Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

May 15, 2013

Tradition continues as WVU Coaches Caravan returns

BLUEFIELD — The West Virginia Coaches Caravan filled the Chuck Mathena Center last spring with Mountaineer fans excited for the first season in the Big 12.

The second season has received the same interest. In other words, the WVU Coaches Caravan, slated for May 22, is sold out.

“This has been a tradition in southern West Virginia for more than 40 years, and we are proud of that,” Caravan chairperson Jim Ferguson said. “It is the longest running event for the West Virginia Athletics Department and we are proud to continue that tradition.

“The coaches keep coming to southern West Virginia. They only have six (Caravan) stops now, and this is one of those stops.”

According to Ferguson, all tickets have been sold to the WVU Coaches Caravan, which will be held at the Chuck Mathena Center in Princeton for a second straight year.

“Returning to the Chuck Mathena Center was an easy choice for our committee,” Ferguson said. “All the West Virginia officials and coaches were very impressed with last year’s event. We expect another a capacity crowd.”

Ferguson said the crowd of West Virginia fans, coaches and officials is expected to reach around 350, which could possibly match last year as the largest food-serving event to be held at the facility.

“We are actually at capacity at the Chuck Mathena Center and we really don’t want to go anymore than that,” Ferguson said. “It would make it a little bit too crowded and uncomfortable to go any higher.

“We are pleased with the tickets that we have sold. Last year we had an overflowing crowd, and we are real excited about the response from Mountaineer fans in southern West Virginia.”

Scheduled to appear are WVU Director of Athletics Oliver Luck, football coach Dana Holgorsen and men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins. Others expected to attend include women’s volleyball coach Jill Kramer, rowing coach Jimmy King, gymnastics coach Jason Butts, gymnastics assistant Travis Doak, and even WVU band director Jay Drury.

Ferguson is also hoping The Mountaineer will also be able to attend. Ferguson said he tried to make it last year, but had difficulty making flight connections.

“I am still keeping my fingers crossed,” Ferguson said. “It would be neat to have him...This year I was hoping and I am still hoping he can make it.”

Despite the disappointment of the football and men’s basketball seasons, Ferguson said there is still plenty to cheer for with West Virginia athletics, including a baseball team in contention for the Big 12 title and the rifle team which won the school’s 15th national championship.

“Last year I said the West Virginia University Athletics Department and its sports teams compete with the best the NCAA has to offer, and I believe this shows they do with the success of the baseball team and rifle team.” Ferguson said. “I believe it is good for all the teams to be able to compete.

“There are going to be some down years for your football or basketball teams, but it is not like you don’t have other teams to pull for. Right now Mountaineers have baseball fever.”

Everything Mountaineers will be celebrated next Wednesday in an event that has been taking place now for more than four decades.

“For more than 40 years, the WVU Athletic Department, officials and coaches have made the trip from Morgantown to southern West Virginia,” Ferguson said. “The first meeting was arranged by WVU and Lysander Dudley with local alumni to try to get fans together and bring coaches down for dinner with first year coach Bobby Bowden.

“This was the first fundraising event for WVU Athletics and it was held at the Bluefield Auditorium.”

Ferguson said the current format began during Bowden’s first season in 1970 when Dudley called alumni in Bluefield with an idea, which was to get West Virginia fans together, and host a meet-and-greet session and dinner with Bowden and Mountaineer fans.

“From the information I have, that was the first event, and it has continued since then,” Ferguson said. “It is now the longest running consecutive fundraising event for the Mountaineer Athletics Department and the scholarship fund for over 40 years.”

It isn’t just Mercer County folks who attend.

“WVU alumni and fans from McDowell County teamed up with fellow Mountaineers in Mercer County and three dinners were held at the Brushfork Armory in the ‘80s with crowds close to 1,000,” said Ferguson, who has sold tickets this year to a pair of WVU fans in Mount Hope.

Ferguson and former chairperson Frazier Miller have long shared stories of past Coaches Caravan events.

“Committee planning meetings were once held at University Club in the basement of the West Virginia Hotel in Bluefield,” Ferguson said. “Several of the original members are still active, Joe Graham, Frazier Miller, and Richard Ammar.

“The ‘Godfather’ of our group — Bob Raines — will be missed this year due to health issues.”

The Coaches Caravan drew nearly 400 fans last year. The doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the dinner and program starting about an hour later.

“It is always great when you can get a lot of Mountaineers together,” Ferguson said. “It is like a big tailgate party, the only thing that is different is the coaches are there with us, and that makes it that much more fun.”

Ferguson knows the avid West Virginia fan base will be out in force on Wednesday to cheer on their Mountaineers, no matter the sport might be.

“Mountaineer fans have baseball fever out there and the rifle team won their 15th national championship,” Ferguson said. “We have a lot to be proud of and we’re looking forward to the football team playing again and watching them...

“We are looking forward to a really nice event again as always.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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