The sights and sounds of the big game are still distinct more than four decades later, and live again each fall. On a late August night, the temperature still sweltering and people still sweating even as the sun went down, I stood on the field with my fellow cheerleaders. A harvest moon rose over our heads and our hearts filled with hope as we eagerly awaited the opening game of what should be a great season. We had most of our starting players returning. The outlook for this season, my senior year, was promising.
He would later receive the Stubby Currence Award. Don Jackson kindly shared his story from that era.
Photo by Melvin Grubb. By Don Jackson Throughout the region Stubby Currence covered, southern West Virginia and southwest Virginia, most of the high schools bear the name of the town. Accordingly, the community of Bluefield closely identified with Bluefield High School athletics, similar to thousands of small cities and towns across America where local pride is measured against neighboring communities largely by its win-loss record.
In Bluefield, this was particularly true of football. Coach Merrill Gainer came to Bluefield in and proceeded to win four state championships from to with an overall record of The team finished but did not win the state championship since Bluefield ended the regular season ranked 3 in the state and only the top 2 teams made the postseason in those days.
Although Coach Chmara did not replicate the record of Coach Gainer, his teams averaged 8 wins per season and Bluefield made the playoffs in when the postseason was expanded to the top 4 teams. The team lost the semifinal playoff game in overtime by 2 points but the bulk of the players were returning for the season, my first year as a sophomore at Bluefield High.
With lofty expectations, the team started the year and then unexpectedly stumbled the second half of the season to finish with a record including 3 straight losses to end the season. The team was loaded with seniors, and we sophomores rarely saw any game action. We faced the season with a great deal of uncertainty.
We probably had 70 players at the first preseason practice on August 1, By the time the season started, we were down to about 35 including just 4 seniors.
The preseason practices were especially tough that year as the coaching staff was determined to avoid a repeat of the finish of the prior season. Fielding a team of inexperienced juniors, we started the season We had now lost 6 games in a row. That equaled the total number of losses from to I guess people in Bluefield were wondering if the dynasty had ended.
However, Coach Chmara understood he had a young team. He and the rest of the coaching staff worked even harder to prepare us for the rest of the season. Stubby Currence continued to write articles expressing his belief that our young team would turn it around … and we did.
Head Coach John Chmara We won 6 of our last 7 games to finish our second straight season with a record.
However, the record in felt dramatically different than it did in We now had a team full of returning seniors for the season. Coach Chmara was an excellent teacher of the game. Many things he taught us were applicable in all areas of life.
Practices started at am or pm and the coaching staff would walk into the film room where we gathered prior to practice precisely on time. If you came into the room after the coaches, you were given a six-thirty.
We reported to the school 7 days per week during the season. On Saturdays after a Friday night game, we had to wax any opponent marks off our helmets and shine our game cleats until they passed inspection.
Inspection included searching for tiny specks of dirt or grass anywhere on our cleats. Precision Coach Chmara believed you had to practice with precision in order to execute with precision in a game.
We would run the same play over and over repetitively during practice until he was satisfied every player knew exactly what he was supposed to do. He would say that every play is designed to score a touchdown if it is executed perfectly. Then, at film sessions on Sundays after our game, he would point out the reason or reasons each play was not executed perfectly and who was responsible.
The obsession with precision even extended to our pre-game warmup.
We would practice our pre-game exercises the day before each game, and again on the afternoon of the game, until everyone was counting, clapping and slapping thigh pads in unison.
Accordingly, we developed a sense of the importance of teamwork early and often. Each player wanted all the other players to be as good as possible in order to field a strong team.
That attitude resulted in strong support for each other both on and off the field. From the front page of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Nov. At the top is the message flashing at the First National Bank in downtown Bluefield while Appalachian Power bottom left its own version as they welcome the Eagles to town and while the Holiday Inn message does the same.
Kickoff is set for Photo by Jim Gilreath and Ray Lynch. The majority of sports writers were located in Charleston and their bias for players in that area were evident.
I believe Stubby personally ensured players in our region were fairly considered in statewide awards such as all-state teams. Stubby also helped generate interest from colleges in local players.
The Stubby Currence Award was given annually to the area athlete of the year and it was a great honor to win that award. Looking back, I still consider it a great honor since I knew so many of the potentially deserving players at Bluefield, Princeton, Graham and other area high schools.
Our season opener was on the road against Stonewall Jackson of Charleston, the defending state champions and a team that had beaten us in After a late goal line stand, we escaped with a win giving us confidence for the rest of the season.
We experienced an unexpected loss in our sixth game at Welch and then faced our biggest game of the season against Beckley. Beckley had lost only 2 games since and both losses were by less than 3 points. They had defeated us in both and Another loss would kill any chance we had of making the playoffs.
Again, I give credit to Coach Chmara and his staff for making us focus on the task at hand rather than dwelling on our recent loss. Going into the last week of the season, we were ranked 5 in the state with only 4 playoff spots the rankings were based on a win-loss and strength of schedule point system.
Fortunately, one of the teams ranked ahead of us lost their final game allowing us to make the playoffs as the 4 seed.
Both squads enter the match-up at
So, suppose you fellows ask me what I think. You are going to win this football game and thus wear the crown of West Virginia champions for So is every youngster in your school, and all your teachers, and your great coaching staff, and everybody in Bluefield.