LUMBERTON — With the demise of the annual Buddy Burney Memorial Football Scrimmage in August, the Eagles of East Bladen High have landed in the midst of a border battle scrimmage between North Carolina and South Carolina.
The inaugural Battle of the Carolinas Football Classic will be held Aug. 13 at Alton Brooks Stadium in Lumberton and, on Friday, the coaches from all eight teams gathered for a press conference at Lumberton High.
The scrimmage will feature five teams from North Carolina — East Bladen, Lumberton, Purnell Swett, Fairmont and West Brunswick — and three from South Carolina — Dillon, Lakeview and Latta.
“We’re very happy for the invitation to be part of this,” Eagles head coach Robby Priest said. “I think it’s going to be a really big deal and a nice way to kick off the season.”
Although the event is barely off the ground, some were already talking about bigger and better things down the road — including the expansion to 14 or 16 teams.
“We’re really excited,” Lumberton Athletics Director Mackey Register said. “We’re hoping this is going to be a big event, an annual event that grows into a two-day deal for next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for our communities to come together. It’s a win-win for all the schools involved. We want to get people excited in this area about football and this is a big step in that direction.”
Mike Setzer, Lumberton’s head football coach, gave credit to Dillon coach Jackie Hayes for spearheading the event.
“Without (Hayes) this event wouldn’t be possible,” Setzer said. “Months and months ago (the coaches) went to him about this thing and he was able to bring this dream of ours to fruition. We’re looking forward to this being a big time event for years to come.”
The night will begin with East Bladen against Latta at 6 p.m., followed by Fairmont vs. Lakeview at 7. The late scrimmages will include Purnell Swett vs. West Brunswick at 8 and Lumberton vs. Dillon at 9.
Each game will consist of two 15-minute quarters, starting with the ball placed on the 30-yard line. Each team will have two timeouts and play will be like a standard football game outside of the kicking game. Teams will not face opposition when kicking in order to avoid injuries.
Hayes recalled his team competing in a similar tournament years ago that featured teams from the region.
“We used to have something called the Battle of the Border,” Hayes said. “It was big. We want to try to bring that atmosphere back. It’s a good opportunity to make money for your football program.”
The eight schools will share the money raised by the event. Each school will get 200 discounted tickets for sale in advance of the event with all money going back to the school. Ticket revenue at the gate, which will jump from $5 to $7, will be split between the teams after expenses are paid.
Priest said it’s a real feather in East Bladen’s cap to be invited.
“I think it says a lot about our program,” he said. “Coach (Lenon) Fisher did a lot to build the reputation of East Bladen football, and we just hope to keep that intact.
“This scrimmage will have some powerhouses participating,” he added, “and we;re looking firward to pitting ourselves against that kind of competition.”
Jon Sherman, first-year coach at Purnell Swett, is looking forward to battling against some of the teams he grew up around.
“My family is from South Carolina and my dad lives in Greenville right now,” Sherman said. “I know a lot about South Carolina (high school) football. It’s a great opportunity for both states to get together.”
James Granger, an organizer of the event, challenged the communities with his closing remarks.
“We need you to come out and support your teams and support your communities,” Granger said. “It’s a rare opportunity to get eight different communities together from two different states at one time.”