Continuing my project documenting Texas high school football culture, When In Texas, I visited New London for the Week 3 matchup featuring the Sabine Cardinals and the West Rusk Raiders.
Located in East Texas, West Rusk High School is classified as a 2A school by the UIL, but in Bruce Bradshaw Stadium boasts one of the most modern stadiums in its classification and beyond. The Raiders' biggest boast, however, comes in the form of the first lights for night games installed in the state of Texas, and we're reminded of it in every entrance thanks to signs with the stadium's nickname: "The Original Friday Night Lights."
Installed in 1934, the original lights did not last for very long, as on March 18, 1937 the stadium and school, then known as the London School, were rocked by a massive explosion caused by a natural gas accumulation on school property. The New London School Explosion claimed the lives of around 295 victims, mostly students and teachers.
The New London community, however, rallied and rebuilt both the stadium, the school and the town, all of which thrived thanks to the booming oil industry of the 1930's until the onset of World War II, when both oil revenues and Rusk County population declined sharply.
Today, Bruce Bradshaw Stadium is once again thriving thanks to a boom in the oil industry, which helped finance a complete rebuilding of the stadium in 2012 after being condemned two years earlier. The new state-of-the-art turf features markings very special to the New London community: the 37-yard line tickers on both sides of the field are painted gold, the London School's original team color, in remembrance of the tragedy's victims.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, this season has not offered much to smile about, as they have lost each of their first three games, including this 14 - 40 defeat at the hands of the Sabine Cardinals.
Stay tuned as I continue the "When In Texas" project with a week 4 visit to R. R. Jones Stadium in El Paso, Texas!