The August Third Thursday event in Downtown Benton will feature a citywide pep rally to celebrate the new school year and give the community a chance to cheer on the students.
“The whole idea behind the pep rally is the Maroon and Gray game on Friday night,” said Benton Mayor Tom Farmer. “We want everyone to realize what a great school district the city of Benton has and to do that, we’ve got to promote it like everything else.”
This month’s event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. with the pep rally scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
“This is almost like a pep rally kickoff to the 2019-20 school year,” said Tina Coston, city of Benton marketing director and assistant to Farmer.
Farmer said he believes it’s important to celebrate the hard work that the students do all year long.
“What a crying shame that the entire town doesn’t show up and support them,” Farmer said. “They are representing us. They aren’t doing it just because. They are representing us. (They are) called the Benton Panthers.”
Students and community members will also have the opportunity to get a little revenge on some of the Benton coaches during the event.
“One of the things we really want to emphasize is that we will have three Benton coaches in the dunking booth,” Coston said. “To dunk somebody, you just need to bring a jar of peanut butter and you get three throws. We are going to support the Salt Bowl and the Arkansas Food Bank at the same time.”
The highlight of the pep rally will be the Panther run through at 7 p.m. by the Vote Here Center that will not only feature the Benton High School football team, but athletes from all sports — both boys and girls.
“We want 5,000 or 6,000 people at this pep rally,” Farmer said. “These kids work hard. People don’t realize that athletics today are different than 30 years ago. Today, they start in July to get ready for fall sports and the basketball team starts July 6 to get ready for winter sports.”
Farmer said other groups like spirit teams and the band also begin work in July to prepare for the school year.
Dr. Mike Skelton, superintendent, will kick off the pep rally with an introduction followed by the Panther fight song and performances by the BHS band, cheerleaders and Pep Steppers. Roger Scott will emcee the event. Former football coaches are also expected to attend.
“It’s all about community,” Farmer said. “It’s about you feeling like you’re home.”
Farmer added that they are also hoping to promote several school-related items such as the Flashing Red Kids Ahead initiative.
“Let’s keep our kids safe by following the laws as they are set forth,” Farmer said.
Coston also added that they are hoping to get some of the candidates running for local offices to participate in the dunking booth during the event as well.
The Third Thursday street festival is held monthly as part of the effort to revitalize the downtown area. The events feature games, live music, food trucks and extended shopping hours for local businesses.
"The response has been huge,” Coston said. “We started out last year and 10 or 15 people would go if the stores were open late and it never really took off. The first one we had this year in May we had 500 or 600 people ... I would say last month’s we had 3,500 people there."
Coston said that vendors are now reaching out to them in order to make sure they can be included in the events.
Farmer added that some businesses are considering expansion due to the success of the event.
“I have not heard one negative comment from any business owner,” Coston added.
This month’s event will feature bounce houses on South Street and the vendors will be set up from the corner of South Street to the corner of Sevier Street. There will also be vendors on Main Street and the beer garden will be located on Sevier. The Saline County Courthouse lawn will be home to the Baggo tournament which will begin at 6:15 p.m. and will be single elimination. The festival will also feature a praise and worship band, an escape room and performances by Empire Cheer. The event is sponsored by McLarty Nissan of Benton.
Farmer said that one of the reasons behind Third Thursday is to show what a great downtown Benton has and what a great atmosphere the downtown area has. Coston added that it feels like the events have brought the community together.
“You can’t always go somewhere else downtown and feel safe walking around,” Farmer said. “You can come to Downtown Benton, Arkansas, and feel like you’re home. It’s enjoyable. When people walk in a shop they are going to greet you. It’s what people are looking for — quality of life.”