Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

February 2, 2014

Cake, and memories, shared in new WVIAC archives room at BSC

BLUEFIELD — Once again, the gold, blue and white oval logo of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference was present on the Bluefield State College campus on Saturday.

The logo was in the center of a cake and was cut up into slices for the enjoyment of about 40 people after a ceremony opening up the WVIAC section of the college archives.

That’s a metaphor for the decision to preserve the historical materials at BSC. Most of those present Saturday had some sort of vital connection with the conference as a player and / or coach, or as an employee or supporter of Bluefield State.

Eating the cake, and listening to stories about the WVIAC, they took in part of that history. Some of that cake and those stories recycled into part of their being.

During their heyday, student-athletes and their coaches had strived to put in schemes and exertion into their WVIAC competitions, and as a result their feats and their memories also became part of their being, and part of the lore that was being celebrated.

If that’s too heavy a concept, I have a simple story for you.

Jim Leedy, the BSC archivist, pointed out a large photo of Tommy Pritchett, a member of the Big Blues basketball team who holds the league record of 52 points in a WVIAC tournament game.

Former WVIAC commissioner Barry Blizzard spoke up, volunteering that in the same game, scoring sensation Archie Talley had 48 for Salem College. (Talley wound up with 3,720 points, by far the most in a career in the league.)

Steve Cox, a Salem alumnus and retired Concord basketball coach, added, “If they had had the 3-point basket, both of them would’ve had at least 60.”

That’s the kind of synergy, or give-and-take, that Bluefield State was hoping for when it made the decision to accept the memorabilia, records and website data.

Dr. Marsha Krotseng, president of Bluefield State, said on Saturday, “Just listening to all of the participants walking through, and talking about what they remember, and all the stories they’ve experienced — that is exactly what we hoped would occur with these archives.”

“These archives are not just Bluefield State archives, or WVIAC archives, they are archives for everyone. We really hope we have folks from the city, Mercer County, the entire state, and beyond that, come visit and see what the WVIAC was all about — and help us live those memories along with (them).”

Everywhere you looked in the new WVIAC room at the Wendell Hardway Library, there were pictures of folks destined to become familiar names in area sports — Merrill Gainer, Glynn Carlock Sr., Cam Henderson, Joe Fourqurean, Bill Stewart, Joe Retton, and on and on.

A locally-famous coach who was not pictured on the wall was walking through the room. Tony Colobro, a McDowell County native, directed the football programs at Bluefield State and at his alma mater, Concord, on his way to enshrinement into the NAIA Hall of Fame.

Russell Manns, president of the Mercer County chapter of the Bluefield State College Alumni Association, talked about how Melvin Ross called him “Daddy Colobro.”

Krotseng told the audience Saturday, “Eighty-nine years ago, the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference began competing, and it grew into one of the finest small-college athletic conferences in America. Bluefield State was proud to be part of that history, for 58 years.”

“These archives honor and they chronicle the history of the WVIAC ... but this history is more than those documents. Each one of those documents has a story. It’s a fabulous story.”

“All of you have stories. You have stories of memorable competitions, memorable events, and memories of all the special people who took part in the athletic activities ... . That’s why you’re here today, because you have these memories, you have these stories.”

“I know as these archives continue, that we’ll all hear many, many more. So today, in opening these archives, we preserve those special memories for each one of you ... and for our future generations, so that we can all enjoy and re-live the stories and the memories that these documents hold for us.”

She then told the group “a tale of two young athletes” who graduated from Bramwell High School in the 1970s and enrolled at BSC.

“Barry Blizzard was one of those young men,” she said. “After graduating from Bluefield State, Barry accepted the position of sports information director right here at his alma mater. He went on to become athletic director.

“His talent and passion for the conference and for athletics ultimately led him to the position of WVIAC commissioner, and that’s a position he held from 1987 to 2013.”

“The second young man was Terry Brown. Terry enjoyed a distinguished career as a point guard on some of Bluefield State’s great basketball teams. He went on to serve as an assistant coach, and then as a successful head coach, right here, of our Big Blues.

“Currently, we all know him as Bluefield State’s athletic director.

“Today, these archives have found their permanent home at the alma mater of these two gentlemen. So my thanks go to them, and also to BSC Archivist Jim Leedy, for making this day possible.”

Leedy would later tell a reporter that he had always been a sports fan. “It all started for me as a little kid,” he said. “My dad got me a little seven-transistor radio, and I would go to bed listening to ballgames with the Cincinnati Reds and Baltimore Orioles.”

As a young boy growing up in Bluefield, he said, “Dad and I would go to a lot of games together.”

He remembered the old baseball field near the current Brushfork Armory, which he said rivaled Bowen Field in size.

Earlier he told the crowd about studying art at BSC under “Mr. Hebert and Allan Jonas” in the 1970s. His interest in Bluefield State and its history and its future never has wavered.

“We still are a family today,” he said. “Small colleges are like that.”

“It’s payback time,” he said. Speaking of the college’s teachers and leaders of the past, he said, “They did it for me. It was time for me to do it for them.”

He interrupted his train of thought once, saying, “Guess we’d better do the ribbon (cutting) before I get all wound up.”

There was plenty of time for unwinding as the stories and memories flowed on Saturday, and it became an unexpected opportunity to soak in little bits of athletic history, passed along verbally rather than in dry and dusty books.

Yes, there was more than cake being shared on Saturday afternoon.

Tom Bone is a Daily Telegraph sports writer and cartoonist. Contact him at tbone @ bdtonline.com and follow him on Twitter @BDTBone.

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