They're guarding the tiger at my alma mater again this week. That means it's Battle of the Ravine week in Arkadelphia.

Having grown up a couple of blocks from the Ouachita Baptist University football stadium, the November Saturday when Ouachita takes on crosstown rival Henderson State University remains my favorite day of the year. This is the small-college version of the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. It's a rivalry that divides families, a game that's talked about 365 days a year by graduates of the two schools.

In the Nelson family, it was Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day rolled into one. And after all these decades, the series is almost even. Ouachita leads 45-43-6. The game has been decided by a touchdown or less in 44 of the 94 contests, including last year when Ouachita won on a 53-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

This rivalry, which has begun receiving national attention in recent years, was suspended from 1951-62 due to excessive vandalism. Pranks between students on either side of the ravine had gotten out of hand.

The Battle of the Ravine should be on every Arkansan's bucket list. Few things in sports can compare to a contest between high-quality football programs whose stadiums are within walking distance of each other.

State troopers will stop traffic early Saturday afternoon on U.S. 67, and Ouachita players will walk across to play at Henderson's Carpenter-Haygood Stadium after dressing for the game in their own facility. Late Saturday afternoon, troopers will stop traffic again, and the Tigers will walk back home. ESPN's "College GameDay" program should be in Arkadelphia one of these years for this unique event.

When my parents were students at Ouachita in the 1940s, the school's president was James R. Grant. When I was a student at Ouachita in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the president was his son, Daniel R. Grant. Dan Grant died in May at age 98. Several years ago, he wrote a book titled "Tiger Tales: Four Generations of Memories and Legends Surrounding Ouachita Baptist University." One chapter was devoted to the Battle of the Ravine.

"When I was 11, my father came home for supper and told us of a visit from B.F. Worley, a sculptor who felt God's call to be a preacher and wanted to enter Ouachita to prepare for the ministry," Grant wrote. "The 25-year-old had no money but offered to carve a marble tiger in exchange for his tuition.

"My father agreed and asked the senior class to raise $2,000 to buy seven tons of Batesville marble for carving the tiger. They did, and with the help of Marvin Faulkner, another Ouachita student, the tiger was completed and placed on campus where it now stands. Worley got the idea of carving the tiger from the University of Texas, for which he had carved a school mascot longhorn when he was employed by a stone company."

The sculpture was completed shortly before the 1934 Battle of the Ravine.

"The new tiger attracted the attention of Henderson students who were looking for good targets to paint red," Grant wrote. "The night before the game, word spread through the campus that a mob of about 200 Henderson students was heading to Ouachita armed with sticks, rocks and paint. A similar mob from Ouachita, with sticks and rocks, gathered to meet the Reddies and protect the tiger. The two groups met not far from Cone-Bottoms Hall and the president's home.

"I sat on a stucco fence nearby, clicking two big rocks in my little 11-year-old hands. My father walked out between the two mobs and asked to speak to leaders from each group. He pointed out that there was imminent danger of serious injury and that it would be far better for both sides to return to their rooms and let the conflict be settled by well-trained teams on the football field. He was a peacemaker that night, but it was not always possible in later years."

A decade later, Dan Grant was a college student and president of the Ouachita Student Senate.

"The night before the football game, I led a large delegation to meet at a halfway point in the ravine, where I met my Henderson counterpart, Roy Scoggins of Pine Bluff, also with a large delegation," Grant wrote. "We discussed war and peace and negotiated a truce. In 1977, when I was president of Ouachita, B.F. Worley returned to campus for a visit. I showed him his tiger with no tail, teeth missing and many of the delicate contours scratched and burned by efforts to remove countless layers of red paint.

"I explained that it was decided in the 1960s to stop the damaging paint-removal efforts and simply spray gold paint over the red. He offered to carve a new tiger, but we were afraid it would just be vandalized again. We thanked him but decided to live with the alternating layers of red and gold paint."

Ouachita administrators later decided to restore Worley's tiger to honor its 75th birthday. There's now a fence around the tiger, and security cameras are aimed at the sculpture. Still, Ouachita students are guarding the tiger this week. Henderson students, meanwhile, are keeping an eye on campus landmarks such as the fountain and bell. The lights are on each night in both stadiums, and black tarps cover signs.

"The Battle of the Ravine is one of the greatest rivalries in college sports and contains many traditions and legends," Grant wrote. "Athletic competition between Ouachita and Henderson has helped bring people together, build friendships and create memories."

I'll be there Saturday, just as I've been at almost every Battle of the Ravine since play resumed in 1963.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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Battle of the Ravine

1 0 19
09.11.2022

They're guarding the tiger at my alma mater again this week. That means it's Battle of the Ravine week in Arkadelphia.

Having grown up a couple of blocks from the Ouachita Baptist University football stadium, the November Saturday when Ouachita takes on crosstown rival Henderson State University remains my favorite day of the year. This is the small-college version of the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. It's a rivalry that divides families, a game that's talked about 365 days a year by graduates of the two schools.

In the Nelson family, it was Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day rolled into one. And after all these decades, the series is almost even. Ouachita leads 45-43-6. The game has been decided by a touchdown or less in 44 of the 94 contests, including last year when Ouachita won on a 53-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

This rivalry, which has begun receiving national attention in recent years, was suspended from 1951-62 due to excessive vandalism. Pranks between students on either side of the ravine had gotten out of hand.

The Battle of the Ravine should be on every Arkansan's bucket list. Few things in sports can compare to a contest between high-quality football programs whose stadiums are within walking distance of each other.

State troopers will stop traffic early Saturday afternoon on U.S. 67, and Ouachita players will walk across to play at Henderson's........

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