When in Texas: Week 3 / by Guillermo Hernandez Martinez

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!

Senior captain Grant Key of the Sabine Cardinals leads his team out of the tunnel prior to their Week 3 game against the West Rusk Raiders on September 12, 2014 at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London, Texas. Key and the Cardinals dominated the Raiders from the first snap and handily won the game 40 - 14.

Sabine Cardinals senior quarterback Tanner Sharp scores a rushing touchdown from 11 yards out to put the Cardinals up 6 - 0 over the West Rusk Raiders during their Week 3 matchup played on September 12, 2014 at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London, Texas.
Completely rebuilt in 2012 after being condemned thanks to corroded beams in its stands, Bruce Bradshaw Stadium boasts of having the first lights for night games in Texas, giving rise to the its nickname: "The Original Friday Night Lights."

West Rusk Raiders junior quarterback Dee Starling warms up prior to their Week 3 game against the Sabine Cardinals played on September 12, 2014 at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London, Texas.
The 2012 renovation was not the first time Bruce Bradshaw Stadium had to be built from the ground up; it was destroyed by the New London School Explosion of 1937, where an accumulation of natural gas under the high school, then called London School of London, Texas, was accidentally ignited and caused an explosion that left around 295 victims dead.

Senior wide receiver for the Sabine Cardinals Cody Sauce catches a long touchdown pass during the Cardinals' Week 3 matchup played on September 12, 2014 at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London, Texas.
Originally added in 1934, the stadium's lights were a product of the booming East Texas oil industry during the 1930's, which helped rebuild the London School after the disastrous explosion as well as keep the football program relevant until the coming of World War II, when the industry declined and large numbers of families abandoned East Texas.

A Raider helmet lies on the turf after being discarded by a frustrated owner following the Raiders' 14 - 40 loss to the Sabine Cardinals on September 12, 2014 at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium in New London, Texas.
After almost 100 years of the New London school explosion, the Raiders and West Rusk High School still find ways to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on March 18, 1937. On the new turf at Bruce Bradshaw Stadium, the 37-yard line tickers were painted gold at the request of the Raiders coaching staff, honoring both the year of the tragedy and the London School's original team color.