By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
Hilldale vs. Fort Gibson football on Friday night packed Leo Donahue/Tiger Stadium in unprecented numbers for the 31st meeting between the schools.
Early estimates said 9,500 to 10,000. Fort Gibson athletic director Gary Hendrix said Monday the number of actual tickets sold was 3,400 but that those with passes brought the number to around 5,000.
I said 6,000, trying to patch an Indian Bowl quilt out of the packed bleachers, the sometimes two-deep lines around the fence separating the bleachers from the field and the folks who packed the paved curve from the south end of Fort Gibson’s bleachers around past the concession area linking to the visitor’s side of the field.
Bottom line, it was a great football spectacle, well beyond the 17-10 Fort Gibson win, spiced by the Red-White Rumble and the now-coveted Rock.
I remember the first year after our department at the Phoenix came up with a name the rivalry contest. The “rock” was almost left behind at the field by the winning team. Contrast that to the winning team hoisting it before a cheering bleacher section, the band in full salute, and then the senior players posing with it, with themselves, their girlfriends, their families.
It’s gratifying knowing that 100 years into this rivalry, long after I’m gone, that rock we found in the bed of the Arkansas River will remain a prized possession.
Indeed, it was a night that makes high school football great.
There are others. Eufaula-Checotah is the state’s longest uninterrupted rivalry. Warner-Gore was one for a while but got disrupted at the last realignment.
Muskogee-Tahlequah was once one. Indications are it won’t resume anytime soon.
It’s a shame.
Tahlequah-Fort Gibson are trying to get one going, having played each other in non-district the last several years. But it’ll never be the battle for the Rock.
Some Rougher fans will tell you Jenks or Broken Arrow is a rival. Yeah, well, maybe. A lot of schools would call Jenks a rival. But you have to split victories every now and then to have a rivalry. Union-Jenks draws 20,000-plus when played at TU. Broken Arrow vs. Union is a mix of wins between the two.
All of those will disappear from Muskogee’s schedule, perhaps permanently, when Class 6A is divided into two parts.
Maybe the Muskogee-Booker T. Washington rivalry of ages past will renew itself, although most of the energy of that rested in the 1970s and 1980s.
One thing is for sure, football schedules miss something without one.