Homer Hickam questioning to the “Southside Spartans”. The Bluefield Barons losing their home field advantage at Mitchell Stadium. The mercury topping 90 for a sixth time in “Nature’s Air-conditioned City.” Dr. Phil coming to Bluefield?

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a week or two of somewhat unusual headlines in the region, and I’ve had the challenge of writing several of these stories.

While admittedly not a writer interested in stirring up controversy, I may have inadvertently stepped upon a hornet’s nest when I first reported that a petition was circulating throughout the Big Creek District of McDowell County in opposition to the name “Southside” for the new War K-8 school under construction in McDowell County. The story quickly made it all the way from Charleston to Huntsville, Ala. There is also a concern about the selection of the name “Southside Spartans” for the school mascot.

All of this occurred on the same week that the motion picture “300” was released on DVD. I guess the timing couldn’t have been better. In case you haven’t seen “300” yet, it’s the movie where 300 Spartan warriors fight a heroic battle to the death against a massive Persian army.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to occasionally exchange e-mails with Hickam, the best-selling author who helped to bring national attention to the Big Creek District of McDowell County through the 1999 motion picture “October Sky” and his various “Rocket Boy” memoirs. Hickam, a 1960 graduate of Big Creek High School now living in Huntsville, also has been an invaluable resource when it comes to issues relative to the nation’s space program. He is, after all, a retired employee with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who not only helped to train several astronaut crews on science payloads, but also served as a payload training manager for the International Space Station prior to his retirement with NASA. I was surprised — but pleasantly pleased — to receive an e-mail from Hickam, who wanted to voice his opinion on the Southside Spartans controversy.

In direct contrast to the movie “300,” Hickam said although first-rate warriors, the Spartans believed in “deceit and deception.” Based on his mail received to date, Hickam said the new name is disliked by just about everyone who presently lives in the Big Creek District or who ever lived there.

After Hickam’s story appeared in the newspaper, I received a phone call the following morning from a representative of the state Board of Education, who told me the state board won’t be involved in the name selection process for the new school, adding it was strictly a decision for the local board.

Moving from the Spartans to Dr. Phil, I was charged last week with getting to the bottom of why the famous television doctor was coming to Bluefield. This was the same week that news was brewing in our sports department. It seems the city of Bluefield — in a surprise decision — informed the Bluefield Barons that they would be losing their home field advantage by not being allowed to play at Mitchell Stadium.

While I was digging for details about Dr. Phil, fellow reporter Bill Archer was busy talking to city officials about their controversial decision and Barons coach Bill Dudley. With Bill off, I was charged with continuing the story of the Barons controversy on Monday and Tuesday.

And what about the city’s air-conditioner being on the fritz? We hit 90 at the Mercer County Airport for the sixth time last Friday. Although the mercury only climbed to 86 on Monday, we could be flirting with the magic 90 degree mark again today. The extended forecast from the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., is calling for a high of 92 degrees today, and a possible high of 94 for Thursday.

Could free by lemonade be flowing across Bluefield and Bluefield, Va., again by the week’s end? If the forecast holds true, we could hit 90 for the eighth time this summer by the week’s end. However, the record in terms of modern history for Bluefield still stands at 17 free servings of lemonade in 1988. It’s doubtful that the 1988 record will be shattered this summer.

Maybe I should have scheduled my vacation for August instead of July. I picked the worst possible week for vacation last month. It rained the entire week and was generally miserable and cool. I remember taking mom to Princeton one day when it was raining and actually cold. The outdoor thermometers across Princeton were suggesting a daytime high of 57 and 58 degrees on this particular day. It wasn’t a good week for a vacation.

Now, we are baking again, and apparently making up for the somewhat chilly nights — and even days — we had during the month of July. At least it should be cooler by the time Dr. Phil arrives. He’s supposed to be in town on Nov. 2 for the one hour special that is being filmed to help kick-off the national Toys for Tots campaign. This welcomed celebration will not only help to showcase a worthwhile charity, but also could help to bring some positive national attention to the area.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com

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