Rivalry between Batesville and Newport may not play out on field

NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) - In Newport, a change in next year's football schedule, has turned the town upside down. The school's biggest rival, Batesville, could be removed from the mix.

It's a match up that builds a lot of hype every year, and always one of the biggest games for both schools. At Wednesday night's special school board meeting, members of the community came forward to address their concerns. Many say they aren't ready to give up on what has become part of the town's heritage.

"It's a tradition that's maybe is the oldest in the state," said Bill Keedy, who many still call coach, with the rivalry going back 80 plus years. Keedy used to lead the Newport football team to victory back in the day.

"The traditional game against Batesville has always been the game. Back in the old days, it didn't matter if you lost every game. If you bet Batesville, you had a successful season," said Keedy.

And since the word got out about Newport's Head Football Coach Jeromy Poole taking Batesville off next years schedule, Keedy says his phone hasn't stopped ringing. His biggest problem is how the public found out about the change.

"I found out through the rumor mill and then found out from the Batesville paper. Our school board was not aware of this taking place," said Keedy.

School Superintendent Larry Bennett stands behind coach Poole's decision. And due to the size of Batesville's football team, the change was made for the safety of the players.

"We are not out to do away with the rivalry. It's just we need to regroup so that we can be competitive and there's going to be people that disagree with that. It's just a numbers game and safety. They've got two to three times the number of student athletes than we have," said Bennett.

But with the match up being such a strong part of the community's tradition, Keedy feels the district pulled the trigger to soon.

"What I would have loved to see happen is maybe have a compromise. Give us two more years to try and build our numbers up. If Batesville continues to grow and Newport continues to decline, then I think you have to seriously consider dropping," said Keedy.

John Pennington used to play football for Newport, and doesn't want to see this legacy die.

"It's part of what makes small town America great. Friday night in America, Batesville versus Newport. It's what Friday night in America's all about," said Pennington.

And says the big game brings in a lot of money for both areas. "It's a big deal and it's one of the bigger gate receipts for both schools concession stands, the number of people there. It's important," said Pennington.

Roughly 100 people attended the school board meeting Wednesday.  While a large part of the community wants to take a break from the Batesville-Newport showdown. Bennett says he doesn't plan on eliminating the match up completely, but wants to take the next two to three years to try and build a strong foundation for the team. At that point, he says the district would consider bringing back the greyhound- pioneer throw down.

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