BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
The Class 3A state championship game in Little Rock Saturday is not only for a title, but is a matchup intertwined with rivals, friends and family.
Charleston (13-1) and Booneville (11-2) – two communities that are 13 miles apart – meet in a game inside War Memorial Stadium.
That game has seen its kickoff pushed back from 6:30 to at least 7:45 p.m due to weather delays in Malvern-Harding Academy Class 4A title game.
Charleston head coach Ricky May, who graduated from Booneville, is trying to win football games and save souls in the two communities.
“The funny thing is that I pastor a church still in Booneville and my wife coaches cheerleading there so we’re connected,” May said. “I work out at the same gym as the (Booneville) Superintendent and the AD. The Superintendent, his wife and even (Booneville star) Dax Goff even come to my church.
“We have all just kind of not spoke much about it. That’s the best way to handle it. But it is a great opportunity for both places, the school is the hub of the community and both towns are known for their sports. It’s just a big deal. I have a lot of friends in Charleston, have a lot of friends in Booneville.
“I am sure that Doc has the same thing with Charleston as I do Booneville. His mom and dad both work at our school and his dad has been pretty quiet lately. I feel sorry for those guys to be in the middle of everything.”
Booneville head coach Doc Crowley, who graduated from Charleston, expanded on those relationships.
“It’s fun, don’t get me wrong,” Crowley said. “…Everybody knows how big this game is and what the rivalry means and it is starting to pick up a lot more steam and be a fun deal, but there is the family deal. My wife is a Booneville girl. My sister, who is a graduate of Charleston, works at Booneville. My parents both graduate from Booneville, but they work at Charleston.
“It’s a weird deal, a unique deal. It is a lot of fun. You just kind of take it all in and enjoy it and look forward to Saturday.”
Booneville is looking for its fifth state title – two that came with May and Crowley on same staff in 2013 and 2018 - while Charleston is trying for land its sixth.
“We are excited to be back in Little Rock and playing Charleston,” Crowley said. “Obviously a conference opponent, lots of tradition there, history there. So we are looking to a fun game Saturday and a tough one and hopefully we can play well and come out on top.
“Coach May used to coach here and I had the opportunity to coach with him for several years and share a couple of state championships with him.”
There will be familiar faces all over the field.
“Lots of our kids hang out with their kids on the weekend and our coaches, a couple of our guys go to Coach May’s church here in town and there’s just a lot of cool relationships, lot of friendships, lot of memories that have been made on both sides of the football,” Crowley said.
“Being 13 miles apart, we see each other quite a bit so it will be fun. Our kids are looking forward to the challenge and know it will be an extremely tough challenge, but they are excited about playing in a state championship and trying to bring back Booneville’s fifth to our community.”
May believed this group of players had a chance to be good very early.
“We are just honored to be here in this situation,” May said. “The community hasn’t been this excited in a long time. Kids are excited and we knew when these guys were freshman that if they stayed together and kept working hard there would be a good opportunity for this moment.
“They have met expectations and went above this year and we are just exited for them and the community.”
The two teams met earlier this season with Charleston winning 42-14 over a Booneville team that was without eight starters, including star tailback Dax Goff, who has rushed for a school single season record of 2,243 yards this season.
“I thinks our kids understand that last time, in week eight, that the odds were stacked against us,” Crowley said. “They knew if we came together like knew how, we could meet back up together again. They have worked really hard to get that opportunity and they are ready to go get after it on Saturday.”
May expects Booneville’s best shot.
“The first game was a little bit skewed because of those (from Booneville) missing,” May said. “We felt like that night, though, that it was going to go our way just because we were so locked in. I have never seen us as a team be as focused as we were, but it will be hard to emulate that again because Booneville will probably be more fired up.
“You can not put much stock in that first game. This is a totally different situation and both teams were better than when they were. Both of us are physical, so it is just going to be a great high school football game.”