Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 17, 2010

Bluefield Beavers 1959 football players on home turf 50 years later

BLUEFIELD — Still spry and full of joy after half a century, members of Bluefield High School’s first championship football team reunited Friday evening for a dinner at the Bluefield Elks Club.

Bill Kinser, quarterback of that 1959 football squad, said the championship victory over Parkersburg High in Charleston “put us on the map, as far as football was concerned.

“The community got enthused. All the kids, the students — we had a tremendous following to Charleston. Everywhere we’d go, we would have our supporters.”

As the Class of 1960 and some of its companion classes started to fill the reception hall, former lineman Bill Kertsos said, “I’m glad they have these (name) tags — because we all change. But I always look forward to seeing everybody. It’s a lot of fun ... possibly a lot of lies, I’m not quite sure.”

Team captain Butch Farley, a guard and linebacker for the ’59 Beavers, said, “There’s more people than I expected, and (some) I haven’t seen in probably 30 years. So it’s absolutely wonderful.”

Retired admiral Doug Katz, who lives in Annapolis, Md., was among those reminiscing. He spoke of team members playing in youth leagues in Bluefield with and against each other.

He said, “When we went into high school together, we went 2-8, something like that. We all decided we didn’t like it. The next year we were 6-4, or something like that.

“Then Merrill Gainer came to town, and ... when we realized we could win, we all came together. That coming together, winning the championship, that has bonded us for life.”

Kertsos said, “Everybody got together, and they’re still together. That’s what’s amazing. We’re always glad to see each other.”

Farley said, “He (Gainer) created an atmosphere of team. And we still are that way.”

Jabo Williams, who now works in Princeton, caught the last touchdown of that 1959 title game and Bluefield won 19-13.

He said Gainer “was a motivator. He would never let our confidence get down. We went into every game thinking nobody could beat us.”

Katz said, “Losing, beginning to get a feel for winning, then realizing with Gainer ... we could do this. And we did!”

“We always felt we were underdogs,” Katz said. “But that gives you the extra incentive, the drive, to do the very best you can. And we did. Winning that game probably impacted a lot of us for the rest of our lives — to always look toward being winners.

“You don’t know how to give up.”

Kertsos said, “When Merrill Gainer came in, he brought a different enthusiasm, plus he brought the Big Creek mentality, I guess.”

“Because we won the state football championship, I got a football scholarship to West Virginia University. So that helped me. That helped a lot of other people —  Farley to Concord, Jabo to Marshall, a couple of other guys went south.”

Kinser said that Gainer “was organized. It was just like business.”

Farley said Gainer exhibited “great leadership, had a great relationship with us as student-athletes.”

He said the title “certainly changed the overall attitude in the community. People were very proud of the program here. I can remember everybody on the railroad paid a dollar to give to Coach Gainer.”

“Coach Gainer was just a great human being. And I’ll tell you one thing that he was really excellent at — he surrounded himself with good people. His assistant coaches ... John Chmara, Glynn Carlock coached with him, (offensive line coach) Jim Miles.

“I wouldn’t have been half the football player that I was without Coach Miles. He taught me many things.”

The continuing tradition of fans packing Mitchell Stadium for Bluefield High football games is “wonderful,” Farley said. “Coach Chmara carried on the tradition (from 1968-85). And I think Freddie (Simon, the coach since 1986) has done a great job, just a wonderful job.

“They’ve maintained not only the winning ways, but also the relationship with the kids. They’ve followed the mold of Coach Gainer. ... It was an unusual type of discipline. It wasn’t the yelling, and screaming, and cussing, but there was a great deal of discipline there.

“They have every right to be very proud, as do the people in Bluefield.”

The proposal brought before Bluefield City Council on Tuesday night to rename Mitchell Stadium for Gainer was well known in the room on Friday, and brought a variety of responses.

Williams said, “I think that Coach Gainer was instrumental in getting the whole community reunited. He’d fill the stadium. He deserves some kind of recognition.”

Katz said, “I’d love to see it become Merrill Gainer Stadium. Of course, we’re prejudiced as heck.

“The funny thing is — maybe it’s sad — I played in Mitchell Stadium in the early ’50s, when I was a midget, and the whole time I was in Bluefield, (and) I don’t know who Mitchell is. I’m embarrassed that I don’t.”

Kinser said he had “mixed emotions” about the proposal. “I’ve known Mitchell Stadium ever since I was that high,” he said, holding his hand about waist high. “We played Little League over there.”

“I just wonder, what happens to the other guys, like Coach Chmara? Freddie Simon’s going to end up winningest coach in school history. I would love to see a compromise, maybe Stadium Drive named for Gainer.”

Farley said, “I voted for it, online (on the Daily Telegraph website).”

An in-depth story about the renaming proposal will be carried in the Sunday edition of the Daily Telegraph.

— Contact Tom Bone at

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