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Old Football Rivalry Back On, With a Twist

Ambulance Authority says council member tried to wrangle football freebie

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The planned revival of a historic football rivalry between two city high schools is inspiring off-field smack talk, though not between any Green Dragons or Wildcats.

Organizers with Armstrong-Walker Classic Foundation — among them City Council members Marty Jewell and Betty Squires — plan to revive the storied Armstrong and Maggie Walker high-school football game, which was played for 41 years until Maggie Walker was closed. Sort of.

Planned as a benefit for local youth organizations and scholarships, the game — to be played on the traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving — will pit two semiprofessional football teams against one another.

Even before the players take the field, one booster's already playing defense.

Councilman Jewell, who's been council's representative on the Richmond Ambulance Authority Board since September, says he's “mystified” about suggestions by the authority's staff that he attempted to use his influence to get a free ambulance for the game.

“I never asked for anything gratis,” Jewell says of an Oct. 16 letter sent by Stephen Lord, treasurer for the ambulance authority's board of directors.

In the letter, Lord questions Jewell's intentions, though he writes, “I recognize the possibility that there was a miscommunication, and I hope that is the case.”

Jewell says other members of the organizing committee asked him to research the ambulance. “As routine, we would want to have an ambulance on standby and we're willing to pay the cost,” he says. “I am troubled how [the] whole issue got cast by somebody.”

Meanwhile, the Armstrong-Walker game is scheduled for Nov. 28 at Virginia Union University, says Bernice Travers, one of the event organizers and a 1966 alumna of Armstrong.

“Those games were the talk of the town — the anticipated event, the tradition in Richmond that everyone looked forward to,” she says. Off-field events were always the bigger deal, she says: “It was like a New York fashion show. Everyone came to the games dressed all gorgeous and handsome.

“This was one of the great events that created … [black community] unity. When we lost that [game], we lost a lot.”

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