Cramton Bowl Today The Cramton Bowl is a 21,000-seat stadium located in north-central Montgomery, Montgomery County. Over its long history, events at the venue have included minor league baseball and major league spring training as well as college and high school football games. The Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic, an intersectional college football all-star game held in late December, was played at the Cramton Bowl for almost the entirety of its existence from 1938 to 2003. The stadium hosts the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl each December as well as the Alabama High School Athletic Association AHSAA Champions Challenge Football Classic that kicks off the Alabama high school football season.
Cramton Bowl, 1930s The stadium was initially conceived as a multi-use park by local lumberman, Fred J. Cramton, who donated land he owned (the site of a former landfill) to the city of Montgomery for that purpose. City officials were unable to devote resources to the project and returned the land after a short time. Cramton then spearheaded a $33,000 fundraising effort to build the facility. Completed in May 1922, the first sporting event at the new stadium was a baseball game played that month between Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API, now Auburn University) and Vanderbilt University. Later that year, Montgomery attorney James Edson lobbied University of Alabama (UA) president George H. Denny to use the venue for the opening game of the Crimson Tide football season. Denny instead agreed to use the venue for the team’s contest with the University of Georgia’s Bulldogs, slated for Nov. 25.
On Sept. 20, 1922, Alabama’s freshmen football squad travelled to Montgomery, where they defeated Sidney Lanier High School 21-0 in the first football game in the Cramton Bowl. (In the early days of college football, college teams often played high school teams.) The first true college varsity football game took place on November 11, 1922, when API defeated Tulane University 19-0. Two weeks later, UA played the game that Denny had agreed to, besting the Georgia Bulldogs 10-6. The stadium’s permanent seating could accommodate about 7,000, but news reports put the size of the crowd at almost 10,000. API played at least one game annually at the Cramton Bowl between 1922 and 1951, often the season opener. Between 1922 and 1932, UA played at least one game every season in the venue and then returned to Montgomery intermittently until 1954.
The Cramton Bowl’s association with baseball dates to its earliest years as well. It began in 1923, when the Philadelphia Athletics (present-day Oakland Athletics) moved their spring training to Montgomery. The team departed two years later, but in 1927, the minor league Montgomery Rebels made the Cramton Bowl their home. While based in Montgomery, the franchise participated in the Class B Southeastern League (four levels below Major League Baseball) under the name Rebels, Lions, and Bombers. The team relocated to Montgomery’s Paterson Field in 1950 and moved to Birmingham in 1980 and were renamed the Barons. In 1949, Paterson Field opened in Montgomery and drew off the baseball tenants that had used the Cramton Bowl. Not long after, the stadium was converted to football-only use.
ASU Mighty Marching Hornets Beginning in the mid-1920s, the stadium began hosting the Tuskegee Institute–Alabama State University (ASU) football game on Thanksgiving Day known as the Turkey Day Classic. The ASU team used the Cramton Bowl as their home field from 1973 until 2012, when the New ASU Stadium opened on the school’s campus. The Cramton Bowl also was the site of the first football game played under artificial lights in the South. On September 23, 1927, Cloverdale High School played Pike Road High School under lights shipped in from California. More than 7,000 spectators were on hand to see the night-time contest.
The stadium is best known as the former home of the annual intersectional all-star contest: the Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic, which was held each December from 1938 until 2001. The contest pitted players and coaches from southern teams against those from other areas of the country. For most of its existence, the game was the first post-regular season contest and often served as a way for players from smaller schools to be noticed by professional scouts.
Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic, 1955 From 2011 through 2014, the stadium hosted the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, featuring the best high school players from the two states. The stadium became the venue for the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in 2014. The post-season contest, owned and operated by ESPN Events, matches a team from the Sun Belt Conference against one from the Mid-American Conference.
In 2012, the City of Montgomery completed a $10 million renovation that addressed the venue’s advancing age and deteriorating condition. The renovation saw the addition of 90,000-square-foot multipurpose sports facility adjacent to the south end zone as well as a walk of fame to celebrate Montgomery’s sports history. The main floor is a 57,600-square-foot area suitable for volleyball, wrestling, basketball, indoor soccer, and tennis. Several public high schools in the Montgomery area use the Cramton Bowl as their home field. In addition, the AHSAA Champions Challenge Football Classic, which opens the Alabama high school football season, is held at the stadium each year.
Pickens, Champ. A Rebel in Sports: The Autobiography of the Father of the Colorful Blue-Gray Football Game. New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1956.
Newton, Wesley Phillips. Montgomery in the Good War: Portrait of a Southern City, 1939-1946. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000.