Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

October 6, 2012

A salute to small school ball

BLUEFIELD — Here is to Sandy, the Bears, the Green Wave and small school football.

High School football is about more than just wins, losses, playoff ratings and state championships.

What matters more than any of that is simply the competition, the work it takes to improve and get better, and striving to make all that effort pay off at the end of a 48-minute football game.

It was never more clear to me than on Friday night in Bastian as Bland County and Narrows met for homecoming, with the Green Wave snapping a long losing streak to beat the Bears 34-9.

For Narrows, an 18-game losing skid was over. Kelly Lowe, who followed in the footsteps of his father, Don Lowe, as head coach of the Green Wave, was bursting with pride at the effort of his players.

He spoke of how proud he was of his team, a small group of athletes who hadn’t tasted victory since beating those same Bears on Oct. 15, 2010.

“I am just real proud of our kids. It is a long time coming and they all get the credit because they played their butts off and I am proud of them,” said Lowe, who repeated the phrase about being proud six times.

Terrance Martin, a 240-pound fullback/tight end who wore No. 99, demonstrated how much he wanted to succeed in the third quarter with a run that would have made Earl Campbell proud.

He lowered his shoulders, drove through the middle of the Bland County defense and ran toward six points. The Bears who hadn’t already been steamrolled chased him down, but he wasn’t going down, dragging a den of Bears into the end zone for the 40-yard score.

Asked after the game about finally winning a game, Martin was so happy, so full of excitement that he wasn’t sure what to say. In fact, there may have been a few tears shed as there were on the other side of the field.

“It is a blessing to finally get a win,” Martin said. “I can’t even explain it, it has hurt so much. We have been down and we finally came out here and we actually finished a game for once and we get a win.”

It was a similar refrain from Bland County, which hasn’t experienced a win since beating the Green Wave exactly one year ago today.

Narrows has become one of the smallest football playing schools in Virginia, but the Bears are even smaller. It takes two schools, Bland and Rocky Gap, to comprise a squad that barely has 20 healthy players.

These kids are small in numbers, but huge in heart. Keith Miller is  —  supposedly — a 5-foot-8, 120-pound running back, who scored the Bears’ lone touchdown. He was repeatedly hit hard all night long, but refused to stay down. Miller was injured on one play, limped off the field in obvious pain, but was back on the field at the end.

It’s that type of perserverance that will serve Miller and the rest of these kids later in life. Hart, who used to be the coach at Tazewell — which is having its own share of troubles — wants to win as bad as Fred Simon at Bluefield, but sees the big picture of what football is all about.

“We can’t fault our effort, we just have to keep working to try and get better,” Hart said. “I thought at times we played a lot better and we have to keep trying to do that.”

Isn’t that what is life is all about? Keep working to get better each day in whatever you do. Those kids are fighting against the odds, and felt the hurt that Narrows had felt for the 18 straight Fridays before this one.

Yet, they aren’t going to quit trying and they’ll be back the next week trying to do it again.

“They play hard, they have a got a lot heart,” Hart said. “They do things the right way and we are going to keep working and we are going to get better.”

It wasn’t just the action on the field that struck me as a genuine precious piece of Americana on this night. The grass parking lots surrounding the Bastian sports complex were full of cars and the small bleachers and areas surrounding the field was populated with fans of football or just the simple things in life.

They came from Narrows, and they came from Bland and Rocky Gap. These schools are rivals on the field and friends off of it, just like it should be.

The field was, in what has become a rarity, made of real live grass and dirt. There were logos painted on the field by John Paul Jones’ graphic arts class, and while the press box was the size of a large bathroom, it made up for its quaintness with friendliness, which is often a whole lot better.

Both bands performed, and the numbers there are similar to the football team. Yet, they played with pride, and the cheerleaders made large signs and cheered on their teams.

At many larger schools now homecoming has become a long, drawn-out process where nearly every girl — and now boy — seems to represent one of 50 clubs. Not on this night.

Bland County had about 10 representatives and they only chose a queen, no kings. Actually, two, since Bland County is comprised of two schools. The winners were Alyssa Harris from Bland and Jordan Lambert from Rocky Gap.

The players met in the middle of the field after the game, congratulated each other and the Green Wave, their parents and fans seemingly refused to leave, wanting to soak in what it felt like to win again.

On the other side, the Bears met with their coaches and then walked slowly to the locker room, hoping for that winning feeling again some day, perhaps the next week.

Both Narrows and Bland County will be underdogs — if there is such a thing in high school football — in the rest of their games. Don’t count them out, they will play hard and will never quit.

They will work just as long and hard as the Beavers, G-Men, Blue Tornado and the rest, but face the uphill climb to victory.

There was one of other aspect of Friday night that can’t be forgotten.

Prior to the game, it was announced that Bland’s mascot, Sandy, had died the week before. Anyone who has been to the Bastian sports complex to see football, baseball, softball, track or numerous other activities were befriended by a friendly brown neighborhood dog who was as much a part of the Bears as the Bear mascot.

My favorite part of the evening was the moment of silence that was held for Sandy. Fans of Bland County sports will never forget that dog and what he meant to them.

Isn’t that what life is all about?

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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