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2020 Red Carpet Bowl matchup: Vicksburg vs. Warren Central

The Red Carpet Bowl is great. The River City Classic football game between Vicksburg High and Warren Central is also great.

Now, they are two great things that will go great together.

At a special meeting on Thursday, the Red Carpet Bowl organizing committee announced it reached an agreement with the Vicksburg Warren School District to brand the annual rivalry game between Warren County’s two largest high schools as the 2020 Red Carpet Bowl. The game is scheduled for Sept. 4, at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium.

It will be the season opener for both teams, as well as the first time they’ve played each other in the Red Carpet Bowl. The crosstown rivals have played each other every season except one since 1981.

“We didn’t want a year to go by without a Red Carpet Bowl, and losing the tradition of the game,” Red Carpet Bowl committee chairman Mark Buys said. “We think it’s a great thing that the Red Carpet Bowl continues. It’s going to be a hyped-up game anyway, and that adds to the excitement. It’s going to be cool.”

The move comes 10 days after the Mississippi High School Activities Association canceled the first two weeks of the 2020 high school football season.

The Red Carpet Bowl had been scheduled as the season opener on Aug. 21, with Vicksburg High facing Madison Central and Warren Central taking on Holmes County Central at Warren Central’s Viking Stadium, but it was among the canceled games.

The MHSAA’s decision put the status of the Red Carpet Bowl in doubt. RCB organizers and Vicksburg Warren School District athletic director Preston Nailor were able to come to an agreement that will essentially rebrand the game for one year.

In normal years, the Red Carpet Bowl sells tickets for the game and keeps that money while paying all four teams to play. This year, the school district will keep the proceeds from ticket sales — if there are any; the MHSAA has not yet said if fans will be allowed to attend games this season. The Red Carpet Bowl will not pay a guarantee to either Vicksburg or Warren Central.

Nailor said he was willing to work with the Red Carpet Bowl on sponsorship issues. The Red Carpet Bowl and the school district each have their own deals in place with various businesses.

“It’ll be a regular game for us. The only thing is adding the Red Carpet Bowl’s name to it,” Nailor said.

Buys thanked the Red Carpet Bowl’s corporate sponsors, and said they would be crucial to keeping the organization’s coffers full this year. Without ticket sales, the Red Carpet Bowl will be entirely reliant on sponsorship money.

The Red Carpet Bowl will save some money by not paying the participants any guarantees and scaling back on some of the usual pageantry surrounding the game, but still needs the sponsor money to help with its primary mission of offering scholarships to Warren County’s high school seniors.
Each year, the Red Carpet Bowl awards nine scholarships worth $750 each to seniors at all four of the county’s high schools. The Red Carpet Bowl is a non-profit organization.

“That’s why the corporate sponsorships are needed. Those sponsors pay the freight,” Buys said. “Not getting the gate is cause for us to cut back, but we’re of the opinion that we’ll be OK with our corporate sponsors.”

The Red Carpet Bowl has been played every year since 1962, with three exceptions. The 1975 game was canceled for unknown reasons, and the 2018 doubleheader was canceled halfway through the first game because of severe weather.

In the 1980s the Red Carpet Bowl was a postseason game and traditionally played as the first home playoff game for either Warren Central or Vicksburg. In 1986, however, both of those teams went on the road in the first round and lost. No other teams in Mississippi wanted to give up a home playoff game, so the Red Carpet Bowl was canceled that year as well.

This year’s issue was the COVID-19 virus and the chaos it has unleashed upon the sports world. A number of college teams and leagues have already delayed or canceled seasons, as have high school associations in other states.

At a meeting in late June, the Red Carpet Bowl committee discussed several possible options ranging from canceling the game to rescheduling it. The MHSAA’s decision led to a flurry of rescheduling among Mississippi’s high schools teams — many of them had open dates on Sept. 18 that were quickly filled — which Buys said led to the Red Carpet Bowl’s decision to work with the school district to tie itself into the Vicksburg vs. Warren Central game.

Buys and Nailor called it a win-win for both sides. The Red Carpet Bowl is able to continue its tradition as Warren County’s season opener, while the school district maintains a big-money game that it can add another layer of hype to.

“We didn’t want it to die. We think this will be the perfect game for us to do it, especially with it being the first game, construction is going on, new buildings, it’s just a new era for us in time with this pandemic. It gives us something to look forward to,” Nailor said. “It’s big for the community, and now you throw an extra layer on top where you win the county if you win this game. Not only do you brag that you won the Red Carpet Bowl, you get the bragging rights to the county for a full year.”

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 sports reporters in the paper's 137-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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