Bluefield Daily Telegraph
This is a call for the creation of a Mercer County Sports Authority. What? An organization that utilizes sports as a form of economic development in the county.
There are plenty of venues in the county and while they serve our community well, I am of the belief that we can further utilize them in order to generate revenue and some jobs.
Mitchell Stadium, Bowen Field, Brushfork Armory, Hunnicutt Field and Stadium, Callaghan Stadium, Ned Shott Gymnasium, Carter Center, Bluefield City Auditorium and the East River Soccer Complex are all venues which attract thousands of spectators each year and, I believe, can possibly be used to further enhance the area’s economy.
For the past 20 years the West Virginia high school football championships have been held in Wheeling. I remember in the past talks of Bluefield bidding for the Super Six and in fact the last time the site was up for bid, Princeton participated. With the resources of Mercer County, why not make a unified bid?
At the present time Class AA teams face the task of having the Friday night game, which I have always felt was unfair to those schools. A Mercer County bid would include three excellent facilities, all with the necessary artificial turf to host the championship games. The Class A game could be held at Concord at noon, AA in Princeton at say 4 p.m. and AAA in Bluefield at 7:30. All three games could be on a Saturday, allowing fans from throughout the state to not miss a day of work. Hotels in Princeton, Bluefield and Bluefield, Va., would benefit as would restaurants and other businesses.
Each spring the Coppinger Invitational Baseball Tournament attracts teams and fans from both Virginia and West Virginia. In recent years games have been played at Bowen Field in Bluefield, Hunnicutt Field in Princeton and Lou Peery Field in Tazewell. There is not much more that can be done to use facilities in Princeton and Bluefield due to the fact that the Appalachian League teams come to town in mid-June. The Rays and Jays bring an estimated $6 million dollars annually to the local economy.
WVU and Virginia Tech are playing at Hunnicutt Field in May. A few years ago the Mountaineers played at Bowen Field. How about a yearly game, or series either between WVU and Virginia Tech, or one or the other at our local minor league parks? It is before the Appy League season begins and I would think Jim Holland in Princeton and Jeff Gray in Bluefield would welcome the opportunity.
During the summer months one may not think much of basketball, but it is during that time that Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams travel the country and participate in tournaments. Bluefield has hosted some AAU events and there is a huge one in Morgantown each year. How about putting together an event that utilizes our basketball arenas at Bluefield State, Bluefield College, Concord and the local high schools? Again, such an event would bring people and revenue into the area.
The equestrian center has been a much talked-about project for nearly a decade and if or when it comes to fruition, it too should be included in the sports authority group.
We currently have Second Chance Rocks the Virginias, Appalachian League baseball and the various sporting events that our local colleges and high schools host. Let’s broaden our minds and our scope to bring more events to the area that can generate dollars for the economy, possible jobs and all while showcasing the venues we are fortunate to have.
Now some are you asking: Why a sports authority? Aren’t things just fine the way they are?
Yes and no.
While there are events in the area, it is my belief that we can attract more if we join forces and work together for the good of the region. Bluefield cannot do it by itself, neither can Princeton. But together it brings a powerful coalition with the sports facilities, lodging, hotel rooms and business support needed to land events in this region.
It is that kind of coalition that got the Super Six to Wheeling, away from Charleston in 1993. It is that kind of coalition that keeps the state basketball tournament in Charleston, and it is that kind of coalition that can help Mercer County grow.
Many people may not think much of sports, but the industry throughout the history of America has been a trendsetter in many areas including economic development. There is a reason cities build stadia and arenas for professional teams. It brings money and jobs.
While our area is not a “major league” area, we can certainly be a player at a level that fits our facilities and who knows, cooperation in the area of sports could lead to other cooperation that can only benefit our communities.
Here’s to a Mercer County Sports Authority.
Bob Redd is a sports writer and editorial columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.