Friday, December 01, 2006


Mile High Sports Magazine
November 2006 Issue
Feature –The Bell Game

At the Bell Game in Pueblo, schoolboy football rings loudest
by Joe Carabello

Editors Note: While Coloradoans have enjoyed the football rivalries of Colorado versus Colorado State, the Broncos versus the Raiders and Nebraska versus Colorado, the city of Pueblo has celebrated its own pigskin rivalry for 105 years. In terms of prep football, it is said that the game between Pueblo Central and Pueblo Centennial is the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi. This season, MHSM wanted to capture the spirit of the rivalry. As such, Joe Carabello, a freelance writer who has contributed to our publication since its inception, headed south to Pueblo to take in the action. The feature that follows is a collection of notes, observations and stories that chronicled the experience.

Most Colorado high school football players don’t play in front off 12,500 fans during an entire season. But every year in Pueblo, the boys of Central and Centennial expect nothing less when they battle for a traveling trophy in the Bell Game at venerable Dutch Clark Stadium.

Locals claim this is the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi, begun Thanksgiving Day, 1892. The bell was introduced to the rivalry in 1950, when Lewis Rhoades found it on a locomotive at the Colorado Fuel & Iron railway.

The citizens of Pueblo make this more than a football game – it’s a community event embracing the pride and spirit of a gritty former steel-mill town. Dutch Clark Stadium, the namesake of the city’s legendary NFL hometown hero, sits hard on the south bank of the Arkansas River, with rail yards and smokestacks framing the background. Recent upgrades have not changed its personality – cavernous and menacing, providing the perfect battleground for coveted bragging rights.

“Our broadcast will be seen in every bar and nursing home in Pueblo,” quipped Joe Cervi, a well-known journalist and broadcaster. “The Bell Game links many generations in Pueblo.”

Even the telecast elevates the Bell Game to another level. A collaborative effort involving Colorado State University-Pueblo and Pueblo Community College, the production features six cameras, a sideline reporter and cutting-edge technology. The finished product looks and sounds like a BCS game production.

The winning school’s primary color adorns the bell, ensuring 12 months of bragging rights. The victors galvanize future generations, as well, traveling to feeder schools, sharing the bell and inspiring students to embrace the tradition.

When you’re the fourth generation to represent Central or Centennial, you understand what’s at stake. You expect raucous crowds, hard hitting football, and enough enthusiasm to make Up with People look like cynics. Wear the colors. Represent.

Central leads the series 52-45-9 all-time, and they lead the Bell Game series 31-24-3. Like any good rivalry, zany games are commonplace. Imagine the emotion and energy spent in Centennial’s 69-53 victory in 1999.

This affair, however, is not limited to Centennial and Central. Every high school football fan in Pueblo is in tune with the Bell Game. Conference foes Pueblo South and Pueblo East were noticeably represented in the stands this year.


Centennial retained the Bell for the third year running in a dominating 32-14 performance. “The Bell rings red!” the Centennial chant declares. This was Centennial’s first win of the year after opening the season 0-3. There’s nothing like a rivalry to elevate your game. Never was this more evident than in 1964, when Central captured the Bell for its only win of the season.

Central opened the 2006 season 2-1,making them the favorite heading into this year’s game, but they never recovered from the loss of star running back and defensive back Bobby Aragon to an injury early in the first quarter. Too bad there’s not a rematch. From 1932-50, Centennial and Central played a second game on Thanksgiving Day if neither school made the state playoffs.

In spite of the rivalry’s intensity, the mood is light and respect is paramount. This was not so clear during the rivalry’s formative years. Dave Mihalick, a Pueblo historian and author of Steel City Football Almanac, chronicled reports of a riot that erupted during the 1907 contest. Rough play and indecisive officiating incited spectators to storm the field. The school district subsequently suspended the series until 1921.

Few negative incidents have blemished the series since 1907, due to the multi-generational presence of the event. Hilda Gallegos, a graduate of Central and counselor at her alma mater since 1970, reflects the lineage that weaves the legend. Her brothers, Carmen and John Rivas, were athletes at Central in the ‘50s, and her son, Sal, played for Central. Ironically, Sal’s career has taken him to the north side of the Arkansas River to an assistant principal position at Centennial. But Sal’s children play for Central, so Hilda and her husband, Salvador, can still wear blue when they attend their grandchildren’s games.

At the stadium, it seems everyone has a connection to the Bell Game. A nephew, a cousin, a neighbor or a colleague’s children; somewhere, there’s a reason to don your colors.

Festivities begin early in the week of the Bell Game – bonfires, pep rallies and school carnivals. On game day, fans arrive early and a few tailgaters dot the parking lots. Good natured trash-talking flows easily: Centennial fans scoffing food and beverage selections by Central’s tailgaters, while wisecracks about a delivery truck hauling the Centennial cheerleaders musters a good laugh by Central fans.

The stadium neighborhood is so congested with game day traffic that a police motorcade escorts the team buses to the stadium – sirens blaring upon arrival. But nothing compares to the impact of Dr. Ben Massey’s arrival. Until two years ago, when District 60 officials deemed his mode of entry a liability issue, Dr. Massey, an anesthesiologist, frequently parachuted into Dutch Clark Stadium with the game ball.

“I’m recognized worldwide in the skydiving community, having jumped on many continents and countries,” laments a disappointed Massey. “I always jumped over the rail yards and the river, staying away from populated neighborhoods.”

Massey said he jumped through smokescreens, banners and a myriad of targets on the floor of Dutch Clark Stadium. Geez, a guy just can’t have fun anymore.


If you’re a football fan, put the Bell Game on your calendar next season. It’s an event unlike any other.

It’s how we think of the sport in our minds, the romantic way in which the game ought to be played. It’s about town and tradition. It’s about competition and respect. It’s about pageantry and spirit.

But mostly, it’s symbolic of the community it represents. The people of Pueblo are genuine. They are passionate. And they collectively treasure their Bell Game. And while some bleed red, others bleed blue.