neill was dominating mornings at KLAZ.

Orville Henry, Jim Bailey, and Wadie Moore covered college and high school sports for the Arkansas Gazette.  The Arkansas Democrat had switched to morning delivery and hired John Robert Starr as editor.  Both papers carried ads for Kempners, Golds, M.M. Cohn, Skaggs Albertsons, Minute Man, Union National Bank, Commercial National Bank, Worthen National Bank, and First National Bank.

Metrocentre Mall existed with bricked over streets on Main and Capitol. The Grady Manning Hotel and Hotel Marion still stood (though in their twilight days before their February 1980 date with demolition.)

So a lot has changed since Central and Hall previously achieved this.  In the interval, Central has been 2-0 a dozen times and Hall has achieved that a brace. But the schools never managed it during the same season.  Three times the schools both managed 1-1 seasons and seven times they each started at 0-2.

The 1979 Warriors were helmed by C. W. Keopple, who would lead the team from the 1960s into the 1980s winning four conference/state titles. (When your conference is statewide, winning one got you the other.)  Bernie Cox was in his fifth season as the Tigers’ mentor, with two state championships already under his belt, five more would be in his future.

The teams stayed tied through the fourth week. But in the fifth week, while Central won, Hall lost to Parkview by a score of 7-0.  The following week, the Warriors rebounded, while the Tigers settled for a 0 to 0 tie with Ole Main.  Weeks seven through ten saw both teams notching another win each week.  This set up a Thanksgiving Day classic with the state’s top two teams facing off.  Central was slightly favored, but season records seldom carried any weight when the two cross-town rivals played on Thanksgiving afternoon.  In an upset, Hall bested Central by a score of 17 to 0.

From 1987 to 1990, the second game of the season was the Hall-Central matchup, which meant that it would have been impossible to both start with a 2-0 record.  This second week matchup was made necessary by the fact that not only could the two teams no longer face off on Thanksgiving after 1982, but the two schools were not in the same conference from 1983 through 2000. So the faceoff was early in the season, during the non-conference portion.

Due to subsequent restructurings by the Arkansas Activities Association, the two schools have not played a football game since 2005.  The bell from the “Battle of the Bell” which was supposed to replace the pageantry and intense rivalry of the Thanksgiving Day matchups, sat forlornly and largely forgotten in the trophy case at Central following the 2005 edition which Central won by a score of 24 to 7.  (That season Central started at 0-2 on the way to a 5-5 record and Hall started at 1-1 on the way to a 3-7 record.)  UPDATE: As noted in a comment on this piece, the Bell has now been refurbished and sits proudly at Quigley Stadium.  Thank you Belinda Stilwell for the information!

Who knows how the 2016 season will turn out for these two teams?  In the past 2-0 has led both to State Championships and to a 6-4 record.  But for two schools that have struggled in the past few seasons, to start with a 2-0 record is quite an accomplishment. For both to start with that record is remarkable.

 

While the blog hiatus and a restructuring continue, this was a bit of history that needed mentioning.