Our own Bob Redd wrote a delightful column Thursday about the Brushfork National Guard Armory and its return to basketball. As a Bluefield State College student at that time, it was my pleasure to have had a chance to be the public address announcer for the Big Blues, who were coached by John Quintier. Coach Quintier, who came over from Graham High School in the summer of 1973, followed in the footsteps of Tony Mandeville, one of the all-time top mentors in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Believe me when I tell you that the Big Blues were among the most competitive teams in the WVIAC and going to the armory was a highlight of any basketball night. For the price of a ticket, you could see outstanding high school teams including Bluefield, Princeton, Graham, Northfork, Welch, etc., along with Bluefield State and top-flight small college competition like Fairmont State, Glenville, Salem, Concord and a host of others.
From Ergie Smith to Jennings Boyd to Willie Akers and Ralph Ball, just to name a few, it was a high school coaches hall of fame, as well, that stepped on to the armory stage.
There were many nights when it was standing room only, the stage would be filled, not a seat to be had in the balcony, and the parking lot was packed. I loved sitting along press row with the late V.L. “Stubby” Currence, who taught me so much about how to compose a story and even more about area sports history. Barry Blizzard, later the conference commissioner, was the sports information guru at BSC. Terry Brown, a legend on the court at nearby Bramwell High School, was still playing for the Blues, and he is now a coach at Bluefield State.
Of course, arguably the greatest game ever played at the armory was on Jan. 18, 1965 when the Pocahontas Indians edged the Montcalm Generals 2-1. Two of the greatest area coaches, Carmen Stauffer of MHS and Tommy Lucas of Pocahontas, squared off in that contest. Bill Murphy made the only basket and it was a game winner. That contest made it all the way to Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
The late C. J. “Tiny” Thompson reported the score on WHIS-TV and it was written up in the Daily Telegraph by sports editor Johnny Mayo. A lot of people (there was only about 300 fans actually in attendance on that snowy evening) didn’t believe it at first but it really happened. I have had a lot of fun writing about that contest in a few stories over the years.
A few years ago, the late Lewis C. Hartsock, well known Bluefield insurance man and former Tazewell County School Board member and I tried to obtain the scoreboard used in that game. It was still stored up in the balcony and we intended to transport it over to either Pocahontas or Montcalm and affix it to the wall with the teams and scores permanently marked. Somehow, in connection with individuals maybe in Charleston, we could not work out details with the National Guard to get that old scoreboard and it mysteriously disappeared from the scene not long after that.
Another incredible event was one coached by Quintier when Bluefield State defeated the Fairmont Falcons at a time when Fairmont, led by Joe Retton, was ranked No. 1 in the country, as I recall. Retton was another hall of famer and a real gentleman. His neice, Mary Lou Retton, gained Olympic fame as a gymnast. She was known all over the world. All American Lerman Battle was the Fairmont star at the time that game was played out at Brushfork.
The armory has hosted so many outstanding events from the annual Coal Show to the Women’s Expo, and the Better Living Show that it is hard to figure which are the most important to the area. Your newspaper has worked diligently to attract the great military service bands in previous years and feature them at the armory with its obvious service connection as well as site amenities conducive to large crowds. From the Air to Army and Navy, it has been an honor to help with those past shows. It often takes planning of months or years in advance to schedule a famous military ensemble to come to Bluefield.
One of my greatest memories at the place came when the Daily Telegraph hosted the United States Marine Corp “White House” band one evening. When the band got to the piccolo part in John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” both the late Daily Telegraph Executive Editor Tom Colley and I agreed it was one of the orchestral highlights of our lives. Knowing that the armory is refurbished and better than ever is (string) music to my ears.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.