Red Carpet Bowl prepares to kickoff for the 53rd year

Published 10:27 am Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fifty-three years ago, a small group of civic leaders from Vicksburg traveled to Biloxi. They returned with an idea that has spanned generations and become a Warren County tradition.

The Red Carpet Bowl, the annual doubleheader kickoff of the high school football season, will celebrate its 53rd anniversary Friday night at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium. Vicksburg High will play Harrison Central at 6 p.m., then Warren Central will face Wayne County at 8:30.

Tickets are $12 at the gate, and good for both games.

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“I had no earthly idea we’d be doing what they’re doing now. The board of directors was smart enough to roll with the punches of the Mississippi High School Activities Association over the years,” said Gene Allen, a former Cooper High School football coach who was one of the Red Carpet Bowl’s founding members. “I would never have dreamed it would survive this length of time. Now I’m optimistic that it’ll survive indefinitely.”

The Red Carpet Bowl started in 1962 as a postseason bowl game pitting two top high school teams. Five men — Allen, Harold Baldwin, Billy Ray, Ray Roberts and Travis Vance — are credited with coming up with the idea, and traveled to Biloxi to meet with Frank Barhanovich.

Barhanovich was the chairman of the Shrimp Bowl Classic, a similar game held on the Coast.

“We wanted to see what they were doing, organization-wise, that we were not doing. They were helpful and cooperative,” Allen said. “We had our tough goings in the early stages, but we never did feel like we were going to give up on it. When we left the Shrimp Bowl people, we realized we were closer than we realized.”

While the Shrimp Bowl and others like it eventually became extinct, the Red Carpet Bowl has found ways to survive as the landscape of high school football changed around it.

When the Mississippi High School Activities Association created a playoff system in the early 1980s, the Red Carpet Bowl switched from a relatively random postseason matchup to a playoff game involving either Vicksburg or Warren Central.

A decade later it became a preseason celebration.

Since 1992, the Red Carpet Bowl has been a doubleheader featuring Vicksburg and Warren Central. St. Aloysius and Porters Chapel Academy have also participated at times to make it a tripleheader, but neither has been a long-term participant. PCA’s only appearance in the RCB was in 2014, while St. Al has not played in it since 1995.

PCA and St. Al have been more regular participants in the Red Carpet Basketball Classic, an offshoot of the football event that is held in late January.

In an ironic twist, the Red Carpet Bowl even helped resurrect the Shrimp Bowl. When the latter game was brought back in 2011, RCB committee members once again traveled to Biloxi to talk about handling the logistics of bowl game. Only this time, they were the ones giving the advice.

While football is the focus of the Red Carpet Bowl, it is not its only purpose.

Proceeds from the game, as well as the Red Carpet Basketball Classic, go toward a scholarship fund for local high school students.

This year, the Red Carpet Bowl Committee — a group of Vicksburg residents who organize and oversee the event — awarded 10 scholarships worth $750 apiece to students at all four county high schools.

“It’s been some valleys. You’d think it was difficult. But with everybody putting their heads together — the city, county, superintendent, athletic directors, coaches, Mississippi High School Activities Association — we have survived,” said Travis Wayne Vance, the son of one of the founding members and himself a committee member since 1979. “I’m very thankful to all those people for finding a way to get things done.”


About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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