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Often overlooked in the incredible rebuilding job Mark Peach has done with Anderson County football is a decision he made less than a year into the task.
In Peach's first season, the Bearcats went 1-9, but there were signs of the corner being turned. With fans that already had a reputation of following the Bearcats in large numbers, Peach had decided to add a little lustre to the early-season, but also give Bearcat fans something a little bit more special to look forward to.
Out of that simple idea, the Alumni Bowl idea was born.
Not only would there be a special game early in the season, but the Bearcats would welcome some of the great teams or individuals back to be honored.
The inaugural game in 2006 featured the undefeated Bearcats of 20 years before. Anderson routed Breckinridge County that night.
The following year, The Anderson News sponsored the Best of the Bearcats poll to pick the best Anderson football players in history. It was incredibly successful as over 500 people voted and the stands of Warford Stadium were packed nearly 30 minutes before game time. The game was over quickly as the Bearcats demolished West Jessamine.
By themselves, those first two games might have not been as important as the message Peach was sending to one of the most loyal fan bases anywhere. He was saying, in effect, “You are a vital part of the program. We want to honor those memories you cherish. We want you to be proud of the current Bearcats, too.”
A scheduling quirk shelved the Alumni Bowl last year, although one of the greatest Bearcat teams of all time, the 1968 squad, was honored on the weekend before the 40th anniversary of its win over mighty Tates Creek.
The Alumni Bowl is back this week as the Bearcats host a good Meade County team. The guests of honor are a bit different this year. The 1949 Anderson Bearcats have been invited back on their 60th anniversary. In the record book, they aren't one of the greats. They did not record a win, only tying Elkhorn, a school that is now part of Franklin County High.
But the 1949 team got things going. They were the first.
For almost half of that team, it was a first taste of the gridiron, as Kavanaugh High School had not fielded a football team before merging with Lawrenceburg that fall. For some of the veterans, it was a first time using the protection of a single bar face mask.
The game has obviously changed greatly, but Anderson County's phenomenal support of its Bearcats is the same.
Friday's game is both a test for the current club and a tip of the hat to its fans. For the first time, the Alumni Bowl will feature an opponent that should make it a game for four quarters. Over the last five years, Meade County's record has hovered around .500 against a strong schedule. Two years ago, the Green Wave made the state 6A semi-finals before losing to St. X. The year before, Meade went to the regional championship game.
Meade has traditionally played a strong schedule. Its regional runner-up team of 2006 was only 5-5 heading into the playoffs. The state semi-final club was 7-3. It is a solid program and it is a compliment to the Anderson that Meade will be making nearly a two-hour trip to play the Bearcats.
But an integral part of that program is you, the fan. Mark Peach and the Bearcats will tip their hats to you on Friday night.
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.