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Bulldog football named best nightlife

The crowd at Bulldog Bowl cheers on the 'Dogs as they leap into the Dogpile. (Tyler Green - Daily Press)

The crowd at Bulldog Bowl cheers on the ‘Dogs as they leap into the Dogpile. (Tyler Green – Daily Press)

NightlifeSmall communities often boast about their devotion to the local high school football team. They’ll claim the town closes up shop for games, and in some cases, that’s barely stretching the truth.

Artesia is one of those cases. When residents tell a newcomer they’d better stock up on orange attire and get ready to spend their fall Friday evenings under a set of stadium lights, that’s not so much humor as it is quality advice.

And to prove the point, when asked to choose the Best Nightlife in the city, the minds – or, more accurately, hearts – of Artesians turned not to local watering holes or dinner and dancing destinations but Bulldog Bowl. By a landslide.

After all, where can you have more fun with a few thousand of your closest friends?

The City of Champions’ fandom is by no means a local secret. The Sea of Orange is known throughout the region for following its beloved Bulldogs from the impressive confines of the Bowl to the sometimes cramped quarters of fields throughout the state.

The ‘Dogs regularly give them plenty to cheer about. Winners of 28 state championships, the most in New Mexico, Artesia also ranks third on the National Federation of State High School Associations’ list of most titles in the nation. However, the top two teams on that list – Sioux Falls Washington, S.D., with 38 and Little Rock Central, Ark., with 32 – have been counting since the early 1900s.

The Bulldogs, with 28 since 1957, have won more championships than any team in the United States since 1950.

Bulldog Bowl itself has also garnered widespread attention. Featured in National Geographic and many other publications, as well as on ESPN-U in 2007 during a televised High School Showcase game, “world famous Bulldog Bowl” has long been admired as a college-quality facility, and its upgrades in recent years have only enhanced that feel.

And while other communities have begun erecting more elaborate high school stadiums, the Bowl still stands apart, having been originally constructed in 1967 for, as remains the case today, use by just a single team in a city of approximately 11,000.

The venerable stomping grounds lend an air of majesty to home games that is only enhanced by traditions like the Dogpile and Victory Bell, the steady beat of the Artesia High School band, and the excitement of the crowd itself.

“It makes you proud to live in a community that creates that kind of atmosphere,” Bulldog head coach Cooper Henderson – who has been at the helm of 13 state championship teams in Artesia since 1989 – said. “It’s not only playing good football, it’s having a wonderful band, cheerleaders, and all types of people and support working together to bring about that atmosphere.”

“We love going to Bulldog football games because very little compares to the excitement of the game,” said Jennifer Palma, who, with husband TJ, supports the ‘Dogs at home and away, regardless of distance. “It begins with the playing of our national anthem and is followed up by nonstop action from the Dogpile to the final whistle.

“The Bulldog faithful add to the energy with loud cheers when the offense makes a big play or a constant chant of “defense” as our ‘Dogs attempt a big third-down stop. The atmosphere is electric!”

“Watching a game in Bulldog Bowl, with all of the excitement and pride for the Bulldogs, whether it is from an AHS student, alumni, or residents of Artesia watching the game – there is nothing else like it,” agreed fan Michael Lewis. “Friday night in Artesia is football night!”

Another factor that makes Artesia’s fan support unique is that it tends not to be dependent upon on-field success. The community is staunch in its support of student-athletes, win or lose, something that has had positive and long-term effects on the character and outlook of players.

“I’m so grateful that I come from a great town like Artesia where everybody supports me,” now-Pittsburgh Steelers and former Oklahoma and AHS quarterback Landry Jones told the Daily Press in 2011. “I feel fortunate that I was able to grow up and live there.”

As such, past players take particular pride in watching new Bulldogs experience that level of support.

“As a former player, I enjoy going to the Bulldog football games because I get to see traditions being passed on to other generations,” said TJ Palma. “There’s nothing better than seeing the excitement of the players as the doors open from the locker room to a sea of orange and you hear the roar of the crowd.”

For nearly nine months out of the year, Artesians are doing something else on Friday nights. The fact that part of that time is spent looking forward to those fleeting three from late August to – hopefully – early December says it all.

“It’s great to live in a community where the focus on young people is so strong and where people genuinely want success and good things for them,” said Henderson. “We’re really proud to be the Best Nightlife in Artesia.”