Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

December 12, 2012

Armory creates community pride and revives memories

BLUEFIELD — Tuesday night’s basketball game at the Brushfork Armory was a special event for Bluefield High School, the greater Bluefield community and for basketball fans throughout the area.

The facility had not hosted a basketball game since the 2000-01 season, and just walking through the glass doors of the building one could see significant changes. The lighting in the arena is outstanding. In the past photographers had to use high-speed film, a flash and hope that the result would not be a blur. Tuesday night I doubt if Jon Bolt even had to break out his flash unit as the court was illuminated in bright light.

After noticing the bright surroundings, one’s eyes were drawn to the floor, regulation size, painted and lettered to let everyone know that it was the home of the Bluefield Beavers, complete with the Beavers logo at center court.

The scoreboards at each end of the floor read “Beavers” and “Panthrs,” not enough space to spell out the entire name of the opponent for the night, but state-of-the-art timing devices, in BHS colors. The two new free-standing baskets completed all that was necessary for a game to take place. My only complaint being that when the clock hit 0:00 a buzzer sounded. A basketball arena needs a horn!

A lot of people and organizations worked hard to make games at the Armory a reality. It is an example of public and private entities coming together for the benefit of the community.

The lower sections of the seating were nearly full and about half of the balcony. That crowd would have been overflow at the Beavers’ previous home at Bluefield State College. There were plenty of parking spaces and the lot cleared quickly following the game.

Sitting in the balcony across from the benches took me back nearly 40 years to when I attended my first basketball game at the Brushfork Armory. It was January of 1973. I was a third grader at Gary Elementary and that year the Gary Coaldiggers were one of West Virginia’s toughest teams.

My brother Bill was fresh out of Marshall and teaching at Crumpler Elementary. That season, before he was drafted into the army, which happened to be around sectional tournament time, we would jump into his little white AMC Rambler and go wherever the Diggers were playing. This particular night we came to the Brushfork Armory to see the Gary’s finest take on the Bluefield Beavers.

Gary’s starting lineup, I still remember, was John Billups, Sterette Daniels, Paul Hamilton, Ricky Richardson and Eddie Joyce. Can’t say I remember anyone on Bluefield’s team, but as years have come and gone, I know that my friend Chuck Lambert was the coach of the Beavers, and Ergie Smith led Gary.

As I sat in the armory Tuesday night, talking with a couple of friends about the game and other things, my mind often wandered back four decades to that first game I attended there. I am sure there were others in the building who had memories of games, Beaver-Princeton, the four schools that made up PikeView all playing against each other there, the Harlem Globetrotters, the high-scoring Bluefield State teams of the ‘70s, the Northfork dynasty squads from the ‘70s and ‘80s and much more.

Sporting events bring communities together. They create bonds between people from diverse backgrounds. Religion, race, politics and other things that may separate people in day-to-day life are checked at the door when entering a stadium or arena. Rush Limbaugh and I fully agree that the Pittsburgh Steelers were the greatest team of the 1970s!

In Bluefield, the Beavers bring together the people on the West Virginia side of the border and even some on the Virginia side who may have migrated across the state line. Using that spirit of community, wouldn’t it be nice if we could apply that energy and effort to address the issues facing our community?

It’s great to see basketball back at the Brushfork Armory and a new generation capturing the events today as their memories of tomorrow.

Oh, and that game nearly 40 year ago? Gary won and went on to win the state championship that year before Northfork won eight titles in a row.

Bob Redd is a Daily Telegraph sportswriter. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com.

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