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Bradwell vs. Liberty is more than a game, it's a homecoming
Erin Johnson
The author, Erin Walden Johnson, in 2007 with cheerleaders Janie Brett and Tania Rodriguez. - photo by Provided

They say football is religion in the South. Well, if that’s true then the Liberty vs. Bradwell game is like a church homecoming for me.

This Friday is the annual “cat fight” so to speak, as the Tigers battle the Panthers yet again to see who will walk away the champion. The game has always been a highlight during football season for Liberty County. Most people will tell you they’d rather watch college than pro football, but hometown football beats everything in the South.

As a community, we’re all invested in the Liberty vs. Bradwell game.  It’s like a family reunion, we may have all branched out over the years but this game brings us all right back!

Watching the Bradwell Tigers and the Liberty Panthers duke it out has always been a chance for everyone to get together and enjoy a good ol’ fashioned hometown rivalry.  And for a majority of those years, it was a chance for Bradwell students to rib Liberty students since the score board seemed to work only on their side. But it was always in good spirits that we watched the game, it didn’t matter who won.

I remember going to the games with my family from a very young age. All five of us would walk down Gen. Stewart to Olvey Field, like it was the Super Bowl. Only in a small GAME from 1A


small town can you tote a baby, a toddler and 6-year-old across four lanes of highway without worry!

We’d eat at the concession stand for dinner. My dad was almost always behind the grill of the concession stand, careful to hide away some ribs he cooked for the parents and volunteers.

All the teachers and students loved coming by to say hello to “Mrs. Walden’s little kids.” She’d take a break from cheering on the Panthers to ask her students “Do you have your chemistry book with you tonight? You can work problems between plays, ya know?”

I remember so many students over the years, whether they were on the field, or in the stands.

Eventually, my brothers and I grew up and participated in the game ourselves.

The first time Liberty beat Bradwell, my brother Cody was the ball boy.  He was just as excited, if not more, than any player on the team. He’d been to every game, so it was a victory for him, too!

After nine long years of playing, and losing, Liberty finally won. Calling it a red-letter day wouldn’t do justice to this enormous feat.

One of my first games cheering for Liberty was at this very game! I don’t even remember who won, all I remember is how much fun I had cheering on the same field I’d watched so many others play, cheer and perform on.

I had finally become part of the game instead of a bystander.

Going back to the game now, it still feels like a big family reunion. The sounds of a high school band will always bring back memories of this game, and I get excited every time I hear the drumline start playing.

Many of my friends and family are teachers and a few of those cheerleaders, football players and band members I looked up to as a child, have kids playing in the game.

Every once in a while, I still see someone and remember them in their uniform, or with a letter painted on their chest. While there may be new stadiums, new football players and new uniforms, the game is still the same.

It’s a homecoming for everyone in our community and you’ll have a hard time not running into your old classmates or teachers when you go this Friday!

Johnson is creative and content director for the Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau.


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