The annual Salt Bowl between Benton and Bryant (Ark.) high schools drew more than 38,000 fans to Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Saturday, but the game was doomed to an abrupt end.

According to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, the game had to be cancelled halfway through the third quarter after panicking fans began fleeing the stadium due to a fight that had started in the stands.

Shane Broadway, one of the Salt Bowl's organizers, said the event was off to a good start, with impressive attendance numbers and successful fundraising efforts. I know that what happened tonight may overshadow some of that, but I wanted to say something on behalf of our committee and both of our school districts that a lot of good did happen here tonight,” Broadway said. “And we're going to get to the bottom of what did occur and what caused this incident. Because at the end of the day, whoever caused it needs to be brought to justice because kids lost tonight."

When the fight began, people immediately began running for the exits, prompting officials to broadcast repeated announcements over the stadium’s public-address system, asking them to stay in their seats. A short while later, officials announced that the game would be cancelled. 

The Gazette reported that people fled the stadium so quickly that many left behind backpacks, cellphones, wallets and keys. 

Steve Jackson, who was at the game to see his step-daughter, Kya Postlethwait, play in the Bryant High School band, said he thought it was a shooting incident. We were in panic mode,” he said. “People kept saying, 'Gun, gun, gun,' but was it a single shooter? Was it a mass-murder situation?”

Jackson said confusion and chaos reigned, noting that he heard people saying it could be a bomb but that no one really knew what was happening.

Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann said he and other officials were continuing to analyze video of the fight but were as of yet unable to discern what had sparked the incident. Several people were injured, including one who was trampled by the crowd, another who injured a leg while jumping over a wall and least five people were hospitalized for heat-related trauma.

Andy Berg is Executive Editor of Athletic Business.