When Anthony Brown, an eighth grade football player for the East Pensacola Rattlers’ Junior team, crossed the goal line for the last touchdown of the 25th Annual Soul Bowl on Saturday, October 18 at the Community Maritime Park, little did he know that his destiny was put in motion decades earlier by men and women cheering for this future to come to pass. Little did it matter that the Rattlers lost the last game. They won the coveted Soul Bowl XXV – the Super Bowl of Pensacola’s youth football – by winning three of the five games over the Pensacola Tigers.
For the second year at the Community Maritime Park, the warm sun and the cool breezes off Pensacola Bay were present for the thousands of attendees to enjoy the all-day friendly and community-based sports rivalry between the Rattlers and the Pensacola Tigers. Today, the Rattlers are sponsored by the Pensacola Youth Sports and Education Association and the Tigers are sponsored by the Southern Youth Sports Association. Twenty-five years ago, the story had different beginnings.
In the 1980s, some local business and community leaders, who were all sports and recreation enthusiasts, discussed the lack of parks and funding available for intra-city football. “We knew it was important to keep youth engaged in positive acts such as sports,” said Fred Gant, an attorney and an early sponsor of the Rattlers. Over several meetings, Danny Williams, John Henry Harris and John Albritton from the east side and Willie Floyd, Tyrone Evans, and Johnny Blackmon from the west side decided to host the first Soul Bowl. “We wanted to make it a big day for the athletes and the community,” said Blackmon, a coach with the West Pensacola Youth Association’s Gators. He doesn’t remember the exact person who came up with the name, recalling that a few were tossed around and everybody gave input. “And we decided on the name “Soul Bowl”.”
Over the years of the Soul Bowl, the Rattlers have had different rivals from the west side, including teams sponsored by the West Pensacola Youth Association, the Salvation Army and the current Southern Youth Sports Association. “We ran out of money and could no longer fund football,” recalls Blackmon of the association’s football programs and the equipment expenses. Similar financial issues challenged the east side teams, and for both, the business community came together to ensure the impact was minimized on the area’s youths.
Blackmon, like Gant, had a vested interest in seeing youth sports succeed. They both had sons play football – Blackmon on the west side and Gant on the east side. Gant said it gave the adults an opportunity to help young men in a single endeavor by focusing on the positive images and experiences they had while also giving them direction. “There were many conversations going on then about the black boys growing into men,” Gant remembers of the 1980s. “God had blessed us so much that it was time to give back with our time and treasure.”
Twenty-five years later and young men like Anthony Brown are still receiving the benefits of that investment. It’s like silver icing on the community cake.