A City Divided – A History of the Iron Bowl

Photo by Kate Sullivan

Roll Tide! War Eagle! What may seem like simple words are actually phrases that hold an unexplainable meaning for two very loyal fan bases. Phrases that have become battle cries ringing in the air all year long, sparking both friendships and fights.

In an interview with Charles Barkley for AL.com, University of Alabama football head coach Nick Saban said people who grow up in the state are raised in the football rivalry and it is a part of them. “And they have a lot of passion and they don’t have a lot of other choices. There’s not an NFL team, there’s not an NBA basketball team. So, everybody relates to one of these two schools and there’s a lot of passion for it.”

Alabama and Auburn fans wait all year long for that one day when their teams take the field against each other. The whole state of Alabama turns its attention to the game, and the neutral neighbors of these rabid fans are forced to pick a side. That day is known as The Iron Bowl.

The Iron Bowl gets its name from its Birmingham ties, as the city was the location of the game for 53 seasons, including the first. The programs met in 1893 in Lakeview Park for the first time ever in front of a crowd of about 5,000 strong. Drama ensued from the start as there were arguments as to whether the game should count for the 1892 or 1893 season. Word of the two teams playing and the subsequent tension drew interest as people began to discover the sport of football.

As Auburn was enjoying early success, threats from the university almost put an end to Alabama’s growing program. The dangers of football as well as the cost associated with funding a whole football team, had the University of Alabama’s faculty questioning the need for such a sport at the collegiate level.

Luckily for the Crimson Tide, football would be preserved and the yearly game against the Tigers would resume, that is until 1907 when the series was put on hold for financial discrepancies between the two teams.

Forty years later, the battle was reinstated after the Alabama House of Representatives brought forth a resolution to resume the rivalry by implementing full athletic programs for both schools. The state legislature went one step forward by threatening to withhold funding for the two universities unless they agreed to bring the Iron Bowl back.

The game was to return to Birmingham where the largest stadium in the state, Legion Field was located. By the time the game was officially moved to be played at each team’s respective fields in 1998, the game had earned its title of “The Iron Bowl” due to the city’s rich iron history.

While Birmingham may no longer play host to the most heated rivalry in all of college football, the roots of the teams run deep throughout the city with a plethora of both Alabama and Auburn fans as residents. It is easy to assume that almost everyone in the city has a side with which they align themselves in the series. However, this doesn’t always hold true.

In 2011 the Capital Survey Research Center in Montgomery surveyed throughout the state to see which team they pulled for. Of those surveyed, 37 percent identified themselves as Alabama fans and 18 percent said they cheer for Auburn, but 20 percent said they cheer for both teams and 22 percent said they cheer for neither.

Essentially, 42 percent of the polled population said they don’t care which team wins.

Birmingham is growing and with that growth comes new waves of people who don’t have a background with either team. Regardless of their football preferences though, new residents often find themselves in a bizarre situation of having to choose a team, either by coworkers, neighbors, friends or significant others.

Kasey Mack, a college student in Birmingham, found herself having to choose sides despite her background as a University of Georgia fan. “I moved to Birmingham for school and all of a sudden I was surrounded by all these Alabama and Auburn fans who wanted to know not what my team was, but whether I cheered for Alabama or Auburn. It was like they weren’t satisfied with my response of not really caring between the two.”

Mack said as a Georgia fan she was raised to hate Auburn because they were one of Georgia’s rivals, thus she found herself cheering for Alabama when the Iron Bowl rolled around. Ultimately, she was just watching the game as a fan of football as opposed to a fan of either team. Her Bama fandom was solidified when she began dating an Alabama graduate.

“Yeah, I pretty much have to root for Alabama now. When he found out I didn’t really care which team won, he looked at me like I had two heads. I’m still a Georgia fan at the end of the day, but I find myself saying ‘Roll Tide’ a lot more often now.”

Birmingham Without Walls

A large community of homeless people gathers at Birmingham’s Linn Park. They gather near the fountain as the sound of running water blocks out street noise, citizens say.

There is a common, grim image traditionally associated with homelessness: a dirty, desperate man with a long beard sitting on the corner of a street alone, occasionally begging passersby for nickels.

However, this extremely public image of the indecent homeless man does not reflect the true demographic of the homeless community. In truth, most homeless individuals consider the streets too dangerous to live on.

“They’re scared,” Mallory Pettet said. “One woman I met—she was homeless—but she was mugged and was scared out of her wits. Some men followed her and robbed her of everything she had. And she doesn’t have a place to go and lock a door.”

Pettet and her close friend Hannah Baker visit members of the homeless community in Five Points every week. The pair help lead a Bible study, which they say is mostly led by a seven-year member of the Five Points houseless community.

Even more contrary to the common face of homeless is the fact that the majority of the homeless population is hidden from view.

According to the needs assessment study, only 12 percent of the homeless population in Birmingham stay on the street. About 34 percent stay in transitional housing, 22 percent in emergency shelters and 12 percent in treatment facilities. Around 82 percent of Birmingham’s homeless have been homeless for less than 2 years.

Pettet said that many of the people who live on the streets of Birmingham suffer from severe loss of identity and dignity as a result of being homeless.

“I had a conversation with a guy a couple weeks ago at a grill-out at Five Points,” Pettet said. “This one man wouldn’t look me in the eyes. I asked him his name and who he was and why he wouldn’t talk to me, and he mumbled ‘I just got out of prison.’”

“He put that stamp on his identity and assumed that the nice girl that gave him food was going to walk away,” Pettet said.

This is the second installment of a five-part series. 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Birmingham Without Walls

Leroy sat in Linn Park waiting for a ride to the bus station on a warm, November afternoon. He was not alone in the park; in Alabama, it is still warm enough for short sleeves in November, so people with no other place to go can sit outdoors comfortably.

He leaned forward on his cane, a crutch he found necessary after a surgery left him with metal rods in his leg. His rough hands—one with stitches running across the palm—crossed one over the other at the crook of the cane. Leroy’s leg surgery left him unable to work, he explained. He draws a disability check for $925 a month and collects $16 in food stamps each month. After a divorce, Leroy found himself with no place to live.

“I lived in my car for a while,” he said. “But I lost my license. I would be in my car all day, driving from Greenville to Mobile, Mobile to Birmingham, Birmingham to Montgomery. I fell asleep. I was in the right lane so I went off the road, but the officer pulled me over. He thought I was drunk.”

The bus he was waiting on this day would take him to Greenville, nearly 2 hours away from Birmingham, where his car was. He had $300 in his pockets—money he planned to give to a contact in Greenville to pay back a debt. It was all the money he had to his name.

“I can’t get an apartment by myself,” he said. “I only get $925 a month for everything. An apartment—that’s my whole check. I wouldn’t have anything left over for anything else”

Leroy is one of the thousands of homeless men and women living in Birmingham. He is one of a smaller subset considered “chronically homeless.”

According to the study “A Needs Assessment of the Homeless of Birmingham and Jefferson County,” 29 percent of the homeless population in Birmingham fit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of chronically homeless. Chronically homeless people either have disabling conditions and have been homeless for a year or more or have been homeless four times within three years.

Many of these homeless people said that “personal relationship issues” caused their homelessness.

“Ninety-one percent report experiencing at least one undesirable life event over the last year. The most common events are job loss, death of a close friend, family member or partner, physical abuse, or problems with a spouse or partner,” the study says.

According to county records, on Nov. 9, 2011, Jefferson County filed for bankruptcy. The debt of $3.14 billion made it the most expensive municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history at the time. Since then, the availability of jobs has been decreasing.

Birmingham has an estimated homeless population of about 3,000 people. That is 0.13 percent of the overall population of the city living without a home.

More people are without work and fewer of them are able to find employment. The loss of job infrastructure caused by being homeless creates a vicious poverty cycle that local activists and volunteers say is not easy to break.

This is the first installment of a five-part series. 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

Faces of Birmingham

Birmingham lays claim to some trendy coffee shops, and Octane Coffee is no exception. Have you ever wondered exactly who the people are behind the counter serving this delightful coffee? They have intriguing stories to tell, and barista/mixologist Trenton Bell, has one of the finest.

Bell graduated from Samford’s Beeson Divinity School back in May of this year. “I felt a sense of calling to go [to seminary]; I felt internally that it was the right next step for me after college,” said Bell. He received his Master’s in Divinity and now awaits the Lord’s next step for his life.

Throughout his life, Bell has always had two main loves: Jesus and music. He felt the Lord calling him to combine those passions for the Kingdom of God and thus, the band Multis Project was born. Multis is Latin for many, and Bell chose this name because the purpose of Multis Project is to promote diversity within music.

Multis Project was somewhat born out of necessity. Bell and his friend, Louie Free, were driving back from a conference they had been leading worship at and were in line for another gig, but there was one problem, the next conference wanted the two guys to bring a band with them. “We put together a group of folks, and tried to put together as much of a diverse team as possible,” Bell said. “We have some hip-hop, gospel, folk and pop all mixed in together. We want to push the envelope and reach out to and unify diverse groups of people.” The band has been doing just that ever since their first performance back in January.

Bell constantly faces the battle of balancing being a full time barista and trying to continue to pursue his passion for making music. However, he does not really worry about it too much. “I trust that we [Multis Project] will go where we need to be at the proper time. We have patience in trusting the Lord, but we are persistently pursuing opportunities,” he said.

So if you need a delicious Carmelatto, or want to book a cutting edge band, look no farther than Octane’s very own, Trenton Bell.

It’s Relay For Life Time

Homewood — It’s here again! The Homewood community is gathering Friday, April 22 between 4p.m. and 11p.m. at Homewood’s Central Park for this year’s American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Homewood event.

 

Involved in this common effort to “create a world with less cancer and more birthdays” are organizations such as Samford Greek Life, Hall Kent Elementary, Edgewood Elementary, Shades Cahaba Elementary, Homewood High School and Southern Nuclear.

 

Supported greatly by volunteers, the event will feature performances from HHS Cheerleaders, Edgewood Kids Choir, HMS Patriot Singers, Homewood Jazz Band and HMS Trendsetters—to mention a few!

 

To accompany these treats are an ice cream eating contest and an inflatable slide.

 

“Our Relay for Life event,” Relay For Life Specialist Christina Zabala wrote in a press release, “supports the mission of the American Cancer Society to save lives by helping people stay well, by helping people get well, by finding cures and by fighting back against the disease.”

 

Readers are invited to join in this community celebration of the lives impacted by, lost to and reclaimed from cancer.

 

Readers interested in participating in this year’s Relay For Life event as a volunteer or team member may contact Zabala at 205-930-8868 or visit www.RelayForLife.org/HomewoodAL.

Birmingham Barons Opener

The Birmingham Barons had a rough season opener, losing to the Jacksonville Suns 6-1 last Thursday.

The team played the opener in Jacksonville and stayed the weekend, playing five games in all. The Barons won one of the five games against the Suns.

The Suns, with a 57-81 record for the 2015 season, proved to be too much for the Barons’ opening game.

The Suns scored the first point, and the Barons’ first baseman, Jake Peter, had a home-run in the second inning. This was Peter’s first professional baseball game.

The teams remained tied 1-1 until J.T. Riddle of the Suns had a three-run home run in the third inning. The next inning was scoreless, and in the fifth inning the Suns gained the last game point.

They will play their first home game tonight, against the Tennessee Smokies. First pitch will be thrown at 7:05 p.m. For ticketing information, call (205) 988-3200.

Pepper Place is Back

Birmingham’s favorite farmers market is back on Saturday, April 9th. It is open from 7 a.m. to noon rain or shine.

Pepper Place began in 2000 in provide a connection between family farmers and the people of Birmingham, Alabama. Since then is has grown from a few tents to over 100 tents spread across parking lots and streets around Pepper Place. The market has hosted around 10,000 people every Saturday at the height of the season.

All of the vendors are based in Alabama and are the actual growers, joined by their family members and friends.

Shoppers can expect bedding plants, herbs, lettuces, asparagus, and strawberries to be in season for the spring and as it gets closer to summer blackberries, blueberries, peaches and mushrooms. Alongside of the fresh produce market goers can find bakers and cooks who serve food to eat and take home, from breakfast food to dessert. As well as food, Pepper Place hosts Alabama artists, artisans and craftspeople with unique items to decorate with or give as a gift.

The address is:
2829 2nd Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35233

A list of vendors can be found here:

http://www.pepperplacemarket.com/vendors/

Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series

The Nitty Gritty Magic City Reading Series is a reading, writing, and performance event held at The Desert Island Supply Co. in Birmingham, Alabama. They generally feature at least one of Birmingham’s working writers. For the month of April, they are hosting three out-of-towners: Michael Robins, Adam Clay and Ada Limón.

All three are incredible poets. Lion’s latest book, Bright Dead Things, was recently a finalist for the National Book Award.

The event is happening Sunday, April 10th at 3:30 p.m. at Desert Island Supply Co. in Woodlawn. The address is: 5500 1st Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35212.

Fore more information:

http://www.desertislandsupplyco.com/

http://www.facebook.com/nittygrittymagiccity/

Cajun Cook-off this Weekend at Railroad Park

Here it comes! The Sixth Annual Girls Inc. Cajun Cook-off is steaming down the tracks to Railroad Park, “Bringing the Big Easy to the Magic City” Saturday April 9 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Hosted by The Committee of 25, which is the Girls Inc.’s Junior Board, and presented by Publix Super Market Charities, the cook-off will feature a family friendly atmosphere spiced with the Cajun aromas of foods such as jambalaya, gumbo, bread pudding, shrimp and grits, po’boys and more.

Twenty to 25 amateur cooks will prepare these dishes for the chance of taking home trophies from the taste-testing contest.

Live zydeco music by the Swamp Poppas will provide additional flavor to the day, accompanied by a silent auction, kids’ activities and a performance by Girls Inc. program participants.

Connie Hill, President and Chief Executive Officer for Girls Inc. said that the Cajun Cook-off, which is the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, expands each year in order to create a more “memorable and fun” experience for attenders.

“Through this year’s event participation and fundraising efforts,” Hill said, “Girls Inc. hopes to raise $80,000 to support our efforts to provide vital and innovative educational programs to school-age girls in Central Alabama.”

These programs are dedicated to “inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Tickets can be purchased at bhamcajuncookoff.com, $20 for adults and $5 for kids ages three to ten. Children under three years of age may attend for free.

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Photo courtesy of Connie Hill