Semi-trucks hauling trailers filled with equipment for the ESPN2 broadcast of Thursday's football game betwee the Sulphur Springs Wildcats and Wichita Falls Rider Raiders at Gerald Prim Stadium arrived this morning. Several free-lance cameramen and sound men also arrived and will be around town filming video of Sulphur Springs, displays of Wildcat spirit, and interviewing players today.
Staff Photo By Jessica Worth

ESPN Rolls Into Town

National exposure pumps up intenisty for Wichita Falls Rider Raiders

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, Special to the News-Telegram

Sept. 10, 2008 - Traveling is nothing new for the Wichita Falls Rider Raiders and their head coach Scott Ponder. Playing on national TV is a different story.

Ponder acknowledged this week that the exposure brought by ESPN2's national telecast of the Raiders' game against the Sulphur Springs Wildcats has been intense. The game is set to kick off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Gerald Prim Stadium.

"It's unbelievable how busy this has made things," Ponder said. "There's been a lot going on with this game that we don't usually see."

That's coming from a coach whose team went four rounds deep in the playoffs in 2007. Usually, postseason games present many more distractions than regular season contests. But for this one game, that isn't true.

One thing that playoff games have prepared the Raiders for, however, is long bus rides.

Traveling four hours by bus to Sulphur Springs isn't all that unfamiliar for the players and fans. Last year, the team went to Midland -- a 550-mile round trip -- for a game, and next week will be traveling to Tyler, which is 250 miles from Wichita Falls.

"For us, it's just a regular ball game," Ponder explained about Thursday's contest. "We'll be driving down there like always. Then, we'll hop on the bus and drive back to go to school on Friday."

While the Raiders are used to traveling, it is usually done for a Friday night game. The biggest adjustment for Thursday's contest, Ponder said, is getting the players home safely and back to school in time for Friday classes. Considering the game likely won't be over until after 11 p.m., once the players have showered and boarded the bus, they might not get back to Wichita Falls until 4 a.m.

"We're going to be getting up and going to school like always," he said. "We don't give them a choice. "

The same might not be said for the fans. Hotels in Sulphur Springs have reported dozens of rooms have been booked for the night. At least one, and possibly two, charter buses will be bringing Raider fans to Sulphur Springs.

Rider ordered 1,500 general admission tickets to the game, which is about 500 more than just about any other school, said SSHS assistant principal Dwayne McMeans. Ponder said they haven't sold all the tickets yet, but he wanted to make sure that Raider fans had the opportunity to get a seat.

"If we have people who drive down there without a ticket, then I guess they may have to stand for the game," he said with a chuckle. "We wanted to give any fan here the chance to buy a ticket in advance so they won't have to wonder if they can get in the gate after driving down there."

Notes: A pep rally is scheduled for Thursday at Sulphur Springs High School at 3:10 p.m. ... Guaranty Bond Bank, in partnership with Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Sulphur Springs, is staging a "tailgate party" on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the lot between the Super Handy store and the bank building on Gilmer Street. ... The Wildcat booster club is taking orders for special Wildcat blankets for $28. Money raised from the fund-raising effort will help pay for the 2008 SSHS Graduation Celebration, the drug- and alcohol-free party held for the graduating seniors following commencement ceremonies.

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