That time isn’t now. Leave that for future generations. Tonight, under the lights in Ashland, the 102nd and final football game between rivals Lineville High and Clay County High will take place. Cherish it, whether you wear red and black or blue and white.
Life undoubtedly will go on in Clay County, a largely rural place of hard-working, industrious people, once tonight’s game is over. The sun will rise in a Clay County without a Clay Bowl.
But football season there will never be the same.
We do not lament the cause for the Clay Bowl’s demise. Though bittersweet to Clay County and Lineville alumni, the consolidation of the two high schools is the right decision. Its time has come. In these days of steep fiscal concerns, where making the most of limited resources is vital, it is sensible and pragmatic to create a greater school out of two longstanding ones. The overarching success of the consolidated Gadsden City High in nearby Etowah County serves as an example of what’s possible.
There should be every expectation that students at this new consolidated school — Central of Clay County — will benefit in numerous ways. It’s academics, mind you, not football, that should be the utmost concern.
Of course, we’re kidding ourselves to think that the loss of the Clay Bowl can be minimized. Though only a game — a game between teenagers — it has existed as a can’t-miss event in eastern Alabama for nearly a century. In an odd way, it is a souped-up high school version of the Iron Bowl, where the campuses of the two blood rivals are separated by minutes, not a few hours. It is the definition of football unique.
The Clay Bowl’s first installment came on Oct. 20, 1922; World War I had ended only four years previous, Warren G. Harding was president. The world was different then. Life was slower. Entrenched segregation ruled the South.
The annual game between Panthers and Aggies has witnessed a cavalcade of societal and global changes. Its players went to war in Europe, in the South Pacific, in Korea and Vietnam. Its rosters started to resemble the real Clay County: white and black. The game, for players and fans alike, became a cultural part of a community, embedded in the county’s soil.
How fitting it would be tonight if these two teams, as symbols of their neighboring communities, would join hand-in-hand at midfield as a sign of what has been, and what will be in coming years. The Clay Bowl is ending, but its spirit can carry on in Clay County, and should.