Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 8, 2014

Memories flow in McDowell

Sports Hall of Fame holds induction

WELCH — The fourth annual McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Sunday afternoon at Mount View High School had a little of everything for everyone.

At times, the remarks from the inductees were a trip down memory lane. At others, there were testimonials as in a rousing church service on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Different stories and different circumstances all translated into successes that culminated in the induction of 10 former athletes and four coaches, as well as an undefeated football team from yesteryear, into this year’s Hall of Fame.

Wayne Hicks, former star football player at Welch High School and Concord College (now University), himself a member of the Hall of Fame, and the guiding force behind the establishment of the Hall five years ago, made opening remarks.

He subbed for Welch Lions Club President Andy Vance, who was unable to attend due to having to work Saturday afternoon.

The Welch Lions Club has sponsored the Hall of Fame from the start.

Following Hicks’ welcome, the Rev. William Spencer blessed the meal, prepared by Raymond’s Catering of Welch. Things kicked off quickly following dinner, with the 1957 Big Creek football team being enshrined.

Gerald Holbrook, the captain of that team, spoke of the Owl squad that went 10-0, but failed to receive a playoff berth.

He spoke of the team, coached by the late Merrill Gainer, that had six starters who weighed only 135 pounds and no one who topped 200.

Six of the twelve seniors received football scholarships to play at either WVU or Virginia Tech.

Following Holbrook’s remarks, 17 members of that team received plaques, symbolic of enshrinement into the Hall, in addition, one wife, one sister and two grandchildren received the beautiful plaques in place of the players.

Manager Jimmy Carroll was also present to receive recognition with the team.

Although there were 10 individual inductees, two were enshrined posthumously and two more were unable to attend due to health issues.

Former Iaeger head football coach Howard “Butch” Bivens was the first of the six and was introduced by his daughter, Dr. Amy Bivens.

Bivens, who took the Cub grid reins in 1971, with a commitment to the Board of Education to try it for three seasons, ended up coaching nine campaigns, leading Iaeger to its first undefeated football season his final year, in 1979, and its initial playoff berth ever that same season.

Bivens thanked the other coaches in McDowell County at that time for helping Iaeger and himself, in order to raise the bar at that school.

He spoke of the success Big Creek (Class AA runner-up in 1976) had in football, as well as Gary (1966 and 1970 Class AA state champions), Northfork (1973 Class AA state champs) and Welch (unbeaten in 1963) and of the desire of coaches at those schools to help the Cubs attain that level of success.

The induction comes as a pre-birthday gift for Coach Bivens, who will celebrate his birthday today.

Current Brushfork Elementary School principal Michael Morgan introduced the next inductee, former Iaeger head coach Mitch Estep, who played for Bivens and then succeeded him as lead grid mentor.

Estep is also Morgan’s father-in-law.

Before beginning, Estep said, “I have my notes, but everything I have to say has got to come from my heart.”

Estep, who turned 57 Sunday, said he had a simple philosophy in working with his players, as well as students, “Treat every kid like they’re your own child.”

He spoke of four people in his life who helped him get to this stage of his life.  First, he mentioned his mother, who will be 85 in September. Next, he had his longtime assistant David Addair stand, relating they had coached 32 years together.

Looking back to when he was hired, he named former Iaeger basketball coach Buddy Collins and former Iaeger principal Oren Jennings as instrumental to his success, having them share the third slot.

Fourth, he gave credit to his high school sweetheart, Lafon, who has been his wife for over 30 years.

He went on to talk of his faith in God, reminiscing how his team would end every practice with prayer. He even related the players would get into fusses with one another over who could lead the prayer each particular day.

Listing three axioms he stressed to his teams, he said the first one is to pray. Secondly, work hard and do your very best and lastly, leave the rest to God.

Tim Floyd III introduced his dad, Tim Floyd next. The younger Floyd said he didn’t know of his dad’s accomplishments in sports growing up, due to his dad’s humble manner of not telling what he had achieved earlier in his life.

The elder Floyd starred at Gary District and later in basketball for West Virginia Tech.

Floyd stated, “I feel like I played for the two greatest coaches who ever set foot on the football field, or the basketball court: James Wilkerson and Ergie Smith. (Both are past inductees into the McDowell County Hall of Fame.)

“They changed two words for us: They took the ‘t’ out of can’t and changed the ‘I’ to we.  We can!”

Floyd continued with  a testimonial of the importance of God in his life.

Dickie Roberts, a HOF inductee last year, introduced Robert Gresham as the next honoree.

Roberts and Gresham were teammates at WVU from 1967 through the 1970 season.

Gresham, a Big Creek grad, starred as a running back for the Mountaineers, and lead them to a 1969 Peach Bowl win.

Gresham, who now lives in North Carolina, said, “I appreciate the opportunity to come back home.”

Speaking of his early years, Gresham said, “I was raised by my mom and everyone in the (Yukon) community.”

Former Welch and Washington and Lee basketball ace Jim Rich spoke of his teammates with the Maroon Wave, “There are only three left.”

The Rev. Spencer introduced his younger brother, Ron Spencer, who rounded out the list of the six inductees present.

Spencer, a 1971 All-Stater in football and basketball at Northfork High School, remarked, “All blessings do come from God, who put us all here for a purpose.”

He talked of his upbringing and related that he and all his brothers could play sports, but they had to take care of their work first.

Ken Whitlow received the plaque for his uncle, the late Coach Henry Winkfield, and Ergie Smith accepted for the late Coach Matthew “Hinge” Johnson.

Oscar Patrick was unable to attend and was represented by longtime Big Creek guidance counselor John Palko, with Pick Hylton standing in for Tom Stepp, who likewise was unable to attend due to illness.

Whether someone in the crowd of over 250 was inspired by the testimonials or the trips down memory lane, the fourth installment of the McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame induction appeared to be well-received by all.

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