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To be a success in life, it is important to set goals and strive to reach them. If the students of Bluefield High School needed that lesson, it was a group of their peers who made it happen.
A ceremony was held on Tuesday morning in the school auditorium to honor the Bluefield Beavers’ state championship basketball team, which claimed the crown last Saturday with a 63-43 win over Fairmont Senior at the Charleston Civic Center.
“This is a special day to bring a state championship back to Bluefield High School,” Bluefield head coach Buster Large said. “We want to thank the student body for your great support (and) the community coming out to every game. We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity than to play in Bluewell and play in front of the crowds we had this year.
“I especially want to thank these young men who listened to the coaches, played their hearts out for 28 games, and (they are) 2013 state champions.”
That designation was followed by loud cheers and applause from the student body, who also helped celebrate the state wrestling championship won by Brandon Eldridge in the 160-pound weight class last month.
Much like Eldridge, who finished fourth last year, but returned determined to claim the state title, the basketball team did much the same, losing in the state championship game in 2012 to Tug Valley.
“I can’t say enough about these young men. Last year was a very difficult year losing to Tug Valley 58-52, and the ride seemed like four hours coming back from Charleston,” Large said. “This year when we won that state championship, I never wanted that ride to stop.
“It was just a tremendous feeling, it was a great feeling.”
The drive to claim Bluefield’s third state basketball title and first in 17 years began just minutes after that loss to Tug Valley.
“They worked hard at their goal, them and their coaches,” Bluefield Principal Mike Collins said. “Coming in new they all told me that was their goal and they wanted to accomplish that and they worked hard and did that...A lot of our students need to look at that as motivation that you can accomplish what you want with a lot of hard work.”
No one enjoyed it more than the Bluefield seniors, including David Woodrum, in his third season on the hardwood, and Aaron Miller, who picked the right time for his only year playing varsity hoops.
“It has been an experience I will never forget, I will remember it for the rest of my life,” Miller said. “These are great guys, I couldn’t ask for any better guys to be with. They were determined, they were hungry, they left something in Charleston and we needed to get it back.
“It still sends chills through my back right now thinking of it, there is no better experience.”
“This has been awesome,” added Woodrum. “We have wanted it so bad since last year when we lost. That was tough, but we just came back and worked hard and knew we had to get it.
“It is an awesome experience, one you will never forget for sure.”
Mercer County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deborah Akers was among those in attendance, not only in Charleston on Saturday, but at Bluefield High School on Tuesday to help celebrate the state championship.
“It is always wonderful to be able to recognize the accomplishments of kids,” Akers said. “I think they played a wonderful game, I was real proud of them and I am proud of their sportsmanship and proud of how they handled themselves.”
Bluefield had won consecutive state titles in 1995-96, but had lost four times since in the championship game. They would not be denied this time, finishing a stellar season with a 25-3 record.
“I am very honored to get this opportunity. I have been doing this 31 years and I am glad to be able to bring a state championship home back to Bluefield High School and the city of Bluefield,” said Large, who is in his fifth season with the Beavers. “I am very, very proud of all these young men.
“This weekend will stand in the minds of these young men for the rest of their lives and everybody that witnessed the game and witnessed going down there and playing all three days. It is just a great lift for the community, there have been many state championships awarded here at Bluefield High School and we are glad to be a part of it.”
Both Akers and Collins — a 1990 graduate of Bluefield who is in his first year as principal at his alma matter — spoke of how the Beavers set a goal, worked through the bumps in the road and achieved their dreams.
“As you know through hard work, teamwork, individual hard work, they have all accomplished that goal,” Collins said. “We at Bluefield High School can learn from this, we in Mercer County schools can learn from this.
“What all of you need to do out there is set your goals, whatever they are and you can accomplish it with hard work. I appreciate your hard work, I appreciate what you have done for Bluefield High School and we are very proud of you this morning.”
Akers echoed those sentiments, adding that the players learned a valuable life lesson on their way to bringing home the state championship trophy.
“This is the way you reach what you want to do in life. You set goals, you work hard, we learn to work as a team, we learn to accept responsibility, we keep on trying, when we fall down we pick ourselves up, we self-evaluate, we take advice from others...,” Akers said. “That is how you become a champion in basketball, that is how you become a champion in wrestling, that is how you become a champion in life.
“Good things will happen if you take these life lessons beyond the basketball court and I believe you will because that is what champions do.”
It was a season to remember for many reasons for the Beavers. Thanks to the contributions of a new gym floor from the Shott Foundation, the basketball team was able to return to the Brushfork Armory for the first time since 2001, and what a scene it was.
“It has made a huge difference in our basketball program,” Large said, “and you young men are going to have a brand new banner to hang out there next year.”
It was the second state team title won in Mercer County in the recent months, following the Princeton baseball team last June. Bluefield assistant coach David Hubbard, who is a past head coach for the Tigers on the diamond, was pleased to be part of a team that set a goal and reached it, bringing another title to southern West Virginia.
“It shows if you set a goal and work hard enough you can attain those goals,” said Hubbard, who played for Bluefield’s state championship football team in 1967. “There are always going to be some bumps in the road, but you can have a chance to attain those goals...
“We are always tickled for teams in the southern part of the state to win, we really are. It is a pleasure to see this part of the state be successful.”
There is reason to be excited about next March as well, with all five starters and several key reserves back for the Beavers.
“They have got a great chance to win it all again,” said Miller, “and I hope they bring it home.”
“The program is extremely strong right now,” Large said. “Many factors have attributed to that through hard work, consistent coaches, the work ethic that we have put forth in the last two years in camps and shootouts and weightlifting and we are just very happy to be a part of it.
“It is an opportunity that you are not given very often, If you can get one in a lifetime you have done well and these kids are winners, they are true believers and they believe in themselves.
“That motto ‘We Believe’ is standing stronger today with this basketball program.”
Large, a graduate of Graham who was part of a state runner-up team in 1973 with the G-Men, was overjoyed to finish the season as the best in the state.
“I have had the opportunity to play in one and coach in two, but winning one, there is no feeling in the world like it and I am just so happy for the school, the administration, the Mercer County school board, and the city of Bluefield,” Large said. “I am very honored to bring this back to the city of champions.”
Large finished his presentation with seven words, which brought a loud cheer from the young gathering of ‘Beaver Nation’.
“How do you like those Beavers now,” said Large, with a big smile.
—Contact Brian Woodson