TV affords exposure for gridiron rivalries

CLINTON, Miss. — The football game was still four days away.

But for Defoe West, the starting center for Madison Central High, Monday wasn’t too early to set the DVR.

And it wasn’t too early to call and send text messages to friends across the state to remind them to watch Madison Central play rival Clinton on Friday in a televised football showdown.

“Everybody’s pumped up about it,” West told The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson. “I’ve been telling everyone I know.”

The game is the first of five high school rivalry games scheduled for broadcast live throughout the state this season as part of Cellular South’s Y’all vs. Us series.

Friday’s broadcast starts at 7 p.m., with kickoff scheduled for 7:20 p.m. It’s all part of Cellular South’s plan to bring high school football into the living rooms of fans all across the state of Mississippi.

“We thought about what our customers’ passion point is, and we said it’s gotta be football,” said Dave Miller, the public relations manager for Ridgeland-based Cellular South, a regional cell phone provider.

“But more importantly, high school football. There’s no other sport in the South, particularly in Mississippi, where you have entire families and communities that get involved more than they do with high school football.”

School officials are expecting a capacity crowd when the top-ranked Jaguars (4-0) make the trip to face Clinton (4-0) at Arrow Field. The stadium seats 6,900, including 4,800 on the home side.

Another 2,000 to 3,000 spots will be available on a hillside area beyond the south end zone, said Clinton coach Scott Brown.

The schools will get $5,000 each for participating. Plus, there is the television audience that coaches say makes this year’s game even more special.

A crew of around 25 people, using eight cameras, will be used to bring the game into homes. Dave Armstrong, a veteran TV voice of Kansas basketball broadcasts, will call the play-by-play, with former Mississippi State quarterback Matt Wyatt providing commentary.

“It was going to be a big game anyway, but this stuff just kinda juiced it up a little more,” Brown said.

Madison Central coach Bobby Hall agrees.

“It’s going to be a little different,” Hall said. “But we would prepare the same whether it’s on TV or not because it’s Clinton. With it being on TV, we have to try to keep our players grounded and just not get all caught up in the hoopla.”

The game is scheduled to be broadcast on stations in Jackson, Greenwood, Biloxi, Tupelo, Hattiesburg, Meridian and Memphis, Tenn. Cellular South has other games scheduled for broadcast during the high school football season.

Such games spawn a bit more work for the coaches, especially Brown, whose team is hosting the game.

“We have fielded a million phone calls just dealing with logistics,” Brown said.

Everything from setting up electrical outlets to parking to helping make food arrangements.

“The whole nine yards,” Brown said. “Just all the little things you can’t imagine. The good thing is we had an open date last week. If I had a game to be worrying about last week, it would have been a tough deal.”

Brown said the extra work is all worth it in the end considering the exposure, not to mention the $5,000 payday, the schools will get.

“Opportunities like this are few and far between, if ever,” he said. “We recognize how fortunate we are to have this chance.”

“It’s never been done on this kind of scale anywhere in the country,” Miller said. “If we are successful, we have every desire to continue it next year.”

Miller said future games would likely involve different rivalries.

But for folks like former Clinton standout Clarence McDougal, this is the only one that matters.

McDougal, now an assistant coach at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, will be sitting in front of his television along with a few of his players who graduated from Madison Central.

“I’ll be talking trash and I know they’ll be talking trash,” McDougal said. “I can’t wait to watch it.”

Rod Walker/The Clarion-Leder