OUR HERITAGE: The Red Carpet Bowl

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, August 8, 2018

When the ball is teed up in August for the first game of what has become an annual football doubleheader, the Red Carpet Bowl will enter its 56th year as the start of football season in Warren County.

Begun in 1962 as a fundraiser to benefit Leo Puckett, a local high school athlete who was seriously injured in a football game that left him a quadriplegic, the classic has become an early season showcase for Warren County’s two high schools, Vicksburg High and Warren Central.

But in the beginning, the organizers of the event weren’t sure what would happen after that first game between Carr Central High School and Columbus. The founders went to Biloxi, which had the Shrimp Bowl, to learn how officials there operated their game, but there were still unknowns.

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“When we started, we had no earthly idea where it would go. We knew it would run at least two years,” said Gene Allen, a Red Carpet Bowl founder and Carr Central’s coach in that inaugural game. “There were a lot of things we needed to know about forming a bowl. Fortunately, I’m the only one who’s ever had his father as head of the Mississippi High School Activities Association. That’s where we went when we needed help.”

“That was important,” said board member Travis Wayne Vance, who played in the first game and later served as chairman.

“There were so many questions that needed to be answered; we didn’t know exactly what rules and regulations the state had at that time, so I called my father and told him what we wanted. He was very helpful,” Allen said.

The bowl eventually moved to August and the start of the football season, and went to a multiple-game format in 1992. The same year, Vicksburg High and Warren Central began taking turns hosting the game. The 1995 Red Carpet Bowl almost didn’t happen.

“The night before, we got a 6-inch rain in Vicksburg and no drainage at Vicksburg High,” Vance said. The flooded field resulted in a search for helicopters to dry off the field in time for the first of three games that year. Eventually, the medivac helicopter based at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport was secured to dry off the field.

“We had 10,000 people watching the helicopter dry off the field, and school wasn’t even in,” Vance said. “When the game played, the field was completely dry.”

Allen said there have been some keys to the Red Carpet Bowl’s success. One is the board’s relationship with the MHSAA.

“We knew the important aspect was to sit down with the director of the high school association and his governing body, and let them tell us what would be the best direction to go with our bowl game,” he said. “ If we hadn’t gone and sat with the committee, we would have never retained the Red Carpet Bowl.”

Another is the participation by people in the community with concessions and other activities.

With the death of Leo Puckett, the money raised through the bowl, the Red Carpet Bowl Basketball Classic held each January and a golf tournament in August goes to provide $750 scholarships to high school seniors from St. Aloysius, Vicksburg High, Warren Central and Porter’s Chapel.

“We’re helping folks from our community,” Vance said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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