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Two doors at the far end of the shed led to the big pit. At either one attendants took admission tickets and stapled pink slips with a printed "T" (for Thursday) on shirt fronts. The pit, measuring 20 by 20, was sunk in the floor. White lines known as "scores" were chalked on the tan-bark eight feet apart. On all four sides tiers of seats rose to the rafters. About 500 persons were present, 30 or 40 of them jammed into the pit "talking chicken." There were Texans in cowboy hats and boots. (Dick Kleberg of the King Ranch family dropped dead in town the day he was to fight his cocks in the Series a few years ago.) There were a scattering of women dressed as if for a church social, the owner of a bordello, a surgeon, an auto salesman from Michigan, an elderly nightclub owner from El Paso and a Catholic priest in mufti. ("I want to see what it's like," he told Mr. Fulldrop. "Go ahead, Father," said Mr. Fulldrop, a Catholic, giving him a pass.)
Several representatives of the trade press were present, among them dapper Dave Marburger, who used to work for King Features Syndicate and now edits The Gamecock, and affable William Courtney White Jr., columnist for Grit and Steel, who drives 90,000 miles a year covering fights. "Suh," said White, "should you evah happen to be in Ware Shoals, South Carolina, Ah would be honored if you would stay with me."
The competing cockers ranged from young Bobby Joe Manziel from Texas, whose late father, a onetime boxer who made $60 million in oil, brought Jack Dempsey to see the Series, to graying Duke Hulsey from Louisiana, dressed in khaki to handle his own birds.
The public address announcer called the first fight. It was between entries 2 and 12. (Entries were numbered for anonymity before the matches were made so there could be no charge of favoritism.) No. 2 was Harold Brown of the Blackwell and Brown entry from Alabama. He entered the pit carrying his bird, a Hatch claret. Twelve was Eight Pines of Mississippi. The Eight Pines handler brought in a gray cock.
A babble of betting arose. The most common cry was, "100 and 80!" That meant that the man who was calling out 100 and 80 was willing to bet $100 against $80. When another man agreed to bet $80, the man who bet the $100 picked the cock he wanted to back. The $80 bettor took the other one. The big bettors, who have been known to go as high as $10,000 on a fight, spoke to one another quietly.
The two handlers, each carrying his bird, met with the referee in the center of the pit. The handlers held the cocks out at arm's length and let them peck at one another to arouse their ire. This is called "billing." The handlers, still carrying the cocks, then retreated to the score lines, where they swung the cocks forward at one another in a graceful arc—and as the referee shouted "Pit!" set the birds on the scores, facing each other. The cocks, wings beating, feathers ruffling, met in a furious burst in mid-pit. The claret sank his gaffs deeply into the gray, so deeply in fact that he "hung," unable to disengage. The referee shouted "Handle!" and the two handlers quickly seized the birds and separated them. "You got to handle when they're hung," said White. The handlers took the cocks back to the scores for 10 seconds rest. The odds shifted to 100 to 60 on the claret.
The cocks were pitted again, and the claret rushed out to riddle the gray. They hung again, and the handlers darted in. They were pitted a third time, and they hung again. The cocks for the second fight were ready, and the claret and gray went to the drag pit.
When the claret won, the bettors settled up with one another. No one had written anything down, and no one held stakes. A cocker's word is his honor. Everyone present was presumed to be a lady or a gentleman, and general behavior was exemplary, with no swearing, no drinking and no arguments.
"There's fellowship and sportsmanlike conduct," said White. "This is a place where a man can take his son and not have him exposed to the swearin' and the drinkin' he'd see at a baseball game. It's a sport, that's what this is!" White allowed that a memorial derby for Sweater McGinnis was coming up soon in Florida. Sweater, a famed handler, died a year ago, leaving a wife and children. The proceeds of the derby are to go for the education of Sweater's children. "No matter what a cocker's station, we're all equal here," Mr. Fulldrop had remarked earlier.