How big is the Benton/Bryant prep football rivalry? The schools from adjoining towns whose campuses are separated by a few miles play the annual Salt Bowl game 20 miles away in Little Rock at War Memorial Stadium.
Crowds became so big the two schools’ stadiums couldn’t hold them. The schools moved the game in 2004, and with more room the crowd broke an Arkansas prep attendance record in 2009 with a mark of 26,316.
While the fan bases from the two schools have little love loss, they work together to make the game a spectacle that is a productive fundraiser for both schools. There are pep rallies at a local car dealer, there’s been a golf tournament and a charity that both schools donate compete to raise the most money or donate the most food.
On game day, fans start arriving at War Memorial Stadium three hours early to enjoy “Arkansas’ largest high school tailgate party”, which includes free hot dogs and sodas. Vendors pay $300 for a first-time booth and $250 after that. Non-profit groups and churches pay $100. The proceeds are split evenly between the Benton and Bryant athletic departments.
The pomp and circumstance and blanketed local media coverage make it the state’s best rivalry. Below is my list of the Top 5 rivalries statewide. You won’t find traditional rivalries that have lost their luster recently like LR Hall/LR Central, Springdale/Fayetteville and Rogers/Bentonviille. I’m going for the best current rivalries that have enjoyed staying power. I know many of you feel strongly about your schools’ feuds. Feel free to comment below.
1) Benton/Bryant — First, it has a catchy nickname and, most important, it is the closest thing to a Texas High School Friday night atmosphere you’ll find in Arkansas.
2) Fort Smith Southside/Fort Smith Northside — The “Battle of Rogers Avenue” is a very close second. What I love about this rivalry is Fort Smith is one of the larger cities in Arkansas, but this game kindles small-town like pride and turnouts.
3) Rison/Fordyce — The towns that are 16 miles away and share the distinction of being two of the better football towns in Arkansas. The best small-town rivalry in Arkansas.
4) Prairie Grove/Farmington — The best rivalry in Washington County is no longer Fayetteville/Springdale. “The Battle for Highway 62” has plenty of fuel with the two towns being separated by just six miles. The rivalry, unlike some prep football rivalries, carries over to other sports — the baseball game last year drew more than 1,000 fans according to one observer.
5) Pine Bluff/Watson Chapel — Former Pine Bluff star running back Basil Shabazz’s best memory of the Zebras 1990 state title runs was beating the cross-town rival Wildcats in the playoffs in front of an overflow crowd. Two winning programs with great traditions and the spark of sharing the same backyard.