This article was first published in the Clark County Chronicles of the Siftings Herald.
September in the South means one thing – the return of football season. The playing of college football in Arkadelphia came some years after Rutgers University defeated the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University) by a score of 6-4 in the first-ever game of intercollegiate football in 1869. Clark County residents followed the play of Eastern games beginning in the 1870s through weekly newspaper coverage of contests between Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia.
Shortly before the end of the 19th century, football made its way onto the campuses at Henderson and Ouachita. Arkadelphia newspapers reported games between the local colleges and visiting teams, like the Arkansas Military Academy in Batesville and Hendrix College. Henderson and Ouachita allegedly played their first game against one another in 1895. However, it was the 1907 game that received attention as the first “inter-collegiate contest” between the two schools.
A joint letter from the presidents of the two colleges, John H. Hinemon (Henderson) and Henry S. Hartzog (Ouachita), published in the Southern Standard on 24 October 1907, appealed to the “citizens of Arkadelphia,” to make the first inter-collegiate contest between Henderson and Ouachita a peaceable affair. Despite fears that the game might “engender bitterness,” the schools had decided that “the student bodies of both colleges, while displaying their enthusiasm in yells, will accept gracefully the results of the game.” Hinemon and Hartzog largely were concerned that outsiders “carried away by partizan [sic] feeling” would create disturbances for which the colleges would be blamed. A good outcome of the game, no matter which team won, could only bolster both schools by “building up college spirit.”
From all published accounts, the appeals of the two college presidents had the desired effect. The Standard declared the game “the best thing that could have happened between these two institutions.” The game, which was played on the Henderson field, reportedly was one of the most well-attended athletic events in Arkadelphia to date. Reporting on the game and taking pains to be scrupulously fair to both teams, the Standard wrote that “Henderson showed superiority over Ouachita in punting … while Ouachita made most of her gains on line bucks and end runs.” Henderson’s long punts allegedly made the game a “spectacular one,” while both teams “showed excellent training.” Unlike college football games of today, the contest between Henderson and Ouachita was penalty free and no players were injured. Both colleges also happily reported success from a financial standpoint.
Henderson defeated Ouachita 22 to 6 in the 1907 contest, and Ouachita “took its defeat more gracefully than many out of town teams” that had played in Arkadelphia. Henderson and Ouachita students, the newspaper reported, “are more closely cemented in friendly feeling and common interest than ever before since the two schools were founded here.” “The students of these colleges,” the Standard wrote, “are perfect young gentlemen, coming from the best families of Arkansas.” Following the game, Ouachita gave a reception for the Henderson team at its Young Ladies Home, and the young ladies of Henderson planned a reception for the Ouachita team “in the near future.” While perhaps not thought of in terms of the “Battle of the Ravine,” this early contest between Henderson and Ouachita laid the foundation for one of Arkansas’s most famous college football rivalries.
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