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The Muck Bowl: One of the Fiercest High School Football Rivalries in the Country

November 14, 2010 By Carlos Miller in Miami: Local NewsMiami: Sports News  | 2 Comments

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Above: The Glades Central Raiders sacked the Pahokee Blue Devils quarterback all night long.


Drive about an hour north from Miami on I-95 until you hit West Palm Beach, then start heading west on Southern Blvd until the strip malls turn to sugar cane fields and the school crossing signs turn to tractor crossing signs.

Keep driving through the vast fields for another 45 minutes until Highway 441 turns into Hooker Highway. Keep driving until you hit a dead end.

That’s when you know you’ve reached Lake Okeechobee - - the largest fresh water lake in Florida.

You’ll still be in Palm Beach County, which happens to be the largest geographical county in the state (just slightly larger than Miami-Dade), but you’re practically a million miles away from the Kennedyesque Palm Beach mansions on the east coast that litter the high-society pages of glossy magazines.

This is the area known as the Muck, one of the most poverty stricken regions in the country.

It is also one of the most fertile football regions in the country.

From that dead-end at Lake Okeechobee, turn left and you will drive south into Belle Glade, a rural town of 16,681.

Turn right from that dead-end and you will drive north into Pahokee, a rural town of 6,598.

Only 12 miles apart, those towns and their respective high schools have produced 12 high school state championships as well as dozens of of NFL players, including Anquan Boldin, Reidel Anthony, Fred Taylor, Santonio Holmes, Louis Oliver and Johnny Rutledge, just to name a few.

It is no wonder why the annual meeting between these two teams, a highly anticipated game dubbed the Muck Bowl, is known as one of the fiercest high school rivalries in the country. And it’s no wonder why the Muck Bowl draws so much attention from recruiters, coaches and media each year.

This year’s game, played last Saturday, was actually an off-year because Pahokee is having a losing season and Glades Central is expected to make the finals again.

But it still drew the same attention because nobody wanted to miss an upset in case Pahokee turned it up against their regional rivals.


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Above: Glades Central ended up with the Muck Bowl trophy this year.

Pahokee did no such thing, losing the game 58-0 in what turned out to be the biggest blowout in Muck Bowl history. A dismal performance from a team that has won five state championships in its division over the last seven years.

(The schools’ respective marching bands put on a more competitive show at halftime. Check out the video below to judge which school has the better band and to see the Rickey Jackson interview.)

“This is the worst year I’ve ever seen them have,” said Rickey Jackson, a Pahokee alumn who was standing on the sidelines of Saturday’s game.

“They’re rebuilding this year.”

Jackson played 14 years in the NFL as a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, earning a Super Bowl ring in 1994.

Earlier this year, he became the first hall-of-fame inductee to emerge from the Muck. He lives in New Orelans but never fails to return home for the Muck Bowl to cheer on his alma mater.

Glades Central, which has won six state championships in its division since 1971, is now 18-8 against Pahokee in the Muck Bowl since they started keeping track of these things.

In 2001, the New York Times reported that Glades Central had seven graduates playing in the NFL that season, more than any other high school in the country at the time. An amazing feat considering it has a student enrollment of 1,200 students. Most public high schools in Miami have twice that enrollment.

With an enrollment of less than 600 students, Pahokee has three graduates currently playing in the NFL: Anquan Boldin, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver; Antone Smith, Atlanta Falcons running back and Alphonso Smith, Denver Broncos cornerback.

To put this figure into perspective, take Miami Northwestern High School with its student enrollment of 2,400. A renowned football powerhouse with three 6A state titles under its belt, it currently has three active players in the NFL (with a few active free agents that have not been signed).


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So what is it about the Muck that produces such talent?

It’s the hunger. Quite literally. Players grow up so poor in the Muck that they learn how to chase rabbits from the time they learn to walk. Once they catch the rabbits, they either bring them back to their family to eat or they sell them for a few bucks.

The average per capita income is $13,000 and the unemployment rate is a whopping 40 percent, so chasing rabbits becomes a survival skill. And as that child grows, those rabbit chasing skills translate to speed on the football field. And in many cases, lucrative NFL contracts.

In 2009, the Muck Bowl reached the Super Bowl when Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes (Glades Central) and Arizona Cardinal wide receiver Anquan Bolden (Pahokee) played for the championship during Super Bowl XLIII.

Holmes became Super Bowl MVP when he caught a touchdown pass with only 35 seconds left in the game to push the Steelers past the Cardinal 27-23.

The Tampa Tribune mentioned the rabbit lore in a Super Bowl preview that year.

According to local legend, when the sugarcane is burned during harvest, rabbits run from the flames and the children give chase. Rabbits are then sold on the streets for a few dollars. In theory, it’s why the area has so many speedy football players.

Boldin chased rabbits. So did Holmes.

And now - after growing up in the Muck, the rich, dark soil that provides the area’s agricultural advantages - they are chasing the Lombardi Trophy.

And they won’t be the last to emerge from the Muck onto the national stage.

All photos and video by Carlos Miller


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Above four pictures: One of the only highlights for Pahokee was when they stripped the ball and recovered the fumble.

 

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Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Sports News,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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2 Comments on

"The Muck Bowl: One of the Fiercest High School Football Rivalries in the Country"

UTS says:

I felt like I was there.

Fine work Carlos

Posted on 11/16/2010 at 7:40 PM

TrueBlue33 says:

Yes we did chase rabbits, it was more of a sport than a need to survive. We are a migrant working town, so we know the value of hard work and dedication. The reason we did produce such good athletes for a small geographical area, is because we are a very competitive community. We played football not only at the schools but among ourselves in parks and large fields.

If there was a lot more sports (like basketball, tennis and boxing, etc.) sponsorship in our community just imagine how many other athletes we would have produced.

For example, I love the sport of boxing which is my favorite sport and if there where any boxing gyms in Belle Glade Florida, I would have loved to be a boxing champion.

Posted on 06/19/2013 at 1:54 PM

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