Now in its 18th year, the U.S. Army All-Star Bowl has become a fixture for high school football in Kern County.
Today's 6:30 p.m. event at Rabobank Arena is the only indoor high school football all-star game played on the arena football field dimension in the country.
There is a uniqueness to the game that is special for players, capping their high school careers with a unique experience — from the carpeted field surface to a chance to celebrate after scoring plays.
“Just watch the game," said Bakersfield High senior Adrian Moreno, who will play linebacker for the gold squad. "There is going to be tons of celebrations. It’s going to be epic.”
It’s also a time for those seniors to get one last shot playing a competitive football game like Alex Aguilar from Shafter, who has elected to attend San Jose State, but will not further his football career.
“I am going to focus on getting a career as soon as possible,” Aguilar said.
Then there are players like Sam Stewart, Jr., who will walk on at Cal Poly, who gets one last chance to play with his buddies that he grew up with.
“This will be my last game in Bakersfield,” Stewart said. “This is going to be my last Bakersfield game and I won’t ever be able to suit up in a Patriots jersey again and that’s not a good feeling.”
Then there is Joe Jones. The South High senior gets to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, P.J., who played in the game a few years ago.
“This is this the last game of the season,” Joe Jones said. “I have to show out for the fans, my teammates and the family. I can’t wait to play.”
Or you’ve got someone like North senior Shannon Ferguson, who has never seen one of these games live. Ferguson’s first view of the field was when he walked in for the first practice.
As the quarterback for the gold squad coached by Christian Johnson, Ferguson said that when he noticed the field is only 65 yards long, he thought he could “throw the ball the entire length of the field.”
But the overarching theme of the all-star game is the chance to get back on the field one last time and have some fun.
“The best part about it is getting to work with some of these guys that are a pain in my neck during the regular season, but you see why they are so good and deserve to be here,” Black squad coach Chris Bandy said. “Not only are they great athletes, but they are great kids. They work hard and their energy feeds the entire team.”
Lightner, Aguilar to be sworn in
Part of the allure of the game is the connection to the United States military, and more specifically the U.S. Army, the title sponsor for the game.
During halftime, dozens of local residents take their oath to the military at midfield, a special moment for all of those involved.
This year, two players in the game will be sworn in.
Kern Valley senior Jacob Lightner is headed to enlisted basic training for the Army in July and Liberty senior Ryan Aguilar is headed to West Point and will play football for the Golden Knights in the fall.
There will also be 26 local high school senior cheerleaders on hand to entertain the crowd and the U.S. Army All Star Bol Choir will sing the national anthem before kickoff.
Also before kickoff, back for the ninth year is the Armed Forces Support Riders that will proceed the players entrances with the cheerleaders riding as passengers on motorcycles.