Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 6, 2014

Undefeated Big Creek team to be enshrined Sunday

WELCH — A highlight of the fourth annual McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame induction this Sunday at Mount View High School will be the enshrinement of the 1957 Big Creek Owl football team.

“Undefeated, untied and uninvited …” read an information page about that team and appropriately describes the Owl grid squad that season.

In 1957, only the top two ranked teams in each Class moved on to postseason play for the state championship.

There were three classes then, as now, but they were AA, A and B. AA was the class for the largest schools, as determined by enrollment, and Big Creek played in that division.

Led by legendary head coach Merrill Gainer, the Owls finished 10-0 during the regular season, but behind Weir and Fairmont in the points system used by the WVSSAC, thus missing out on the chance to play for the state title.

The Big Creek offense averaged 31 points per game, while the stingy defense allowed only six points per contest that season.

That 1957 campaign wrapped up a three-year career for the seniors with a record of 28-1. In 1955, the Owls went 9-0 and compiled a 9-1 mark in 1956.

Despite not getting to play for the title, six of the 11 starters in 1957 received football scholarships to either West Virginia University or Virginia Tech.

Senior captain Gerald Holbrook was named first team All-State, as well as an even higher honor, being recognized on the All-Southern team.

Art Pruett, also a senior, made the second team All-State squad, in addition to receiving honorable mention for the national All-American Academic Team.

Curtis Harman went on to become a teacher and coach and returned to his alma mater to serve as an assistant football coach in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before serving on the McDowell County Board of Education in the mid-1980s.

Jim Hickam went on to play football at Virginia Tech before embarking on a long and successful coaching career as head grid mentor at Northside High School in Roanoke, VA.

Perhaps an even more memorable incident than the Owls’ 1957 unblemished record and failure to be “invited” to the championship game was a judicial filing by the Big Creek Boosters’ Club, seeking to halt the playing of the title match between Weir and Fairmont, with rather the Owls being included in the game. The playoff, despite the Boosters’ attempts, went forward, with Weir winning the AA crown 19-12.

However, as a reaction to the filing for the proposed injunction, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) suspended the Owls from playing football in 1958.

With that inability to be included in the playoffs, Big Creek joined last year’s inducted team into the McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame, the 1963 Welch Maroon Wave, as compiling an undefeated record, but failing to make the championship affair.

Managers on that 1957 team were Jimmy Carroll, Sherman Siers and Doug Fields.

After the Owls were not able to play football in 1958, Coach Gainer left Big Creek and became the head football coach at Bluefield High School in 1959 and inaugurated his career there by leading the Beavers to the Class AAA state championship.

Joining the ’57 Owl football team in enshrinement Sunday will be Big Creek alums Oscar Patrick and Robert Gresham, former Iaeger football coaches Butch Bivens and Mitch Estep, former Kimball coaching legends, the late Matthew “Hinge” Johnson and the late Henry Winkfield.

Former Gary District and West Virginia Tech star basketball player Tim Floyd, along with Northfork football and basketball All-Stater Ron Spencer and Welch athletic standouts Jim Rich and Tom Stepp will round out the fourth induction class of the Hall of Fame.

After Sunday’s enshrinement, plaques honoring this year’s inductees will be on display at the Sterling Drive In on Stewart Street, joining plaques from inductees of the initial three classes.

Dinner starts at 2 p.m. Sunday, with the induction to follow.

The McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame is proudly sponsored by the Welch Lions Club.

At press time, more than 230 reservations had been received for the fete.

Space is still available, and reservations may be made by calling Raymond’s Restaurant at 304-436-2572.

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