Bluefield Daily Telegraph
I was surprised at the start of the 1964 football season when our coach, Chuck Basil, decided to use me to shuttle plays on the field as an offensive guard. I wasn’t practicing plays with the first team at that time, but when the season started, he called my name, “Archer,” grabbed me by the facemask, shouted the next play into my face and I trotted on the playing field to repeat the play in the huddle.
After one game, I got used to the shuttling guard position, and I was looking forward to hearing my name on the sideline. I still had another growth spurt that hadn’t kicked in at that point in my life, and I weighed about 145 pounds at the time. I put on another 20 pounds before the start of my junior year and grew to my 5’11” adult height. As a sophomore, I couldn’t believe I was getting enough playing time to earn a varsity letter. That was pretty cool, especially for an offensive lineman.
We had one afternoon game that year. The West Greene High School football field wasn’t completed with lights that season so we played on a beautiful, warm Saturday afternoon. The lights at my school, McGuffey High School, were on extension ladders and were powered by the generator on an old international truck motor. The motor was loud and ran all through the game, making it hard for me to concentrate on the plays that Coach Basil called when we were at home. But we used the makeshift lights so we could play at night. The only two teams we played in daylight were Chartiers-Houston High School and West Greene. We were the Highlanders and West Greene was the Pioneers.
I was only playing offense at the time, although by the end of that season I was playing full time on offense, defense and special teams. As a result, I was on the sidelines when the most memorable play of my entire high school football career took place. The West Greene quarterback dropped back two steps and threw a bullet pass over the middle of the line. The ball flew into a mass of players, hit Larry Ramsey in the head and, as he was looking up to find it in the air, he got turned around before the ball fell into his hands. Larry tucked the ball away and took off running. Of course, he was running the wrong way and wound up scoring a two-point safety for the Pioneers.
The run of “Wrong Way” Ramsey became legendary in my little hometown of Claysville, Pa. I remember watching Coach Basil chasing Larry down the sidelines, but not catching him before he made it to pay dirt for the Pioneers. Larry was running to daylight, and nothing could stop him. Someone filmed it with an 8 mm camera and we watched his run later in the season. Larry was such a good guy that he laughed right along with us.
Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary for Mine Safety and Health, was a wrestler on the West Greene wrestling team back in those years. I found that out during the Bluefield Coal Symposium last week. When I found out that he was born in Waynesburg, Pa., I started off talking to him about having a beef with Waynesburg High School for running up the score against us when all of our seniors quit the team before the game my freshman year.
Secretary Main said he had a similar experience with Waynesburg. He said that the Red Raiders handed the Pioneers’ wrestling team their only defeat of the 1967 season. We laughed about our mutual school boy disappointment. Waynesburg, Pa., is the big city in Greene County where Rogersville, Pa., is, just like Washington, Pa., is the big city in Washington County, where Claysville, Pa., is.
Claysville is farm country. The other teams we played teased us by saying: “Watch out for the pass. These guys throw bales of hay.” I didn’t take offense to that. During haying season, I would work in the hayfield all day — throwing bales — and play baseball at night if we had a game. I didn’t usually play to my full potential if I was worn out, but I didn’t miss many games.
Other kids in southwestern Pennsylvania who grew up in coal country went to work in the mines when they got old enough to work. I remember playing a Colt League game at Marianna, Pa., when a 16-year-old kid changed out of his bank clothes when he made it to the parking lot. That’s “coal bank clothes” to those who don’t know.
That was the way it was back then. I didn’t know anybody who was rich, but I knew a lot of kids who worked hard — even on game day. I’ve always had a great admiration for people who work hard and still show up to play the game. I never teased a working person. I always figured they were working for a reason.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.