By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The basketball coaches of Bluefield State College are hoping that an epidemic will engulf the campus and spill over into the surrounding community in the days leading up to Saturday, Oct. 19.
An epidemic of “Big Blue Madness,” that is.
An evening of free food and fun will take place at the Ned Shott Gym on the BSC campus, giving people a chance to meet the players and coaches, learn about their plans for the upcoming season — and pick up advice about responsible alcohol choices.
“We want to really kick-start the season and involve the community a great deal,” said women’s basketball head coach J.J. Oliver on Monday. “We want (people) to be excited about Bluefield State athletics and to understand that there is a reason for excitement around here.”
Men’s basketball coach Jamaal Jackson called it “a celebration of what’s to come.” He said, “This is an opportunity to get as many people as we can in here from the community to let them meet the guys who they’ll be watching play this season.”
Oliver said the BSC cheerleaders will also be taking part in the “madness.” A promotional flyer on campus promises door prizes, music and a dancing contest as well.
Keisha White, returning for her second year as Oliver’s assistant coach, and BSC athletic trainer Kerri Francis are spearheading the planning.
The gym doors will open at 5 p.m., with introductions about 5:30.
“Coach Oliver will have a couple of things to say, as well as Coach Jackson,” White said. “We’ll have lots of games. We’ll get our crowd and our fans involved.”
Plans call for children from the audience to compete in a jersey race, and for fans to take part in shooting contests and a “maze race.”
“We’ll have lots of prizes and free food there as well,” White said. “We plan to have a fun night, and a way to bring the community together.”
Players from the men’s and women’s teams will compete in a three-point-shooting contest.
White said that after the structured events, “Of course, the players and the coaches will be around for people if they want autographs, or just to talk to the players.”
Oliver said that White has been part of similar events in her time as a college athlete and as a coach.
“I think Coach White’s experience in having been a part of it, and bringing new ideas to the table has been an asset to us throughout the process,” he said.
Referring to White and Francis, he said, “Basically, these two have kind of taken the bull by the horns and have planned everything. I’m excited to be a part of it. These are two brilliant minds who’ve got some great things planned.”
Oliver added, “This is a joint effort between athletics and a new group we have on campus, the ACES group.”
Alcohol Choices Education for Students (ACES) was created through a grant to the college by the NCAA, “to try to give some alcohol education to our campus community as well as the community at large,” Oliver said.
“We certainly want to get the message out about making mature alcohol choices for our students and the public.” He said there are other events planned later in the school year.
Jackson said, “I tell my guys, ‘You’re athletes. You don’t want to put anything in your body that’s going to hurt you.’ But as far as the campus community as a whole (goes), the more education we can give college students on alcohol and the dangers of it, the better.”
Dr. Craver Jones at Bluefield State is in charge of administering the grant, Oliver said.
Oliver said, “We thought this would be a great ... opportunity to see student-athletes who have made choices, and continue to make choices day-to-day, and the benefits they receive from that.”
The evening will allow residents of Bluefield and the surrounding area to “break some bread with us and enjoy the entertainment, a little bit on the lighter side,” Oliver said. “We’re just really excited about it.”
Jackson said his players are “excited about it. They look to have fun. Personally, I’m more looking forward to beginning practice on the 15th.”
“We have a very strong nucleus of returners who came (back) knowing what to expect. It’s obvious they worked hard over the summer. Along with those returners are some newcomers who have helped us improve talent-wise.”
Jackson said that as a result of “Big Blue Madness,” people will “know the guys that they’re watching, when they have that kind of relationship that we’ll be able to build ... that will endear our guys to the community and endear the community to our players.”
In his two years in Bluefield, Jackson has already become fond of his new hometown.
“I tell people when I’m recruiting them ... you can come here and focus on your schoolwork and on your basketball. It’s a great place to spend four years,” he said.
“It’s very safe here. It’s just a good place to be — and, for me personally, it’s a great place to raise my children.”
— Contact Tom Bone at