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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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.

Little Rock Look Back: Thanksgiving Day Football in 1918

100 years ago, the Little Rock High School Tigers football game on Thanksgiving was against a group of soldiers from Camp Pike.

The game took place on Thursday, November 28, 1918. The Great War had ended a little over a fortnight earlier, but the game had been scheduled while hostilities were still going.

The Tigers, who had never lost on Thanksgiving Day after starting a tradition of playing on the day in 1914, were for the first time the underdogs. The soldiers of the 13th Training Battalion were slightly older and much bigger – an average of 20 pounds bigger per player.

Going into the game, the Little Rock High School team was down a key player. Julian Adams was out with wrenched knee.  Another player John Ward was also absent (though the newspaper accounts do not indicate why).

Coach George H. Wittenberg was missing along the sidelines due to illness. He was not the first coach to be absent that season.  The regular coach, Earl Quigley, had been drafted and was stationed in South Carolina during the season.  Wittenberg, was a faculty member at the time. He had lettered for the football team when he had been a student a decade or so earlier. Later, as an architect, he would be one of the designers of the new Little Rock High School, now Central High School.

The game took place at Kavanaugh Field (a baseball field also used for football).  Though it is now the site of current Central’s storied Quigley Stadium, this was nearly a decade before the high school moved from Scott Street to Park Street.

The Camp Pike gridiron team dominated the game before a crowd of 1,000. The soldiers made three touchdowns in the first quarter, two in the second, one in the third, and one more to cap off the game in the fourth.

The closest the Tiger eleven got to scoring was in the second quarter when Hershell Riffel caught the ball at the 12 yard line and team captain and quarterback Alvin Bell advanced another six yards.  Camp Pike held them there.  Just before the game ended, Bell injured his knee and was taken out of the game.

Also that day, the University of Arkansas beat Kendall College (now the University of Tulsa) in Tulsa by a score of 23 to 6, West Tennessee Normal (now University of Memphis) defeated the Jonesboro Aggies (now Arkansas State Red Wolves) by a score of 37 to 0, and Hendrix College bested Henderson-Brown (now Henderson State University) by a score of 9 to 7.

Thanks to Brian Cox’s book Tiger Pride: 100 Years of Little Rock Central High Football for filling in some of the players names which were omitted in the newspaper coverage.

Little Rock Look Back: Hogs vs. Ole Miss in Little Rock

It appears that the first meeting of the Arkansas Razorbacks and Ole Miss Rebels in Little Rock was in 1913. That would have been at Kavanaugh Field (now the site of Quigley Stadium on the campus of Little Rock Central High School).

On November 15, 1913, the two squads faced off in only the second gridiron match between the schools. The Razorbacks were on the losing end of a 21 to 10 score.

The next year, on November 14, 1914, the two teams again met in Little Rock. Because of the use of an ineligible player by Ole Miss, the Razorbacks count this as a victory by a score of 1 to 0 due to a forfeit.  Ole Miss, to this day, disputes that fact and counts it as a 13 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Due to the dispute, the teams would not meet again until 1924.

On October 25, 1924, the Hogs and Rebels resumed their football face off and returned to Little Rock.  That day, the Razorbacks (under third year coach Francis Schmidt) dominated Ole Miss by a score of 20 to 0.  This would be the final time the two teams would meet in Little Rock for over two decades.  Most of their games would be in Memphis during the intervening years.

The series returned to Little Rock on October 25, 1952.  This would be the first time the two teams would meet in War Memorial Stadium. It was in the final of Otis Douglas’ three unremarkable seasons as coach of the team.  The score reflected the disappointments of his tenure as the Razorbacks managed only 7 points to Ole Miss’s 34.

When the Hogs returned to War Memorial two years later to face Ole Miss (October 23, 1954), both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was number 7 and Ole Miss was number 5.  The result was a 6-0 upset of Ole Miss on a 66-yard touchdown pass from Bob Benson to Preston Carpenter known to Razorback fans as the “Powder River Play.” After the season, coach Bowden Wyatt left to coach at his alma mater, Tennessee.

In his three seasons as coach, Jack Mitchell led the Razorbacks against Ole Miss in Little Rock only once. But that single entry on October 27, 1956, was a Hog victory. Ole Miss was again held scoreless while the Hogs ended the game with fourteen points. Prior to the game, Ole Miss had been undefeated. (The Razorbacks also would hand the Rebels their first defeat of the season the following year in Jackson.)

On October 25, 1958, first year coach Frank Broyles would lead his Razorbacks into Little Rock to face 6th ranked Ole Miss. It was Broyles’s second appearance in Little Rock following a 12 to zero defeat by Baylor in his inaugural Hogs game. While the Razorbacks lost the game to Ole Miss by a score of 14 to 12, it was in this game that a Broyles-led team scored its first points in Little Rock.

October 22, 1960, saw Broyles and the Hogs return to Little Rock to face Ole Miss.  This time both teams were nationally ranked. Arkansas was 14 and Ole Miss was 2.  After a defensive slugfest, Ole Miss escaped with a 10 to 7 win over the Hogs.  Though Arkansas lost, they actually rose in the national polls to number 12 the following week.

It would be over twenty years before the two teams would again play each other in Little Rock.  On September 25, 1982, the 9th ranked Razorbacks met the unranked Rebels.  This would be coach Lou Holtz’s penultimate season as head coach for the Hogs, though no one knew it at the time. (Except possibly athletic director Frank Broyles.)  The team that season was captained by Gary Anderson, Jessie Clark, Richard Richardson, and Billy Ray Smith.  Arkansas escaped with a 14 to 12 victory. Perhaps because of the closeness of the game, the team fell to number 10 for the following week.

Ken Hatfield’s first game as Hogs head coach was in Little Rock against Ole Miss.  The date was September 15, 1984.  The outcome of the game was a tie.  Both sides scored fourteen points. His other two Little Rock entries that first season would be wins (Texas Tech 24-0, Rice 28-6).

Two years later (September 13, 1986), Hatfield’s Hogs again started the season in Little Rock against Ole Miss. This time Arkansas was ranked 18 while Mississippi was unranked.  The Hogs team (captained by James Shibest, Derrick Thomas, and Theo Young) dominated Ole Miss and ended the game with a final score of 21 to 0.

September 17, 1988 was the next time the two teams met in Little Rock.  That year Hatfield’s team was captained by Steve Atwater, John Bland, Odis Lloyd, and Kerry Owens.  Both teams were unranked for this game.  The Hogs again scored 21 points, but this time Ole Miss scored 13.  While not as convincing a win as two years prior, it was still a victory for the Hogs.

In 1990, new head coach Jack Crowe led the Razorbacks to War Memorial to face Ole Miss.  The Hogs were ranked 13 while Ole Miss was unranked.  Arkansas lost by a score of 21 to 17. The team would fall ten spots in the polls and be out of the polls for the remainder of the season shortly thereafter.

Interim head coach Joe Kines did not have much better luck against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  On October 17, 1992, the two teams met for the first time at War Memorial Stadium as conference foes. This was the first season after the Hogs had made the jump to the SEC.  Ole Miss left win a 17 to 3 win.

With the conference switch, the scheduling of Hogs vs. Rebels games entered a new phase. For the next twenty years the teams would alternate between Fayetteville and Oxford MS for games.  Hogs coaches Danny Ford, Houston Nutt, and Bobby Petrino never coached a Razorback team against Ole Miss in Little Rock.  (Though all coached plenty of games against Ole Miss and in Little Rock.)

When the 2012 season was announced, it looked like Bobby Petrino would coach the Hogs against Ole Miss in Little Rock. However due to an off-season incident, by the time the October 27, 2012, game came around, the Razorbacks were coached by John L. Smith.  In what would be his only season leading the team, Arkansas lost the Little Rock game to Ole Miss by a score of 30 to 27.  That is the most recent meeting of the teams in Little Rock until 2018.

Over all the Razorbacks lead the series against the Rebels by a tally of 36 to 27 to 1.  In Little Rock, the record is 7 wins, 7 losses, and 1 tie.

Little Rock Look Back: Ernest Green graduation from LR Central High

Last week, the Class of 2018 graduated from Little Rock Central High School.  Perhaps the most famous graduation ceremony in the long-storied history of Little Rock Central High took place on May 27, 1958.  It was on that date that Ernest Green became the first African American to graduate from the formerly all-white school.

Among those in the audience to witness this historic event was an up and coming minister named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium.   Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.  Because he was going to be nearby, Dr. King wanted to witness the history.  Green did not know that Dr. King was in the stands until after the conclusion of the ceremony.  Later that evening, Dr. King gave Green a graduation present of $15.

Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Because of fears about the event becoming a media circus, the Little Rock School District limited the press on the field to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box normally filled with sportswriters covering the gridiron exploits of the champion Tigers.  There were photos taken of Green prior to the ceremony as well as during the ceremony.

During the graduation rehearsal, there had been concerns that some students or other people might try to disrupt the practice.  But it went off without a hitch.  Likewise, the ceremony itself went smoothly.  Local press reported that some members of the class briefly chatted with Green during the ceremony.  That the event took place without incident was a relief on many levels to City leaders.  Also in the class of 1958 were a son of Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann and a daughter of LRSD Superintendent Virgil Blossom.

Little Rock Look Back: Sen. William Marmaduke Kavanaugh

On March 3, 1866, William Marmaduke Kavanaugh was born in Alabama. He later moved with his family to Kentucky before coming to Little Rock as a newspaper reporter.

Kavanaugh served as editor and manager of the Arkansas Gazette before entering politics.  From 1896 until 1900, he served as Pulaski County Sheriff, which at the time also included the duties of tax collector.  From 1900 until 1904, he was County Judge of Pulaski County.  In that capacity he helped wrangle several cities, railroads and trolley lines to create a compromise which lead to the completion of the Third Street Viaduct which connected Little Rock with Pulaski Heights. It is still in use today.

After leaving his post as County Judge, he had a varied career in banking and business interests.

When Senator Jeff Davis died in early January 1913, he left the last few weeks of his term incomplete as well as the new term he was set to start in March 1913.  There was much interest in who would fill the remainder of Davis’ current term, because that person might be the frontrunner to also fill out the new term.  (This was at the time that the U.S. Senators were still selected by state legislatures.) Defeated Governor George Donaghey appointed J. N. Heiskell to fill out the term. But once the Arkansas General Assembly convened in mid-January, they overrode Donaghey’s appointment and replaced Heiskell with Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh served in the Senate from January 29, 1913 until March 3, 1913.  He was succeeded by Joseph T. Robinson who had only recently taken office as Governor.  Speculation was that Kavanaugh would not want the full six year term, so that he was acceptable choice to all of the politicians jockeying for the full appointment.  From 1912 until 1915, he was an Arkansas member of the Democratic National Committee.

Another interest of Kavanaugh’s was baseball.  He served as president of the Southern Association minor league starting in 1903.  The baseball field in Little Rock situated at West End Park was named Kavanaugh Field in his honor.  It stood until the 1930s when it was replaced by what is now known as Quigley Stadium.  (In 1927, Little Rock High School had opened on the land which had been West End Park.)

Kavanaugh died on February 2, 1915 at the age of 48.  He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

Prospect Road was renamed Kavanaugh Boulevard in his memory.

Little Rock Look Back: MLK in LR

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Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.

A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

Ernest Green has a photo of him with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 1968, when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.