The Beavers are back.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a Bluefield football trip to Wheeling was an expected reward for the season. Yet, it has been eight years since the Beavers last made it to the Class AA state championship. Fred Simon is certainly ready to return.
“This is my 10th trip, unbelievable,” said Simon, who is 252-122 in 35 seasons at Bluefield, including a 4-5 record in state championship games. “The thing is I got used to it and I think the competition increased or whatever you want to say, but now I appreciate it a lot more because it has been tougher.
“When you haven’t been there, this is the eighth year, it took us eight years to get back, I appreciate it more and you can see how fortunate you have to be to get there because it doesn’t happen all the time for us any more and I am very pleased with what happened.”
Believe it or not — and Beavers always believe if their motto is to be, well, believed — that eight year drought has been the longest time between championships since the 13 years between their final Class AAA state title in 1984 and their first AA crown in 1997.
“When I first started coaching Coach (John) Chmara won it in triple A in ‘84 and it took us until ‘97 to get the next one,” Simon said. “It took a while. This has been the longest. We went from ‘97 and we won it again, and it took us to 2004. Here is where you got kind of spoiled, ‘04, ‘07, ‘09 and then all of a sudden, boom, we had the dry spell.”
“Bluefield has won 10 state titles since 1959, tied for the second most titles in West Virginia with Parkersburg. The Beavers would tie Ceredo Kenova, which is now part of Spring Valley, with a state record 11 championship they can knock off Fairmont Senior tonight at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Polar Bears, by comparison, have won state title, which came way back in 1946.
A rivalry has developed in recent years between Bluefield and Fairmont Senior. The Beavers defeated the Polar Bears in 2013 to claim the second of two straight boys basketball crowns, while the Bluefield girls basketball team fell to Fairmont Senior in the AA state finals last March. Ironically, the Lady Beavers are involved in a tournament this weekend at Fairmont Senior, but will attend the football game tonight.
“They are first class organization up that way and I feel like we are too,” Simon said. “It is two first class teams, one north and one south.”
Bluefield left amid a hearty send-off on Thursday morning for what is a lengthy 5 1/2 hour trip to the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, which can make it a challenge for fans of the Beavers to get to the game. Fairmont Senior is much closer, and can be expected to have a sizable audience, but Simon will appreciate whatever support they do get.
“Our fans will do the best they can, but I understand with the trip being 5 1/2 hours and the game starts at 7 and how hard it is, and then a five-hour trip back,” Simon said. “That is kind of tough on them and, yes, Fairmont doesn’t have to travel that far, an hour-and-a -half or two at the most. That is a slight disadvantage, but when you get there, we have got to play and our fans have been great for us and I know the ones that can get there will be. If we happen to pull it off they will be waiting for us when we come back with open arms so that is how that will be.”
Fairmont Senior will have one other advantage as well, having played for the state championship last season on the same field, dropping a 32-7 decision to Mingo Central, the same team the Polar Bears defeated last week to punch their return ticket to Wheeling.
“They sure have and that will help them some.” said Simon, whose undefeated Beavers defeated Bridgeport 37-14 to reach the season’s final game. “It is a different experience.”
At least the weather should be favorable for both teams on the turf field. No snow is in the forecast, just chilly temperatures hovering around 30 at the 7 p.m. kickoff time.
“It will probably be similar to what the weather is here on Friday night,” Simon said. “No snow, now it has been like that before because you are right there on the river. I think it will be cool, but not actually freezing, it will just be perfect football weather.”
Even more perfect, at least for the Beavers, would be a return trip with an 11th state championship.
“We are all happy,” Simon said, “and looking forward to the trip.”
Contact Brian Woodson email@example.com / Twitter @bdtwoodson