TEXARKANA — The storied football rivalry game between Texas High School and Arkansas High School will have to wait until next season.
The Tigers and the Razorbacks have met on the gridiron in Texarkana's oldest rivalry game that has lasted over a century. Arkansas High head coach Barry Norton was not surprised with the UIL's decision to change the football schedule.
"It's a big game, but there are bigger things going on right now," Norton said. "We still haven't heard from the Arkansas Activities Association about what we are doing yet. We are still on schedule to begin practice on August 3rd. I am anticipating at this point that it's probably going to change. It wasn't a shock to me that Texas High's schedule got moved.
"Nobody loves football more than me, but we have a bunch of other things to worry about right now. We are focused on other things, and we can kick the series back up next year."
The UIL announced on July 21 that Class 5A schools, which includes Texas High, would begin practice on Sept. 7 and kick off their seasons on Sept. 24.
"I felt for our kids, especially the seniors who I want them to experience as much as they can throughout their high school career," Tigers' head coach Gerry Stanford said. "The rivalry game is going to be one of those things that they will not get to experience this year.
"The Arkansas Activities Association still has not stated yet what exactly they are going to do with football. They don't know for sure when they are going to start or how their schedules will look. I spoke with Coach (Barry) Norton, but it was so convoluted to move schedules around. We could not find a date in which we could play. Our district schedule is set by the state."
In a release, the UIL announced that the adjustments reflected the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state of Texas.
"It's always been a big game for our community," Norton said. "I have been in it over 20 times. It has always been a fun game and a big game for me. I think it has provided many exciting times for people through the years.
"I felt for the student athletes who did not get to compete last year in baseball, softball, track and field and soccer. I hate that the football kids don't get to in the rivalry game against Texas High this season. I hope that we don't lose the whole year, and I don't anticipate that we will. The kids work hard to play and compete. We'll be fine."
The impact of the cancellation of the storied Battle of the Axe rivalry is already being felt emotionally and financially by the Texas High sporting community, as well as their school booster clubs.
Due to a scheduling conflict, the cross-state football rivals will not be meeting on their pre-scheduled Sept. 4 date.
According to Texarkana Independent School District executive director of public relations Tina Veal-Gooch, the rivalry has been played every year since 1954.
Texas High generates a large amount of revenue from ticket sales, programs, concessions and more from this matchup annually This year, they'll have to manage without it.
"The cancellation of the Texas High vs. Arkansas High annual rivalry game affects many different groups for many different reasons," Veal-Gooch said. "In terms of annual ticket sales when it is a home (Tiger Stadium) game for Texas High, we generate around $30,000 in revenue."
Due to the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic and it being a shorter season, football programs are not being produced. This means the Texas High cheer team has not been able to sell advertisements for them.
Overall, that will result in a loss of $20,000 in revenue for the Athletic Booster Club and about $2,000 in lost funds for the cheer team.
"Our Tiger Fan Store (at Central Office and at Tiger Stadium) sells t-shirts to the fans, and we estimate a loss of $2,500 - $3,000 due to the loss of this game," Veal-Gooch said. "Texas High School Student Council/Leadership students sell game day shirts to the students, along with other spirit related items. Additionally, they have an annual Kiss the Pig event which raises money for a selected charity. We estimate that this group will lose around $1,500 - $2,000."
The Texas HighStepper booster club holds an event, "Split the Boot" annually that would normally result in anywhere from $1,500-$2,000, which will not be happening.
It doesn't stop there.
Some of the largest losses will be from concession stands that cheer and band booster clubs oversee during games.
Cheer teams that work concessions for Junior Varsity games will miss out on approximately $10,000 for this game alone, while the THS band booster club will have a financial hit of around $20,000+ for would-be varsity concessions.
Past the finances of the situation, the memories that won't be made from this game by the Texas High seniors is among what hits the hardest for Texarkana students, parents and faculty.
"Needless to say everyone is disappointed," Veal-Gooch said. "However, it is our senior students that really suffer the loss more than others. In a time where so much seems to be taken away from them, this is just one more thing to add for our senior students. We are going to do our very best to make sure that a THS vs. AHS Spirit Week, along with the annual Bacon Fry, is something that is done for our students this year but will coordinate it with another THS vs. AHS sporting event. Details are still sketchy but once the date/week is determined our students and their parents/guardians will be the first to know."
Texas and Arkansas High will have to look to other sports to generate their rivalry in the 2020-2021 school year.
"No doubt that AHS is as disappointed at the cancellation of this game as THS is," Veal-Gooch said. "I know that both teams have looked at ways to be able to consider playing it at another time but, unfortunately, it is just not possible for either team this year. We look forward to those sporting events against AHS that remain on our schedule for this year."
Texas High scrimmages at Longview on Sept. 18 and plays its first regular season game at John Tyler on Sept. 24. Arkansas High hosts Paris, Texas, on Aug. 28.
The Battle of the Axe game was slated for Sept. 4, but was canceled due to the schedule conflict.
Texas High owns a 65-32-7 lead in the series, including winning last year's meeting, 28-7.