Linn County live: The Bell Game

Linn County live: The Bell Game

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Linn County live: The Bell Game

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USA TODAY High School Sports’ Derek Samson is spending 48 hours in Linn County, Mo., for the latest installment of the Bell Game high school football rivalry. The Bell Game, which pits the small, neighboring towns of Brookfield and Marceline, won USA TODAY High School Sports’ best high school football rivalry contest last fall. The towns’ combined population adds up to roughly 6,500, yet the Bell Game received 1,761,259 votes in just one week of the final round alone. It received 232,235 votes in the first two rounds combined.

The rivalry began in 1898 but wasn’t played annually until 1922. In 1937, a 30-pound brass bell from a Brookfield fire engine was introduced as the prize. That bell became the symbol of this rural county in north-central Missouri.

But in 2004, the Bell Game nearly came to an end when a scheduling snafu forced a brief cancellation of the series. However, the rival towns, located 9 miles apart on Missouri Highway 36, rallied together to find a way to keep the series alive. Eight years later, they rallied together again to survive the Missouri state round in the best rivalry contest, then a regional round and finally the national round, outlasting 152 other rivalries chosen to participate. The monthlong journey included a hilarious and somewhat disturbing video produced together by both schools and ended with a classy decision to donate their winnings.

This week, however, they return to simply disliking one another and showing why the Bell Game is the nation’s No. 1 rivalry. And USA TODAY High School Sports is in Missouri splitting time between the two towns leading up to another slobberknocker in Linn County.

PHOTOS: Bell Game 2013

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Brookfield keeps ringin’ it

Brookfield retained the bell after beating Marceline for a fourth straight season, 16-14, in front of nearly 5,000 people at Burlington Field. The Bulldogs stopped Marceline on a fourth-and-inches from the Brookfield 43-yard line with 5:26 remaining, and then converted a fourth-and-2 of their own with 3:19 on the clock to seal the win.

Great game. Incredible high school football atmosphere.

Both grandstands were full more than an hour before kickoff. Fans eventually filled in the corners and end zones, standing five deep in some places.

After the game, the Brookfield fans went bananas when their team was presented with the USA TODAY High School Sports trophy that now goes to the winner every year. Oh, and they seemed slightly excited about keeping that bell for another year, too (Disclaimer: This is only a joke; we know the USA TODAY trophy will not be lounging on a pillow next to the bell).

Pregame ceremony

Two of the oldest living Bell Game participants were showcased in a pregame ceremony. Jake Ross, Brookfield class of 1943, and Joe Sportsman, Marceline class of 1951, circled the field in golf carts before meeting at midfield. The players, coaches and officials greeted them, and Ross delivered the game ball.

Flippin’ out

Ever curious what they say during those pregame coin flip meetings at midfield? Well, curious one, here’s your answer:

Everybody Rally

Our general manager, Pat Scanlon, was in the middle of the Brookfield pep rally action. The crowd was roaring, the bells were ringing and Pat was filming:

Meanwhile, in Marceline…

Photo of the week

Be sure to check the photo gallery for more Bell Game pics (with more to come later this weekend). This was the only one taken from an airplane, though:

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Barks, on three

The famous bell made its rounds on Friday morning. First it took a tour of the Brookfield elementary and middle schools, where the little ones showed off their barking ability and the senior football players displayed impressive persistence in ringing the bell relentlessly.

Ring the Bell

And from there, the bell traveled to McLarney Manor, where the residents had a chance to ring it themselves. The players walked the halls, taking the bell into each room. Perhaps the best moment was S.A. Laney getting his chance to ring it. Laney is the second of four generations to have played in the Bell Game and Friday morning was his first time to ring ‘er.

At McLarney Manor, though, everyone wanted a piece of the bell:

The other field

Naturally, Brookfield’s Burlington Field is receiving all the attention this week. It is, after all, the site of the 2013 Bell Game. But the good people of Marceline have been emailing to let me know there is another stadium involved in this rivalry – a really nice stadium. And, just as promised, I checked it out.

Yeah, you weren’t joking.

Chester Ray Stadium is extremely impressive, especially for a school this size. It also feels like a mini-Mizzou, with the white rock M on a hill and the brick entrance.

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Road crew

The temps in Missouri aren’t quite as blistering right now as they’ve been the past couple weeks. Still, pounding wooden signs into drought-dried ground under a full sun isn’t exactly the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Yet there were Shelly Herring and Jennifer Gladbach hammering in 55 wooden signs with players’ names and numbers along Missouri Highway 5 (along the northbound lane so Marceline fans can see them on the way out of town) on Friday afternoon.

They both have sons on the team and spent the previous evening – along with some other parents – using a steel wedge to dig holes into the concrete-like soil to make way for the signs the following day.

“It’s what football moms do,” Herring said.

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Chalk up a victory

Not sure who invented window chalk but that person can buy a beach house – no make that an entire island – off sales in Brookfield and Marceline alone.

First off, if you aren’t interested in seeing your business survive here, then don’t bother covering your storefront windows with messages about the Bell Game.

Tastee Treat might have a little trouble with the correct spellings of suffixes, but those folks know the value of Bulldog signage. So does Double D’s Quilting, the State Farm office, Keep It Simple Crafts, Tangles Hair and Nails and, well, you get the picture. Doesn’t matter if you’re selling insurance or yarn (do they sell yarn at quilting stores?), if you own a business in Brookfield, you paint up your windows with Bell Game symbols.

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Same story over in Marceline, where the Marceline Tire Outlet first welcomes visitors to town with a banner because it doesn’t really have a good window to chalk up. Marceline’s quieter downtown – birds actually are noisy on Main Street until a passing train drowns out the lil’ chirpers – is covered in window chalk at nearly every business from Schreiner Heating and Cooling to the Uptown Salon.

But no business figured it out quite like Schmitt’s Building Center.

Located halfway between the towns on Missouri Highway 36, the building sports an enormous Brookfield Bulldogs sign on the west side of its roof, while a Marceline Tigers sign covers the the east side.

#BellGame mania

Don’t think Twitter isn’t going to be filled with plenty of Bell Game smack talk this weekend, given the spotlight and the recent vandalism of Brookfield’s stadium.

The Fab Five

Five members of the Marceline class of 1958 meet at Ma Vic’s Corner Cafe every Thursday for breakfast. This week, the conversation for Barbara Dotson, Maxine Smith, JoAnn Harrison, Sharon Glascock and Mary Jane Enyeart drifted toward Foley’s.

Back in their teen years, Foley’s was a dance hangout to hit after games. And according to these ladies, you could always count on a fight or two after the Bell Game.

“The rivalry then was such that you weren’t friends,” Smith said.

It gets even more ruthless. Apparently, if you dared to date across Bell lines, there was an unwritten rule that had to be followed.

“If you dated a Brookfield boy, at Bell Game time, you broke up with him,” Glascock said.

Convinced I was free of any Brookfield blood, the ladies agreed to a pic:

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Bell lives in Brookfield

The bell has resided in Brookfield for the past three years, meaning this year’s seniors have a chance to make sure they never need to deal with the horror of knowing the bell sleeps at night on anything but a blue pillow (it is true, the bell snoozes on its own blue pillow that looks quite comfortable). Asked for a demonstration on how to ring the bell – certainly there is a technique to it – the seniors on the team gathered in principal Vicki Enyart’s office to show how it was done.

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A chat with Stoney

Cattlemen’s Steakhouse is a smoky joint with a John Deere sign painted on the wall, a gathering spot for Brookfield residents to drink coffee, sit for hours and swap gossip.

This time of year, the gossip turns to Bell Game chatter.

Jerry “Stoney” Stone is quite good at it, too.

He can tell you about which school has the edge up front this year as quickly as he can spout off facts about the stadium’s origins or a Bulldogs team that never was scored on more than 60 years ago.

Stoney is a retired railroad worker who voted at least 50 times for the rivalry last fall and is proud of his reserved seats at Burlington Field. When a sign near the diner’s door reading “Come As Customers, Leave As Friends” was pointed out, Stoney was asked whether that pertains to Marceline residents, too.

“Oh sure it does,” he replied.

But then a mischievious smile stretched across his face.

Not sure if I’m buyin’ what you’re sellin’ on that one, Stoney. At least not this week.

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Here’s to you, poocher

Mazzy Star, here’s hoping you are looking down from your pooch heaven tonight and you’re proud to see your town and your Bulldogs in the national spotlight.

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McBroom, McMVP

Brookfield athletic director Mike McBroom looks like a football coach. He talks like a football coach. He walks like a football coach. And he is a former one (at – gasp – both Marceline and Brookfield). McBroom isn’t a football coach now, yet he arguably already deserves the Bell Game’s Most Valuable Person award for 2013.

Brookfield is expecting 6,000 people to pack Burlington Field for this one. So, where exactly does McBroom put all of them? Keep in mind, the towns’ combined population isn’t much more than that. A typical Bell Game’s attendance is massive for schools this size, reaching 2,000 at times. This year, though, they expect the crowd to triple now that they have a national reputation.

On top of the usual chaos in preparing for a Bell Game, McBroom has dealt with unexpected tasks such as vandalism at Brookfield’s stadium, dispelling (unsuccessfully so far) a community-wide, fast-spreading rumor that ESPN is broadcasting the game live (and yes, it appears everyone in town has McBroom’s cell phone to call him directly and ask about ESPN), ordering more commemorative t-shirts at the last minute because they’ve gone so quickly, scheduling radio interviews and much, much more.

McBroom does it all – or at least appears to – with a smile and shake of his head.

“A regular Bell Game on the road, that’s 13 hours a day to get ready for it,” he said. “A Bell Game at home seems like 20-hour days. This thing has felt like 48-hour days. This has definitely added something to it. … I just can’t wait for 7 p.m. Friday (kickoff).”

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Helm Street solution

Thursday night at Helm Street Inn, a local watering hole in Brookfield, featured the usual. The pool tables were packed and there were no Thursday night drink specials because, as the bartender put it, “every night is special at the Helm Street.”

But then talk shifted toward the vandalism of Brookfield’s stadium – an act that many in Marceline believe was done by another neighboring town just trying to stir up emotions a bit more – and a previously jovial woman bellied up to the bar declared a solution after taking a sip from her mug.

“Well then,” she proclaimed, “we need to go burn ‘losers’ into their (field).”

She probably wasn’t serious.

Maybe.

Small-town charm

Hey Brookfield Chamber of Commerce, how about turning this into a postcard? My only charge will be the meal pictured below your future postcard (hint: It is delicious at The Brickhouse and it features the words “burnt” and “ends” in the name):

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Appreciate the hospitality

A big thanks to McDonald’s for the friendly welcome this week.

We’re happy to be here. In fact, here’s hoping you can defend your best rivalry title later this fall so we get to make a return visit to Linn County in a year.

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