Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

August 20, 2010

Series showcasing Beaver-Graham game in no way affiliated with ESPN

BLUEFIELD — The Great American Rivalry Series is coming to Bluefield. ESPN is not.

While next Friday’s Bluefield and Graham football game has been selected to be broadcast live across the nation on the Internet, ESPN will not be the source.

Leah Little, the director of events for the Lexington, Ky.-based Great American Rivalry Series, was adamant about it, adding that television wasn’t part of the deal.

“We have nothing to do with ESPN,” Little said. “We are not affiliated with ESPN, they are not going to be there.”

Rumors have persisted all summer that ESPN — which did come to Bluefield for the Beaver-Graham game in 1991 — would be back this season.

That proved to be incorrect.

“I don’t know what to say,” Graham football coach and athletic director Doug Marrs said. “If anybody is offended, I am sorry. I am very sorry if anybody is offended by it...

“I am miffed right now,” he added. “I am miffed at myself. The bottom line is the buck stops here and it is my fault.”

The process that caused the rumors started this summer when Graham head coach Doug Marrs received information about the GARS, and gave it to an associate to research. A quick look at the press release and the logo and he assumed it was ESPN.

“All I can say is it is what it is,” said Marrs, who thought the GARS logo was similar to those used by ESPN’s series of high school football games. “It is pretty tricky, but I don’t think it takes away from anything.

“It won’t be on ESPN, but it will be simulcast.”

 According to Little, the GARS — now in its seventh season of carrying high school football on the Internet — has a staff that researches games to carry, and then selects a few games each week to be on its site.

The process starts with around 250 games, and those are whittled down to 42 must-see matchups.

“We do the research and the find the games,” Little said. “We have a staff and that is specifically what they do. We spend months and months targeting the games, and contacting (the schools) after they have been selected. They can be nominated and still not get selected.”

The 84th meeting between the G-Men and Beavers — a series that started in 1911 and has been played regularly since 1928 — was selected, and the rumors continued to spread.

Little insisted the GARS didn’t mislead anyone into thinking ESPN would be in town.

“Maybe that is what they thought,” she said. “They were all contacted and there was no mention of that anywhere.”

Little said there is still a question if the Bluefield-Graham game will be broadcast on its website (www.greatamericanrivalry.com). They first must find a source such as a local radio station that will allow them to use that broadcast on their site.

“If we have something we can pick up,” said Little, who said the broadcast could be audio or video-streamed. “If a radio station is carrying it, we can pick up their feed.

“If it is a competitor like ESPN, they are not going to give us their feed.”

The GARS will be in Bluefield next Friday for the game. They will be presenting a $500 scholarship to a top senior student for each team — Graham’s Aaron Davidson and Bluefield’s Byron Steptoe — and will induct school alumni into its hall of fame, including Ahmad Bradshaw from Graham and Pete Wood of Bluefield.

The winning team will receive a champions trophy from a Marine — the GARS is sponsored by the United States Marines — and a most valuable player will also be honored after the game.

Each school will also have their own web page — a sort of “social networking” site, according to Little — at ihigh.com.

“Our staff will be there. We will have a presence on the field,” Little said. “We will be giving out t-shirts to the crowds, and they (Marines) will be giving away things at their booth. We will participate in the coin toss and give away trophies.”

While Marrs apologized for the confusion, he did say what the GARS is doing shouldn’t be downplayed.

“Somebody is backing this to give away $1,000 and everything they are doing,” Marrs said. “There is a backer here and it is part of the rivalry series, it’s just not part of the ESPN rivalry series evidently.

“It is still a rivalry series, but that won’t make people any better about it.”

Little, who was surprised to learn of the confusion, does have knowledge of the rivalry. While Bluefield has a commanding 60-21-2 mark over the years, the clubs are an even 5-5 over the last 10 meetings.

“We have people that do the research on the top games. We have over 250 games nominated and then we select those games we want to do,” Little said. “It revolves around geography, sponsor interest, the numbers in attendance and the history of the rivalry.

“You guys have a good history there. It seems like the last few years it has gotten a little more even.”

Marrs accepts the blame for the mix-up, but he does see the positives in the GARS being in town.

“It is going to be simulcast, each school gets a $500 scholarship..., and we’re going to have a player in the hall of fame,” Marrs said. “I don’t think it takes away from the game any though.

“It is disappointing to find out what is and what it isn’t....I will take the blame here, I was completely at fault.”

Call it a lesson learned for all parties.

“We will live and learn,” Marrs said  “I don’t think the two kids that won scholarships will be upset.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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