The Cullman Tribune is celebrating the Alabama Bicentennial (1819-2019) with statewide field reporting by Alabama Master Gardener/Botanical Artist Ben Johnson South. This year-long feature, “The 67-County Alabama Garden Party,” will spotlight different counties each week. Each county will get its own “quilt block,” along with a historical profile, and we’ll share a recipe specific to the area. At the end of the year, all 67 counties will be put in a book to commemorate the Bicentennial.
Botany is destiny. The verdant green, grassy stretches of flatland in Tuscaloosa County have provided some of the most legendary playing fields on the North American continent for centuries. When you’re here, it’s easy to imagine yourself with Chief Tuskaloosa, a paramount leader of the native, Muskogean-speaking people circa 1500, sitting on a grassy mound with hundreds of spectators cheering on the teams of men playing lacrosse, women competing in the Moccasin Games and children vying for archery awards as they learn hunting skills.
From the earliest days when humans have gathered in Tuscaloosa County there have been two types of play: Games of Dexterity and Games of Chance. For 900 years, this has been a place where skills were tested and betting on the outcome has added to the excitement. At the world-class Alabama Museum of Natural History on the campus of the University of Alabama, you’ll find prehistoric sports objects and also dice. Vegetable plant dyes even allowed devoted fans to wear clothing the same color worn by their favorite players and teams.
Here are ways PLANTS + PEOPLE + PLAYGROUNDS have entertained people in Tuscaloosa County through the centuries:
*CHUNKEY- This game was played on open, grassy fields when the Mississippian tribes established large communities here, AD 1300-1600; Chunkey involved contestants throwing spears across a field, then rolling a large stone; the spear closest to where the stone stopped rolling was the winner.
*HORSESHOES- Though variants like Ring Toss were played by the Choctaw Indians and their Mississippian ancestors in the area, the popularity of this lawn game played with iron horseshoes came with the Spanish explorers.
*CABER TOSS- Brought to Alabama from the Scottish Highland Games traditions by the early 1800s white settlers, this involved a player, generally a grown man, hoisting a full-length, limbed log into the air for it to flip and land with scores based on closeness to the log’s original position; other field games of the period included Crack The Whip and Tug of War (Historical note: Tuscaloosa was Alabama’s capital 1826-1846)
*CROQUET- The first game played on Alabama grass where the genders could equally compete, this form of “ground billiards” is similar to golf; it originated in England (1856) and quickly became popular in English-speaking America; the sophisticated, 6-wicket croquet was likely played on the “commons” of the University of Alabama by the 1880s.
*BADMINTON and LAWN TENNIS- These racquet sports played on grass fields came to America in the second half of the 19th century via the British; badminton, originally called “Poonah,” began in British India in the 1850s, and lawn tennis, the original name for all tennis, originated in Birmingham, England; both games were popular in Tuscaloosa County and are enjoyed by many today, though more playing surfaces are not plant-based.
*FOOTBALL- Brought to the University of Alabama in 1892 as a “pastime diversion” by William G. Little, a student who had learned the game when he was enrolled in prep school in Andover, Massachusetts, football has been the no. 1 stadium spectator sport in the county for decades. The regulation size for college football playing fields is 120 yards long (including 10 yards of “end zone” for each team) and 53 1/3 yards wide.
*FRISBEE/ULTIMATE FRISBEE/FRISBEE GOLF/TRASH CAN FRISBEE (KanTam)- Evolutionists believe throwing discs across a field predates man; since the beginning of recorded history, discs have been thrown as recreation, competition and as weapons; the aerodynamically-designed plastic discs we know as Frisbees originated in California in the 1950s and proliferated throughout U.S. colleges immediately; other than solitary sports like running, Frisbee is currently the most-popular field sport played in Tuscaloosa County.
*FUTURE FIELD GAMES- As our culture becomes increasingly technologically advanced we can expect new forms of entertaining games to play and watch in the great outdoors; Pokémon Go got more people playing outside than some games experienced for centuries; one can imagine “Games of Drones” in Bryant-Denney Stadium.
Here are other ways to enjoy PLANTS + PEOPLE in Tuscaloosa County:
*TUSCALOOSA COUNTY FARMERS MARKETS- Northport Farmers Market, 4150 Fifth St., 35476, April-December; Tuscaloosa River Market, 1900 Jack Warner Parkway, 35401, open year-round.
*TUSCALOOSA COUNTY U-PICK FARMS- Leavelle Farms, 17952 Foxfire Road, Buhl, AL 35446, BLUEBERRIES; Miss Emily Parker’s Snow’s Bend Farm (Coker, AL); Hudson Farms, 22759 Old Jasper Road Berry, AL 35546
*BROWN GREENHOUSE PLANT NURSERY- Trees, shrubs, hanging baskets, great variety, 335 Crescent Ridge Road NE, Tuscaloosa, AL 35404
*JERIMIAH’S COMMUNITY GARDEN- Created and cared for as a food mission for the needy by Holy Spirit School and Parish; this is a beautiful place visually and spiritually.
*URBAN COOKHOUSE- 1490 Northbank Parkway #110, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406, a multi-location/multi-city restaurant success started by UA grads with a focus on healthy, fresh, locally-sourced vegetables- great Veggie Quesadilla and delish Turkey Crunch Wheat Sandwich.
*PRESIDENT’S MANSION GARDENS- Located on the south end of the University of Alabama’s famed greenspace called “The Quad,” the elegant mansion, completed in 1841, is surrounded by head-high, Instagram-ready, mature azaleas and camellias; the mansion narrowly escaped destruction during the American Civil War when the university became a military school, known as the “West Point of The Confederacy,” and sent 200 cadets each year to the battlefields.
*DRUID CITY- The nickname for the city of Tuscaloosa comes from the number of water oaks planted on downtown streets beginning in the 1840s; the leafy, pedestrian-friendly streets were cited when Tuscaloosa was voted one of “The Most Livable Cities in The United States;” Tuscaloosa is regularly named as one of “The 50 Best College Towns” with the many, barefoot-friendly, green spaces saluted.
*PLANTING AN IDEA- Recognizing “botany is destiny” and celebrating nine centuries of outdoor games on its grassy fields, Tuscaloosa County could create an Olympics of such contests. This might be done at a county stadium that plays on 21st century live turf. Also, students at Shelton State Community College, Stillman College and the University of Alabama could compete for creating new games where PLANTS + PEOPLE come together positively and pleasurably in this games-loving part of the state. Think of Quidditch, the fictional, outdoor game of dexterity author J.K. Rowling conjured for her “Harry Potter” phenom.
Y’ALL COME to Tuscaloosa County on your 67- County, Alabama Garden Party tour!“ We’ll make it a fun-and-games lawn party.
Many thanks to Neal Hargle and Cindy Makemson, serving gardeners, farmers and all in the area through the Tuscaloosa County office of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
TUSCALOOSA COUNTY VEGETARIAN GAME DAY LOADED SWEET POTATOES
- 3 large, Alabama sweet potatoes
- 2 cups fresh, Brussels sprouts, sliced
- ½ medium-sized, Alabama red onion, sliced
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. freshly ground, black pepper
- ¼ cup golden raisins
- ¼ cup toasted Alabama pecans, chopped
- 2 tbsp. lite, bottled Italian vinaigrette
- Bake sweet potatoes by preheating oven to 400F. Drizzle potatoes with 2 tbsp. vegetable oil and rub with salt. Place on a 15 x 10 inch baking pan. Pierce potatoes several times with fork. Bake 1 hour until tender.
- Toss together cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, onion, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour into 15 x 10 inch baking dish in oven preheated to 400F.
- Bake the cauliflower mixture with potatoes for 25 minutes, stirring once. Remove from oven. Toss raisins, walnuts and vinaigrette, then spoon over potatoes.
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