By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For more than a hundred years football players from the two Bluefields have met on the gridiron for a season opener continually defined as one of the greatest rivalry games in America.
With game 87 in the series being played tonight between the Bluefield Beavers and Graham G-Men, the first game of the season has become not only an institution but a major local event. Fans spill out from the stadium into the parking lot for tailgating and to catch up. The Beaver-Graham was even classified as one of the “Great American Rivalries” in 2011.
The Battle of the Bluefields brings thousands to the area for tailgating, football and camaraderie across the state line and has done so for decades.
Mel Grubb has been taking photos of the game since the 1950s and said the game has always been a huge event.
“I started shooting the game at the end of World War II and it was even bigger back then,” Grubb said. “We had to use the big flash bulbs back then and the stadium lights weren’t very bright. I was nearly run over by players two or three times trying to get a shot.”
However, Grubb said some things have changed.
“The tailgating is larger than it was,” Grubb said. “I don’t think they had lights in the parking lot early on for people to use. The field was also very rough. It was just grass and dirt. You could also only shoot the first half of the game because you had to get back for them to develop the photos.”
Bill Albert of Bluefield is a graduate of Bluefield High School and said the rivalry between the schools was just as big in the 1940s and 1950s.
“I went to school at Beaver about 60 years ago,” he said. “I haven’t been to the games in a few years, but I still listen on the radio. I had a brother who played for Beaver and I loved getting to watch him. I’ve always liked football and the Beaver-Graham game was always the biggest of the year. It was a big rivalry game.”
As a result, Albert said the game brings up friendly competition on both sides of the state line.
“When I was in high school I dated a girl from Graham and we would argue over the game and football,” Albert said. “The schools are so close together. You have the state line right there. That makes it more of a rivalry than anything else.”
Albert said he still roots for his home team.
“I’m still a Beaver fan, so I hope they win,” he said.
Roger Cook of Bluefield, Va., became a Graham High School fan later in life, but said he supports the team just as much as long-time fans.
“I didn’t go to Graham, but I am chaplain for the football team and work with the Fellowship of Christian athletes there,” Cook said. “My son is a graduate of Graham and my daughter is a junior there now. I am a huge fan. Being in this community for so long and seeing the quality of students who come out of that school have made me a fan. These kids not only do well on the field and academically but they do great things in their community as well.”
Cook said the game also has the power to bring the two Bluefields together.
“It comes back down to community pride,” Cook said. “It is an amazing thing the way the community comes together for this game. It bands us together. The local government supports the teams. It has a huge impact for both towns.”
Cook said he knows which team he wants to win tonight.
“Graham is going to win, absolutely,” he said. “We’re all fired up about the game.”
The original Beaver-Graham game was played in October 1911 where the Bluefield Beavers won by 17 to 5. The game would not be repeated until 1928.
Including that first game, the Beavers have won 62 times while the G-Men have taken 22 victories home. There were also two tie games played during the series.
Both schools have had their share of winning streaks as well. Bluefield won nine games between 1964 and 1973 while Graham has had four two-game streaks in 1950-51, 1978-79, 1898-1990 and 2001-2. The G-Men also won last year’s game with a nail-biting 23-21 final score.
Tonight’s football schedule also includes James Monroe at Greenbrier East, River View at Mount View, PikeView at Summers County, Shady Spring at Princeton, Wyoming East at Mingo Central, Craig County at Bland County, Blacksburg at Giles, Grundy at Twin Valley, Haysi at Castlewood, Honaker at Lebanon, Auburn at Narrows, Gate City at Richlands and Tazewell at Virginia High.
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. for all of the games.
— Contact Kate Coil at firstname.lastname@example.org