Despite Memphis’ well-deserved basketball reputation, Memphis is also traditionally a strong football town, particularly at the prep level. People turn out to see both the ball game, and also the battle between the bands and drumlins as well, and certain stadiums are historic locations for Memphis Black high school football, such as Booker T. Washington Stadium in South Memphis or Melrose Stadium in the center of Orange Mound. On Friday, September 19, 2014, I went out to the latter stadium to see the game between Whitehaven High School and the Melrose High School Golden Wildcats. Both schools brought their marching bands to the game, which isn’t always the case in Memphis these days, but Melrose seems to have declined in numbers in recent years, and its band, though it sounded good, was far smaller than I remembered in the past. Whitehaven, on the other hand, is one of the city’s premier high schools, academically, athletically and musically. Its band marches more than 100 members, and looks and sounds better than many colleges. The football game was a runaway for Whitehaven, but the band battle was more evenly matched, although I would have to give Whitehaven the advantage there too. Both bands pleased the crowd by playing a number of current hits, including Memphian Snootie Wild’s “Yayo”.
The annual Southern Heritage Classic is far more than a football game. Each year, on the Saturday morning of the game at 9 AM, the Southern Heritage Classic Parade begins from the corner of Park Avenue and Haynes Street, and proceeds along Park through Orange Mound to the Lamar-Airways Shopping Center. The parade usually includes the Jackson State University and Tennessee State University bands, along with majorettes, drill teams,drumlines, Cowboys and Steelers fan clubs, car clubs and many others. There used to be more marching bands in the parade as well, but for the last few years, the parade has conflicted with the Southern Heritage Classic Battle of the Bands in Whitehaven, so there have been fewer bands recently, but the hometown favorites, the Melrose High School Sound of the Mound Marching Band always closes out the parade. It’s always a lot of fun, family and food.
Melrose School became a full high school in 1946, the same year that Hamilton High School opened, and since then Melrose has been indelibly linked with the Orange Mound neighborhood. The school has been known for excellence in football, basketball and music, and the Sound of the Mound marching band is the favorite band in the Southern Heritage Classic Parade, 9/8/12
Mitchell High School vs. Melrose High School at Melrose Stadium, Orange Mound, Memphis, 9/7/12
Melrose High School drumline, Orange Mound, Memphis, 9/7/12
The Melrose High School Sound of the Mound band performs at the Golden Wildcats’ game against Mitchell in Orange Mound, Memphis, 9/7/12
Orange Mound was one of the first subdivisions in America to be developed by African-Americans, and is a proud and stable neighborhood in Memphis. Many residents love sports in general and their Melrose High School Golden Wildcats in particular, so Friday night games at Melrose Stadium are as big a deal as a college game, not only with a large crowd inside the stadium but also with a large tailgating group across Park Avenue at the community center. Melrose vs. Mitchell at Melrose Stadium, Orange Mound, Memphis, 9/7/12
Toward the end of the third quarter of the Melrose High School homecoming game, I realized that I needed to head on out of town if I wanted to get to Pine Bluff, Arkansas by 5 PM for the UAPB/Southern game, so I walked back to my car and rode out.
Melrose High School had their homecoming game against Whitehaven on Saturday in Orange Mound, and not only was the weather perfect for football, but the atmosphere was like a college game, with both sides of the stadium packed, and two of the best high school marching bands in the stands. Across the street at the Orange Mound Community Center, the Melrose Class of 1981 was having a tailgate/picnic with a DJ, and when the bands weren’t playing, the sounds of Frankie Beverly and Maze and Willie Hutch drifted across the street along with the smells of barbecue. A perfect football day, except that Melrose was down 49 to nothing at the half.