It was a weekend of football and brass.
On Friday night, the Observer dropped into Quigley Stadium to watch the undefeated Central High Tigers squeeze by the Cabot Panthers, 14-12. We were on hand to cheer the Tigers, but also lend a little moral support to nervous Cabot fans.
Cabot has been so wary about attending games in the inner city of Little Rock that for years they agreed to play Central, a nonconference opponent, only at Cabot. Central agreed to be the permanent visiting team because the school picked up a cash bonus for making it an away game. Now in the same conference, Cabot and Central must take turns as the home team and this was Cabot’s first trip in that role.
The game was exciting. The only violence was on the field and it was all within the rules. But Cabot fans didn’t come to Little Rock in great numbers for the game. They barely outnumbered the impressive Cabot band, which always puts on a good show. Central’s band is stellar, too, though it’s a “show band,” more in the style of UAPB than Texas A&M. The music has an urban beat, too. You won’t see the Tiger band doing Broadway show tunes or Sousa very often.
But the Cabot and Central bands share one similarity. Both schools still use the venerable “On Wisconsin” as a fight song. Tradition is a fine thing, but I confess it seems a little out of synch when the high-stepping Tiger band shifts into the stodgy strains of “On Tigers.” In 2009, the song by William T. Purdy will be 100 years old. Few in Cabot or Little Rock likely know that it was actually written in a contest for a University of Minnesota fight song, but Purdy was persuaded to turn it over for Badger use instead. There could well be some who think the song has local origins, as long as it has been played here. It was several years into The Observer’s own elementary school education before he came to realize “Beer, beer for old Lake Charles High” actually had its origins a few miles north of southern Louisiana. And that at that school in Indiana, there was no line about sending the freshmen out for gin.
On Saturday, UAPB played a thrilling game against Grambing State at War Memorial Stadium. The “Battle of the Bands,” however, nearly matched the football contest — and was the draw for several people in the crowd of 30,000-plus.
Granted, the Observer may not be a totally objective judge, but just as UAPB won the football game 33-28, we think the UAPB band outshone the great Grambling State musical assemblage on this day, too. UAPB may have been a little short on numbers compared with Grambling, but they were long on enthusiasm, full of marching, shaking, dancing and fun at halftime.
Grambling may have worn itself out up in the stands during an offensive first half, since the “battle” was fought during the game as well; the bands piped down only to let the teams run their plays, then blasted away with brass and drums. Grambling’s band nearly filled an entire section in the southwest end of the main stands; UAPB’s took up a significant among of space in a southeast section. Grambling’s band, with its two rows of trumpets and outline of Sousaphones looked like a rolling ocean of movement the entire first half, like one big party that we were unfortunately not a part of, sitting as we were in the north end zone.
We also saw a first: a 97-yard draw play for a touchdown. We’ve seen long touchdown runs and long runs on draw plays, in which the quarterback appears to be dropping back to pass but hands the ball off to a back, who then hopes the opponent’s pass rush has opened a big hole in the line. Such was the case for UAPB’s Dedrick Poole, the former Little Rock Central star, who scampered for the longest TD run we’ve ever seen in person.
The best play of the day, though, was this: The Delta Classic 4 Literacy raised its goal of $100,000 to help fight illiteracy, which is estimated to reach 40 percent in some pockets of the Delta.