Posted on Sun, Sep. 07, 2003
Drawing The Line in rivalry
TEXARKANA, USA - Officially, it is State Line Avenue. But around Texarkana,
it's known as "The Line."
State Line Avenue splits Texarkana at the Texas-Arkansas border. It
also serves as the 50-yard line for one of Texas' most unique high
school football rivalries. Texas High and Arkansas High are more than
crosstown rivals, they're across-the-border rivals.
"This one is not only who's the best in Texarkana; this is the
state of Texas vs. the state of Arkansas," Texas High coach Barry
Norton said. "I think that's what makes the thing really neat and
different from the other ones."
Texas High is one of three high schools on the Texas side of town.
But Texas High-Arkansas High is the game in town each year.
The game features Tex-arkana's two biggest schools, which have
campuses less than four miles apart. The game has a long tradition, with
the first meeting in 1912. And it has The Line.
"If there's talk about a game in the community, this is the
one they're going to talk about," said Arkansas High athletic
director Phillip Miller, who has been at the school for 15 years.
"You can just about make a season by winning this game, in the
community's mind. The coaches, of course, are focused on conference
championships and state championships, but this is the game for the
Said first-year Arkansas High coach Bill Keopple: "What I've
learned since I came here is that it's all they talk about.
It takes a full week to hold this rivalry. There were special
events on campuses throughout the week. The coaches spoke at three
community lunches and answered countless questions on radio and
television interviews. "Unbelievable" is how Norton describes
Texas High-Arkansas High week.
More than 8,000 jammed into Arkansas High's sold-out Razorback
Stadium on Friday night as Texas High won 31-12 in the teams' 87th
meeting. The night's dominant theme was unmistakably Texas vs. Arkansas.
It sounded like Texas-Arkansas. Arkansas High fans called the Hogs
before their team raced onto the field. (Arkansas High fans proudly
claim to be Arkansas' original Razorbacks.) Texas High fans sang along
as the band played The Eyes of Texas.
It looked like Texas-Arkansas. Texas High's Tigers wore white
uniforms with an orange "TEXAS" across the chest. Arkansas
High wore red jerseys and white pants with the familiar Razorback
dashing across their helmets. Orange flooded one side of Razorback
Stadium, red the other.
People learn the importance of this game early in Texarkana.
Lawanna Tolliver, a 1972 Texas High graduate, teaches fifth grade
at Wake Village Elementary School on Texarkana's Texas side. Her
students sported their orange Tigers T-shirts Friday and talked
excitedly about the game.
"They know it's the biggest game of the season," Tolliver
Well, there could be one bigger game later this season. Tolliver
said her two middle school-aged sons said on the way to Friday's game
that if the Tigers could return to the state final after winning the
school's first state title (Class 4A Division I) last year, that would
actually be a bigger game.
Norton, in his fifth season at Texas High, would have been proud to
"I told our kids in '99 that we have to have higher goals than
just winning the Arkansas High game," Norton said, "because
there are a lot of people that, if you win that game, then the rest of
it doesn't matter. It means that much to them."
Fort Worth resident Ron Terry can attest to that. Terry was a
senior captain on the Razorbacks' 1974 team that won the second of the
school's three consecutive state championships. But Arkansas High also
lost to Texas High that year, leading Tigers fans to declare themselves
Arkansas state champions.
Terry has been able to attend only a handful of games, all in the
first decade after he graduated from Arkansas High. But he keeps up with
the rivalry through newspapers and phone calls from his mother, who
still lives in Texarkana. He enjoys recalling his turn in the rivalry.
He remembers missing a tackle on a key punt return for a touchdown
in Arkansas High's 14-0 loss in '74. He recalls the look on his
girlfriend's face, a Texas High cheerleader who simultaneously
celebrated her school's victory and shared her boyfriend's
disappointment. And he says he will never forget the importance placed
on the game.
Arkansas High fans, he recalls, treated the Texas High game as its
"That was the game. Nothing else really mattered," Terry
said. "The fact that we won state, great. What always amazed me was
the emphasis put on that game. It was amazingly pressure-packed."
That hasn't changed.
Arkansas High senior quarterback Shawn Washington said he was
"scared" before his first game against Texas High as a
"There were so many people," he said. "I had
butterflies. I didn't know what was going on."
The Line makes this game that important.
Just ask Jerry Black, who crossed The Line for the second time this
Black quarterbacked the Razorbacks to their 1973 state
championship, one of four in the program's history. He also coached at
Texas High for eight years in the 1980s. He left nearby Redwater, Texas,
this year to become an assistant coach at his alma mater. He's back home
now, he said. Sort of.
He still lives in Texas, so his car bears Texas license plates. And
a Hogs sticker, too, he quickly adds.
"During this week," Black said, "it doesn't matter
what license plate you have, you're wrong. And if you get caught on the
wrong side of the state line, it can be a little rough."
The first three months he coached at Texas High, his wife, Paula,
also a '74 Arkansas High graduate, refused to wash his orange pants. The
first three years he coached against Arkansas High, his wife sat on the
Razorbacks' side of the stadium.
"My family basically disowned me," he said. "They
couldn't believe I went across that line."
The Line makes this game that important.
That's why a dejected Washington walked off the field Friday well
behind his teammates, a towel covering his head but not his
disappointment. He has two cousins on Texas High's team. The three have
played out their own Texas High-Arkansas High rivalry on video games,
with Washington playing as the University of Arkansas and his cousins as
the University of Texas.
But this game, not to mention the pain, was real. Arkansas High had
just lost to its rival for the third consecutive year. Washington will
graduate without a win against Texas High.
One day earlier, he had said he and his teammates wanted this to be
the best game they had ever played. He had talked about how the game's
hype made this his favorite week of school. He had said that people he
will never know, especially former Razorbacks who had lost to Texas
High, were depending on his team to win.
"This game is so important to more than just the school and
us," he said in anticipation of his final Texas High game.
"It's our whole community. Everyone who went to Arkansas
But now his turn is over. Next year, it will be someone else's turn
to defend his side of The Line.
Texarkana is two cities, in two counties, in two states. State Line
Avenue runs north and south off Interstate 30 and serves as the
Texas-Arkansas border, with two lanes headed in each direction and a
turn lane in the middle. But the road becomes a circle on the edge of
downtown, wrapping around the Post Office and Federal Building. It's the
nation's only post office sitting in two states. The building was
constructed in 1932-33 and features a base of pink granite from Texas
and walls of limestone from Arkansas. A sign marking the border makes
this a popular site for photo-snapping tourists. Texarkana claims the
building is the second-most photographed courthouse in the United
States, behind only the Supreme Court in Washington.