Photos by Kevin Nagle
LITTLE ROCK — On the floor of War Memorial Stadium Monday evening, the Arkadelphia Badgers were opening the 2015 high school football season against the Stuttgart Ricebirds. But, in the press box, there was a lot more talk about another game, a game that annually draws the largest crowd of the season in the state.
At the annual press conference held in advance of the Salt Bowl, Bryant Hornets Brycen Waddle and Cameron Murray along with head coach Paul Calley were joined by Benton’s Ben Brassuell and Drew Dyer with Panthers coach Scott Neathery. The players and coaches were talking to the press about the 2015 Salt Bowl between the two teams scheduled for War Memorial this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
For details about the festivities that surround the annual showdown, go here.
The two teams tied last year, 14-14, and since it wasn’t a conference game, no overtime followed to break the tie. Thus the theme of the 16th Salt Bowl, which is the 44th meeting overall, is “#Unfinished Business.”
The overtime rule for non-conference games has, by the way, been changed by the AAA, something Calley said he felt came as a result of last year’s Salt Bowl.
Organizers hope that this season’s Salt Bowl breaks the previous record for attendance. The goal is 30,000.
The successes of the two teams last year make that a possibility. After the tie, both got on a role. Benton went undefeated all the way to the Class 6A State championship game, which they lost to 6A-South rival Pine Bluff. Bryant went unbeaten until the 10th week when they were upended by Conway. But they bounced back to get a State playoff win over Springdale Har-Ber and played eventual champion Bentonville off their feet for three quarters before falling victim to a fourth-quarter rally.
After introductory remarks by Shane Broadway, a member of the Salt Bowl Committee, the coaches and players came to the podium for comments, starting with the Bryant contingent, as the visiting team this season.
Calley: “I would like to thank all the individuals involved that make this event happen every year. A lot of volunteers — I know our AD’s (athletic directors) do a tremendous amount of work — to make it special for our kids. It’s been a huge success.
“I have been fortunate to be a part of the Salt Bowl, like it is now, since it’s inception (2000). That’s a long time. It’s touched many kids that have come through both schools, touched both communities.
“There is not a day that you can’t go to Wal-Mart in either community and see somebody wearing a Salt Bowl t-shirt. I went just this last Saturday just so I could say that that was true. There were more people with Salt Bowl t-shirts on, old and new, than people wearing any other kinds of clothes. I think it tells you how big this game is in both communities.
“I’m proud to be a part of it, thankful that I’ve been able to be a part of it.
“I do think that the rule was changed about ties because of this game. I think most people in the media agree with me. They felt a lot of pressure to make sure the Salt Bowl didn’t end in a tie again. They got several phone calls about that.
“That’s how big it’s become. It can even change policy in the state of Arkansas.
“I hope that we can set the record for attendance. I really feel like we would if it wasn’t Labor Day weekend and the Razorbacks — we’re going to compete with them a little bit. But I know we’re going to have great crowds on both sides.”
“Today I have with me two young men that are going to be the biggest keys — I said the biggest keys — to our success defensive tackle Cameron Murray and offensive tackle Brycen Waddle. I’ll have both of them tell you what the Salt Bowl means to them personally.”
Murray: “One thing the Salt Bowl means to me is it’s an opportunity to play in front of 25, 30,000 fans on a big stage in War Memorial Stadium where the Hogs play at. Also, it gives us a look on how college football is played. I love being a part of this for three years and I will miss it.”
Waddle: “The Salt Bowl’s special because there’s not a bigger high school game in the state of Arkansas. It’s just crazy. You can’t even hear yourself think. It’s a lot of fun.”
Neathery: “When I came in, I told Coach Calley, it kind of feels like Groundhog Day. It feels like we were just here yesterday. Every year when we come up here, we know this is the start of football season. We get the Salt Bowl going.
“I was going to say the same thing as Coach Calley, thanking everybody. I know a lot of people put in a lot of hard work to get this done. I know it’s special for our players. The same thing, wherever you go whether it’s Benton or Bryant, everybody’s talking about the Salt Bowl this time of year. That’s a great bowl-type setting to start off the season.
“I know, in the parking lot, there will be all kinds of things going on. It’s almost like a carnival or festival or something like that. It’s a cool deal for these kids, parents and community members to be a part of. It’s a special thing and I hope everybody realizes how special it is to be a part of this. I know I do.
“We’re looking forward to playing. I know everybody’s tired of beating up on each other. At this point, it’s time to play a ballgame. Everybody’s tired of practicing. It’s time to play.
“You know this is a big game. We all look forward to it but, boy, it’s nice when it’s all over with and now let’s get on to the next part of the season, right?
“But it is a big deal and we appreciate everybody that puts a lot of hard work into it.
“I’ve got Ben Brassuell and Drew Dyer.”
Brassuell: “I reflect on what he was saying about this being the biggest game of the year, I was thinking the other day, I look forward to the Salt Bowl more than any holiday, any other game, any family gathering. This is one of the biggest things of the year.
“It brings our school together all week. Everybody’s so hyped to play.”
Dyer: “I’d just like to reiterate what everybody else is saying. It’s really cool to get out there and experience that as a high school player because most players don’t get to experience this at a high school level. Having 30,000 people out there, it’s something you can’t explain unless you’re really down there playing.
“It’s awesome having the whole community come together during this whole week and, really, the whole summer. It’s something that you really look forward to.
“I’m going to miss it after this year. It’s been a great three years. Hopefully, after this year, we can finish this unfinished business.”