Clay Bowl ends long run tonight
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Sep 23, 2011 | 4632 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A store window in Ashland has been painted to commemorate the playing of the final Clay Bowl tonight. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
A store window in Ashland has been painted to commemorate the playing of the final Clay Bowl tonight. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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CLAY COUNTY — It would be hard to find anyone with more first-hand experience in the Clay Bowl than Lineville High School principal and football coach Steve Giddens.

The Ashland native graduated in 1980 from Clay County High School, where he played football for the Panthers, the biggest rival of the school where he has coached for the last 18 years.

But don’t mistake his allegiance.

“I’m a Lineville guy, all the way through,” Giddens said from his office Thursday afternoon. On Friday, Giddens will coach the Aggies in the final Clay Bowl, the annual meeting between Lineville and the Clay County that has become one of the biggest rivalries in the state.

Next year Lineville and Clay County will consolidate into Central High School of Clay County. With the new school will come a new football team — The Volunteers — and the end of 91 years of Aggies and Panthers clashes.

“I don’t know how to feel right now to be honest,” Giddens said. “As long as I’ve been on the planet, we’ve been trying to beat these guys, and they’ve been trying to beat us. As soon as that clock hits triple zeros, we’re all on the same team.”

“It’s really hard to comprehend,” he said.

The kids are all right

Five miles south of Lineville High School, just off Alabama 9 which links the two rival schools, Clay County High School was active Thursday morning. The school’s bookkeeper, Pam Cline, could hardly finish a sentence before she had to sell more tickets to people pouring into the school’s front office. Before 1 p.m., she said, 1,200 tickets had been sold, and before the day was over at 3 p.m., the number was north of 1,500. That’s more than a tenth of the population of all of Clay County.

In the school auditorium Clay County High graduate Candida Giddens, distantly related to coach Giddens, was wearing a T-shirt reading “My last chance to say it…” and the back boasting “I hate Lineville!” Candida, a former Panther cheerleader, was helping set up a display for alumni of the school, including old class photos and cheerleading uniforms from the ’50s.

“I’m really more sad that they’re tearing down this building,” Candida said. “Lots of memories happened here.”

Clay County High Principal Billy Walker said his favorite memory of attending the school was in 1981, when as a senior he scored the final points in a victory over the Aggies.

Back then, the rivalry was a little more fierce, according to both principals. Coach Giddens said he remembered painting the press box of Lineville in blue and white Panther colors — a scheme that didn’t go over too well with the Lineville police, who made him and his friends clean it up the next week.

Like his counterpart, Walker said he, too, pulled a few pranks during his high school days.

“I never got caught, though,” Walker said with a laugh. “Way more of that kind of stuff happened back then. There was a time during that part of the week if you went to Lineville your car might get wrecked.”

Things have died down considerably since those days, according to Walker.

“Kids know each other better now,” Walker said. “They go to church together or play baseball together.”

“Adults are more set in their way,” coach Giddens said. “Most kids now have a car; five miles is nothing to them. They talk on Facebook and call each other on the phone.”

And they even take the Alabama graduation exam together, a practice school Superintendent Garey Reynolds said has taken place as far back as he can remember. Reynolds lived in Lineville until the fourth grade before moving to Ashland, where he played football in high school, and eventually became a principal and coach at the school as well.

“Probably my biggest memory is how important it is to the people here,” Reynolds said. “People remind you all the time about the game and put pressure on you.”

It’s why the last Clay Bowl will be harder to take for the alumni, the people who have spent most of their lives in Clay County, than it will be for the students.

“That’s going to be their school,” Reynolds said about the quick transition he believes will take place next year for the first students of Central High School. “For the parents, it will become their school through their kids, but it won’t literally be their school. It won’t be the school they went to.”

“I think it’s a lot stranger for the community than the students,” Walker said. “I’m hearing way more buzz from the older generation because the students aren’t thinking of it as much.”

“I think for the kids living in such a small community, they’ll be fine,” said Cline, whose daughter will be part of the first graduating class of Central next year. Several years ago when the former Mellow Valley and Bibb Graves high schools consolidated into Clay County High School, Cline said the transition went smoothly.

“When they walk through those doors I couldn’t tell you whose kids they are,” Cline said. “They adjust well.”

A block away from Clay County High, the town square in Ashland hosted a pep rally Thursday night. Every store window was painted in Panther blue and white, encouraging the school to beat the Aggies.

The window of Ashland Tire read “Tradition never ends.”

Clay County Volunteers

On Taylor Road off of Alabama 9 in Lineville, halfway between the two rival schools, Central High School of Clay County sits unfinished but slowly coming together. Early last spring, Lineville High School physical education teacher Mary Ellen Harbison got a chance to walk through the halls of the new school in the early stages of construction.

“I just thought this is going to be so nice,” Harbison said.

Although a long-time proponent of consolidating the new schools, Harbison won’t be teaching gym class at Central. Just like the Aggies, she’ll be retiring at the end of this school year after 40 years in education — all of them at Lineville.

“Everyone is going to a new school, and I thought it’s time for me to go too,” Harbison said.

On Thursday afternoon, Harbison was hardly in a reflective mood. Despite a day away from attending her 40th and final Clay Bowl, Harbison couldn’t hide her excitement for the development of the new school, which she said is long overdue.

“You look at the opportunities that school can offer the kids,” she said. “Whoever goes into that school should appreciate it.”

It’s an attitude both Aggies and Panthers fans hope will prevail at the new school, as the two teams that were rivals for 91 years will find themselves playing on the same side of the ball.

Lifelong Aggies fan David Proctor, a Lineville city councilman, said he used to sit on different sides of the field from his wife, an Ashland graduate, at Clay Bowl games. The tradition died when their kids went to Lineville High and she switched allegiances, but Proctor said it’s going to be great for the entire community to have one team to get behind.

“Time moves on and you’ve got to embrace that,” Proctor said. “I’m an Aggie until the very last second of that game, but after that I’ll be pulling for the Central Clay County Volunteers.”

And though this season is far from over, the next big game marked on the calendar for most folks in the county isn’t until 2012.

“The next most important game after the Clay Bowl is the first game next fall at that new stadium,” Walker said.

Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546
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