• John Macon Gillespie

Column: Introducing The Black & Blue Bowl

What would football be without rivalries?

In my time as a student at Houlka, I played football. I was a jr. high quarterback, wide receiver, and free safety. Small schools utilize players on both sides of the ball, even if they're not very good (like me). At the end of my jr. high career in 2011, I was moved up to the varsity team along with the other members of my class.

In my first game as a varsity football player, I did not receive any playing time, but I saw more action than any other game I've ever witnessed. Houlka was playing their division-rival Vardaman Rams. From the early going, the tensions were running high, and it was obvious that the game could get out of hand quickly.

It did.

With a little over eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Houlka's quarterback was sacked by his facemask. Shoving ensued. Then benches cleared. Then punches were thrown. Then helmets were swung.

As an 8th grader, I looked on from the sideline with my classmates in disbelief. The game was called, and Vardaman was awarded a 28-0 victory.

Let me take this time to pause. Not everyone is quick to dub this series as a “rivalry.” Sometimes, it has been more of a pure hatred than an actual rivalry. Since Houlka only gained a football program in 2008, they haven't had much time to establish a ton of rivalries. That being said, however, most people from Houlka have no problem calling Vardaman a rival.

Vardaman, on the other hand, has a much longer football history. The Rams first fielded a team in 1929 and has had many thrilling contests with Calhoun City, Bruce, Smithville and East Webster. When asking someone from Vardaman if Houlka is their biggest rival, their response is usually, “Absolutely not.” They usually claim the historic rivals of Calhoun City or East Webster as being larger than their dispute with Houlka.

Two years after the fight, I would transfer from Houlka to, of all places, Vardaman. Some of the very players that had been in uniform for the Rams that night still walked the halls as students. It was different, but I soon found joy in exchanging stories from that October night.

Before long, I became the public address announcer for Vardaman football, graduated high school and worked for the Rams' social media platforms.

I tell you my personal journey for one reason. High school football is great, and its rivalries help make it great. Even small school rivalries can be heated, and for a few years when these schools met in any sport, the tensions were higher than normal. I truly believe that this was one of the hottest rivalries in the state during that time period.

The seasons could not have been much different for the Wildcats and the Rams as far as wins and losses go, but they met in a pile on a cold night at the 50-yard line as their tensions exploded. I have always been a believer that a rivalry with such an interesting history should be named. I think I may have found one that fits perfectly.

Welcome to the “Black and Blue Bowl.” Houlka's colors are red and black. Vardaman's are blue and white. Blue and black also symbolizes bruising, which plays perfectly into the rivalry's historic midfield brawl.

I don't believe that we will see the two schools reach that level of tension again, but it has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

#JohnMaconGillespie #Vardaman #Houlka

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