The idea behind moving the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic from Mobile to Montgomery was to spice up a game that had grown stale in its promotion over the last decade in a city intent on promoting its college all-star game and a college bowl game.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association took control of the game and moved it to Cramton Bowl, where it made its debut in the Capital City last December.
Perfect weather, an ideal setting and a standout performance by Daphne tailback T.J. Yeldon provided almost everything promoters could want. Everything, that is, except for the fans who weren’t there to witness it.
“Last year was a beautiful day, a great game, great players,” Central Alabama Sports Commission executive director Ken Blankenship said, “but you ultimately judge the game on the number of people in the stands.”
A crowd of approximately 5,000 could be blamed on a lack of promotion. After all, the change in game sites was announced in June, and the Montgomery Lions Club signed on as promoters with just six months to advertise the game. Now, with an extra year in place, organizers are hoping for better attendance figures.
“We’ve got some promotional things to get the youth (football) folks out there,” said Lions Clubs member Charlie Anderson. “We did that last year but got the word out late. Montgomery has just gotten so fractured with its high school support. We’ve been making P.A. announcements at the Super 6 and running some commercials locally. We’re trying to get more foot traffic on game day.”
Attendance at all-star games is always difficult to gauge, but Blankenship said as more elements of the community get involved in the game, interest will grow.
“The game’s going to be great,” he said. “We’ve got good players again. Another thing I think will be better is what happens to the kids while they’re here. We think more involvement in the community will get more people in the stands. That’s what is going to grow the game. The key is to get the community involved in the game. That’s been our focus.”
Players and coaches arrive Monday afternoon at the Multiplex at Cramton Bowl, then will practice each day and spend each night at various events in the city.
“I think it’s going to be better because the city has helped us a lot and made sure all of the doors are open to us,” said Alvin Briggs, director of the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association, which oversees the event. “We get to use two great universities for practice at Huntingdon and Faulkner, and we’re able to do things throughout the city with these kids, taking them to the Hyundai plant and the Rosa Parks Museum.
“The welcome from the city of Montgomery as well as the city of Millbrook has made for a tremendous atmosphere for those kids coming over.”
The tour of the Hyundai plant on Monday evening and the visit to the Rosa Parks Museum on Tuesday are among several new events planned to entertain the players.
“The (athletic) association wants to have more educational opportunities for the kids,” Anderson said. “They’re going to get a tour of the Hyundai plant this year. Dreamland (BBQ) will cater a meal for them. And they’re touring the Rosa Parks Museum.”
The game itself, set for Saturday, could be the last in the 26-game history of the series between the two states. While the early years featured exciting overtime clashes between the two teams, Alabama has won 18 of the previous 25 meetings, including the last four. Both sides will discuss future meetings later this month, with Alabama officials intent on improving the quality of the product.
For now, Game officials are hoping to improve the attendance in the stands. A highly successful run to the Class 6A semifinals by Carver and the inclusion of two of its players in the game, quarterback Jeremy Johnson and defensive back Shaun Rupert, could aid in that effort.
“We’ve tried to get into schools and get local people to come out and watch,” Briggs said. “Hopefully, with the guys we have from Carver, that will get us more attendance. It’s the last high school game of the year. There’s no college game going on, so come out to Cramton Bowl and watch 80 of the two states’ best players.”