Eat, Pray, Brawl

This year, KHC features weekly posts related to the Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition Hometown Teams, currently touring Kansas.

Wamego and Westmoreland put their on-field rivalry to good use off-field, raising money for both schools' booster clubs.  Image Courtesy Beth Day of the Wamego Smoke Signal.

Wamego and Westmoreland put their on-field rivalry to good use off-field, raising money for both schools’ booster clubs. Image Courtesy Beth Day of the Wamego Smoke Signal.

With just 15 miles separating the small Kansas communities of Wamego and Westmoreland, locals often think of them as “backyard neighbors.”

And just like neighbors competing to have the greenest lawn or the best holiday decorations, the towns’ closeness has given rise to a friendly rivalry.

“We’re very close. The kids have all played together on ball teams for years,” said Kelley Nordberg, Wamego Public Library’s Hometown Teams Partner Site Project Director.

But because the schools are in different classes, they don’t regularly compete against one another. So instead, for the past few years, the towns have taken turns hosting the annual “Backyard Brawl,” a pre-season game and tailgate fundraiser between the 3A Rock Creek Mustangs and the 4A Wamego Red Raiders.

Even in the August heat, the popular event receives lots of hype in the area, packing the parking lots with hundreds of attendees each year.

The idea for adding a fundraising component to the Backyard Brawl came from local restaurant owner Mike Pray. He lives in Rock Creek, but his restaurant, Friendship House, is located in Wamego, so he employs students from both districts, Nordberg said.

Members of both communities donate the ingredients, Pray cooks the food, and hundreds of tailgaters buy meals to support their team and win bragging rights for the rest of the year.

“Your dinner is your vote,” Nordberg said.

Since all ingredients and labor are donated, whatever money the Backyard Brawl earns is pure profit. Earnings are split evenly between Wamego and Rock Creek’s booster clubs, so everyone benefits.

But there is an added bonus for the team who tallies more votes. Results are announced at halftime of the football game, so the superintendent of the losing team has to wear the opposing team’s jersey for the rest of the game—something that’s always popular with the students and fans.

“The kids love that,” Nordberg laughed.

Wamego’s exhibition will be on display at the Wamego Public Library between August 24 and September 19. For more information, contact info@wamegopubliclibrary.com or (785) 456-9181, or visit wamegopubliclibrary.com.