More than 5,000 pack cross-town matchup

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 6, 2000

Back-up quarterback David Chaney celebrates after Warren Central High School defeated Vicksburg High School 30-7 Friday night. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

It was an hour before game time when the first green balloon drifted purposefully over Memorial Stadium, affectionately known as The Swamp.

It hovered near the ground at first, unsure, then soared skyward, caught on an unseen breeze, until it was lost in the glare of the Friday night lights.

While the Gators hoped similarly to rise to the occasion, it wasn’t in the cards. They went down 30-7 in the millennial matchup with cross-town rival Warren Central.

Regardless of the outcome, a 20-year tradition of head-to-head competition, and all the smaller traditions that go with it, made Memorial Stadium the place to be as more than 5,000 people jammed themselves into the stands. Hundreds more crowded outside, including young children with faces pressed against the chain link fence for a better view.

One of those outside was Kendrick Williams, an off-duty fireman who arrived late only to find no seats available.

“I was excited about seeing the game,” Williams said. “It’s a chance to see the two best teams in Warren County, in my opinion, go head to head.”

Williams said he was here the last time Vicksburg won, a decade ago, but hasn’t been to many games since.

The 1992 Vicksburg graduate said the atmosphere is still the same as when he attended as a high school band member electric with excitement and, for Vicksburg High, hopefulness that this will be their year.

Melanie Mendrop, a senior at Warren Central, said she didn’t know too much about football, but that hasn’t stopped her from enjoying the rivalry since long before she was a student.

“Both my parents went to Warren Central, and my grandfather was the first principal at Warren Central,” Mendrop said. “I’ve been coming to these games since I was little.”

Asked about her favorite part of the annual Vicksburg-Warren Central match-up, she first said, “victory,” but after thinking about it changed her mind to “tradition.”

The rivalry is more interesting because the students at both schools know one another, and the outcome of the game gives bragging rights to the winning school, Mendrop said.

Unlike some previous years, no fights resulted from the school rivalry, and the most serious offense to be found was a dice game in the men’s restroom, which ended abruptly at a lookout’s signal just before a policeman walked in.

The Gators booster club spent the hour before kickoff busily handing out the green and white balloons, a tactic they save for this game every year.

The idea is to intimidate the other side with a massive, colorful release of balloons right before kickoff. But as often as not, the balloons escape long before that, drifting away in pairs or threes.

“I think they’re supposed to let them go at the end of the game,” said Catherine Withrow, a freshman band member who stood watching the parents of senior band members collect their letter jackets, another tradition. “Or maybe it’s the beginning of the game, I’m not sure; I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to let them go yet.”

The parents in the booster club weren’t concerned; for every balloon they lost, they just blew up another one and handed it to somebody else, hoping they could hang on to it.

“We got plenty more where that came from,” booster Pat Gray said.