Game history

Ringing Colors: A Look at the History of the Bell Game in Pueblo

PUEBLO, Colo. (KRDO) — The Centennial High School Bulldogs and Central High School Wildcats will race onto the field at Dutch Clark Stadium Friday night to the roars of the crowd that have marked the occasion for decades in Pueblo.

And football players participating in the 71st Bell Game have more than their win-loss record on the line.

Cars, homes and even people are decorated in red and blue during bell week, either to represent their school or simply to show support for the intercity rivalry.

The match-up has been going on for over a century in Pueblo, and it has a rich history.

The hundred years war

The game, also known as the “Hundred Year War,” began in 1892, according to Pueblo School District 60. On Thanksgiving Day, the Wildcats and Bulldogs faced off for the first time at Minnequa Ball Park near of Lake Minnequa.

The rivalry did not officially become the bell game until 1950, when Lou Rhoads donated a bell from an old C&W railroad engine to use as a trophy.

Over the past 71 years, the bell has been passed between the two schools, going through various iterations of blue and red paint. With him, generations and generations of Wildcats and Bulldogs attended the Bell Game and cheered. Many, finding themselves rooting for both teams at some point in their lives.

The bell rings blue, the bell rings red

Dave Craddock can provide insight on both sides. He is the current manager of Centennial, and he is also the former head football coach of Central.

The youngest of four boys, Craddock explained how he was a Bell Game fan long before he entered the field as a Wildcat.

“I got to watch my older brothers play,” Craddock said, “That rivalry, you just felt it. Even as an elementary and middle school kid, you felt it and you just couldn’t don’t wait. that’s what you wanted to do, I can’t wait for my turn.”

Craddock’s father played for Centennial in 1949, and his grandfather on his mother’s side played for Central. When he got to high school, he took the field as a Wildcat. After graduating, he returned as an assistant coach and eventually became the head coach of Central.

Central and Centennial were the first two Pueblo schools. The centenary came first, established in 1876. The center followed soon after.

His family connection to the Bell Game isn’t unique — Craddock pointed out that many Pueblo families have ties to Central, Centennial, or even both.

“The roots run deep,” Craddock explained. Even though the Pueblo area now has seven schools, he said nearly everyone has ties to the Bell Game.

“It’s not just the story of our two schools, it’s really the story of Pueblo,” Craddock said.

During his time as a gamer, Craddock found a community through the Bell Game. As a coach, he had the privilege of watching his players and students grow up to have their own families and children playing in the game.

“I have friends that I went to school with, good friends, whose kids are in my school right now,” Craddock said. “Because of these traditions, there are many interconnections between families and you have the pleasure of educating and exposing friends, children, co-workers or cousins ​​eight times away from this wonderful tradition. “

Asked about his favorite Bell Game memory as a coach at Central, Craddock said there wasn’t just one moment that every ball game he played, coached or attended was special. He shared some of his favorite memories:

Dave Craddock shares highlights from the Bell game

Although Pueblo is the size of a city, it can sometimes feel like a small football town. During the Bell Game, alumni and current students fill the Dutch Clark Stadium.

“We have Chili Fest, we have the State Fair, we have all these cool things that are Pueblo events, and the Bell Game is definitely one of them.”

The Bell Game Brawl and Break

In the early 1900s, an alleged “brawl” between opposing teams broke out after a match. Craddock admitted he was aware of the folklore surrounding the incident.

“There was tension, obviously, and I think rock throwing could have been part of that,” Craddock said.

According to D60, in 1907 the Bell Game ended in a tie. This led to a “riot”, which caused a hiatus of almost 15 years.

After the rivalry resumed, the Bell Game remained a major event in Pueblo. Today, the game is considered the longest running and greatest high school football rivalry west of the Mississippi.

“That’s the beauty of this rivalry, it’s built on tradition but it continues to evolve.”

Craddock believes the game has survived because of what it means to the community and that the game represents the best of both schools.

“That sums up all the best things. Centennial High School and Central High School, and I’m just super proud to be a part of it.”

Reviving Bell Week after COVID-19

The Bell Game has managed to last 121 years, surviving wars, centenary removals and a pandemic. However, the 120th Bell Game was a challenge for both schools.

In 2020, the Bell Game has been reduced for security reasons. The district was only able to allow 175 supporters from each team into the stadium, a fraction of the number of supporters who usually attend.

“We have two classes that really don’t know what to do during the week,” Craddock explained. Due to COVID restrictions, all Bell Game festivities have been significantly reduced. “We have half of our population who really don’t know how to celebrate Bell Week.”

This year, Craddock and educators at Centennial and Central worked to re-engage students. They wanted the students to get excited not only about school, but also about the extracurricular activities they hadn’t been able to participate in last year.

Although it was a struggle, Craddock said the students definitely leaned into the excitement of Bell Week.

“Children were clapping during lunches yesterday, making witticisms.”

Win or lose, Craddock hopes the community will always remember that the importance of this game goes beyond winning. Also, even though they may look like men, the players are still just high school kids trying their best in a high pressure situation.

For the players, the Bell Game lasts for weeks: a week of mental preparation for the game, the week of the game, and a week spent recovering from a victory or accepting a defeat.

“Looking back at how much it still means to the kids, I try to put my kid hat on. I look at it every day. I’ve seen the kids get excited about this thing that started there. is 121. And they probably don’t. I don’t have a background other than what’s important to Central and Centennial,” Craddock said.

He explained how easy it can be to take these kinds of celebrations for granted. Craddock believes it is the responsibility of adults to continue to share the history of the Bell Game with younger generations, to maintain this rivalry for years to come.

“It’s our story, and we as adults hopefully never take it for granted.”

The 71st Bell Game and the 121st year of the rivalry takes place at 7 p.m. Friday at Dutch Clark Stadium.

For online tickets to Central’s side, click here.

For online tickets to the Centennial side, click here.

The game will also be available for streaming on the school’s Facebook pages and the District 60 Facebook page.