By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When the Bluefield Beavers line up to either kick off, or receive the opening kick Friday night at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg, it will be the school’s 62nd playoff game since high school sports were reconfigured in West Virginia in 1959 to the three-class system.
History and tradition are a major part of the football program at Bluefield High School. Since 1959 there have only been three head coaches, the late Merrill Gainer, the late John Chmara, and current mentor Fred Simon.
“Coach Gainer strted it,” Simon noted. “He definiely preferred excellence and his record speaks well about that, 87-6-1 was his record (at BHS) and he got the tradition started here.
“I just try to do my best to follow him and Coach Chmara the best I can. They did a super job, and Coach (Glynn) Carlock was on the staff here too. What great coaches were here ahead of me and I’m just trying to continue the legacy.”
From 1959 until 1972 only the top two teams in each class made the playoffs. In 1959, 1962, 1965 and 1967 the Beavers won the state championship in Class AAA, seeded first in all the years except ‘67 when they were a No. 2 seed that defeated No. 1 Stonewall Jackson 27-7.
In 1972 Bluefield lost its first ever playoff game. That was the first year playoffs included four teams. Simon was a senior on the 1972 squad.
“It was a great experience,” Simon said. “The problem was getting beat in double overtime to Dupont. That hurt and is something I’ve never forgotten.
“It was a great bunch of guys, everybody worked hard together and we had a super bunch of teammates that I have never forgot and just how hard everybody played. It was just a shame to come up a little bit short.”
In 1975 Bluefield hung another championship banner defeating future WVU and NFL running back Robert Alexander and the South Charleston Black Eagles in a game at Mitchell Stadium, 20-7.
Bluefield High School would then have the longest playoff drought in its history, not returning to postseason play for nine years. When the Beavers did make the field in 1984, it was an eight-team field and the Beavers beat Barboursville 13-7 to give Coach Chmara his second and final championship.
Teddy Coppola, a current Bluefield assistant coach was fullback on the 1984 team.
“It was tough. We were 8-2 and we went in No. 4 (seed),” Coppola said. “They only took eight (teams) then and we knew we had to beat Barboursville, who was No. 1 all year long, defending champions, undefeated, and we did it.”
Coppola said Bluefield tradition means a lot. When he played he wore No. 45 in 1984. Tracy Coppola wore No. 45 in 2004 when the team won a championship, and this year his son Corey wears the same number on his chest and back.
“It’s just bred in you,” Coppola said. “When you’re a little tyke you just want to come up and play for Bluefield.”
The Beavers made playoff appearances in 1991, ‘92 and ‘94 but failed to get to the championship game. In 1995, as a Class AA team, Bluefield advanced to the title game for the first time since 1984, but fell 17-13 to the Musselman Applemen. It was also the first year that 16 teams were in the playoff field.
A playoff run in 1996 took Bluefield to the semifinals and in 1997 the Beavers capped a perfect season with a 42-12 win over Grafton for the crown.
After not making the postseason in ‘98, the Beavers got back to Wheeling Island in ‘99, but fell to Wyoming East. The 2000 and ‘01 seasons were rebuilding years for the Beavers that proved to set the tone of the program for the next decade.
Starting in 2002 the Beavers began a string of nine straight years with playoff appearances. During that nine year span Bluefield made the trek to Wheeling Island Stadium six times and won three championships. The team made four consecutive championship game appearances between 2002-05.
Bluefield’s most recent visit to Wheeling Island came in 2009 when the Beavers won the school’s 10th state championship, 27-7 over the Wayne Pioneers.
The 2010 season ended with a disappointing semifinal loss at Ravenswood, and in 2011 the Beavers failed to get into the playoffs. This season the Beavers marched through the season with an 8-2 mark and earned a No. 5 rating for postseason play.
Current Beavers coach Simon has won four crowns (1997, 2004, 2007, 2009) tying him with Gainer (1959, 1962, 1965, 1967) in championships. Chmara won in 1975 and 1984. Simon said the success of the past pushes the team forward today.
“It (tradition) is a good challenge for al of us to work hard and try to accomplish what teams have done in the past,” Simon said.
Bluefield takes on Robert C. Byrd in the Class AA quarterfinals, Friday night.
— Contact Bob Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org