All about the Benjamins

Published 3:22 pm Tuesday, August 17, 2010

by John Clayton

The annual Border Showcase Football Classic has grown into one of the regions largest high school football preseason events, featuring some of the top teams from the Carolinas and drawing thousands of fans starving for a first glimpse of football.

What I like about the Border Showcase is youve got an almost playoff atmosphere to it, said Polk County High head coach Bruce Ollis. We get to play a quality team like a Byrnes in the past weve played Broome, Spartanburg and now Byrnes.

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Polk County will meet South Carolina Class 4A powerhouse Byrnes ranked No. 25 in the nation by USA Today when the Border Showcase Football Classic VI kicks off Saturday at 7 p.m. at Shelbys George Blanton Stadium. In the Showcases other contests, Crest faces Spartanburg at 8 p.m., and Shelby renews an old rivalry with Gaffney in the nightcap at 9 p.m.

The Showcase was the brainchild of Ollis soon after he arrived at Polk County. Like a Super Bowl, it has floated from venue to venue, including Byrnes High School, Crest and Gardner-Webb University.

But it has also grown in popularity, featuring high-exposure teams and perennial powers such as Gaffney (16 state championships), Byrnes (nine state championships) and Crest (four state championships).

And with those teams come rabid fan bases, eager to get an early glimpse at the newest edition and soak up that playoff atmostphere.

Ollis said the 2009 Border Showcase drew somewhere between 3,500-4,000 fans who paid $10 per ticket for admission.

We like the way its turned out , Ollis said. It gives fans in North Carolina a chance to see teams like Gaffney and Spartanburg and Byrnes high-profile teams they might not get a chance to see otherwise.

It also gives a team such as Polk County, a Class 2A school, a measure of itself against teams from larger classifications, lately against teams from South Carolinas Class 4A Big 16, the states largest classification.

Theres no doubt, if we can come out and perform well and hang in there against a Byrnes, it can give us some confidence down the road, Ollis said.

While each team learns a little more about itself while on the field, the Showcase annually provides a financial boon for them off of it.

We cut some fairly significant checks for every team, Ollis said. Its a big money-maker for all the schools involved. Just about every program has needs beyond what the money allotted to them by the district will pay for, so we have fundraisers.

In the case of Polk County, the coaching staff has used the added funds to improve its locker room facility, adding televisions and game consoles for players to use while working out or during their down time.

We believe in treating our players first class because we expect a first-class effort out of them, Ollis said,&bsp; adding that if players are given reasons to be around the team facilities more, they have less leisure time away from the watchful eyes of coaches and fewer temptations.

Weve been able to do some things apparel-wise for our coaches and uniform-wise for our kids that we wouldnt have been able to do. Our kids can put on their shoulder pads and know that theyre the same ones the see the guys wearing on Sundays.

And the fact that the game sits on the North Carolina-South Carolina border adds a little something extra to the event.

I think the fans love it, Ollis smiled. Depending on who wins, it gives fans in North Carolina and South Carolina a little something to bark about for a few days.