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BHS Beavers headed to state football championship

BLUEFIELD — For the first time since 2009, Bluefield High School is preparing this week to play for a state football championship.

The 13-0 Beavers whacked Bridgeport Friday night 37-14 at Mitchell Stadium and will travel to Wheeling to play Fairmont Senior Friday night for the Class AA title. The 12-1 Polar Bears beat Mingo Central Saturday to earn a shot at the championship.

BHS Coach Fred Simon said Saturday that he will quickly begin to familiarize himself, and the team, with Fairmont Senior.

“That will give us four or five days to prepare and then we will see,” he said.

Simon said he has seen some clips of the Polar Bears playing, but could not watch the game online Saturday because of a glitch.

“But we will still watch them on film and it will be fine,” he said, adding that he has seen some of the their passing and running games.

Fairmont Senior has been an impressive team, he said, “every bit as good if not better” than Mingo Central, which was an undefeated team before facing the Polar Bears.

Simon said now it’s a matter of watching film and coming up with game plans on offense, defense and special teams.

“It’s a really busy week,” he said, referring not only to developing the game plan and practicing, but also to the travel. “We will go up on Thursday. It’s about a five to a five-and-a-half hour drive.”

But Simon said he has plenty of confidence in his players and coaching staff.

“I think our players will play hard and do the best they can,” he said. “I don’t think you ask more of them than that. They’ve played hard all year and overcome obstacles.”

Bluefield won the state championship in 2009, the 10th state title since 1959, when legendary Coach Merrill Gainer took over the program.

Jim Nelson, long-time radio broadcaster of Beaver games, said Gainer brought a “military” approach to the game and started a football powerhouse.

“Merrill Gainer introduced us to the culture of state championships,” he said. “He was a history teacher (at Big Creek High School) and was intrigued by military strategy and based his offense on it. He was so far ahead of the curve.”

Gainer also used film analysis, weight training and academic discipline, Nelson said, and in the process created precision units.

Players had to read scouting reports on the opposition and take tests on the reports, he said. If they failed, they didn’t play.

“He believed in the ability of the psychology of the game,” he said. “He would only dress 33 players and it was an honor to dress.”

Gainer won state championships in 1959, 1962, 1965 and 1967 and left in 1967 after compiling an 87-6-1 record.

That tradition was carried on by John Chmara (1968 to 1985) and Simon, who took over the program in 1986. Chmara won state championships in 1975 and 1984. Simon has won the title four times – 1997, 2004, 2007 and 2009.

The quality of the coaches has also been reflected in the quality of the players, Nelson said.

“This year’s Bluefield team is as solid as any team I have ever been around,” he said. “The seniors are true leaders. They set such a high bar and the underclassmen walk into it. The best players are also the most humble.”

These qualities are an indication that a coach’s impact goes beyond the football field, he said, and it includes excellence in the classroom.

“Teachers demand excellence and so do the coaches,” he said.

Nelson said the players take the game seriously.

“They got progressively better,” he said, referring to a few games early in the season when there were some rough spots to work on. “But we won the next several games by an average of over 40 points a game.”

Nelson said senior Mookie Collier has “uncommon skills and speed” and makes other people look like “they are running in quicksand.”

Collier also has character as a person and is a “true student leader,” he added.

Nelson said the team is “to a player polite, upbeat and focused. They are brothers in shoulder pads, a family. It says volumes about what athletics is supposed to be about.”

The final stop on the road to the state championship is not gong to be an easy one, he said.

“Fairmont plays physically – a tough, hardrock defense,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a real challenge for Bluefield.”

The AA teams in other parts of the state draw from a larger pool of players, he said, and Fairmont Senior plays in a great conference. “It’s a numbers driven sport. As the population started dropping in this region, it became tougher to win” because there were fewer students.

But that makes the Beavers even more special, he added, because the school has a smaller pool of players to draw from so there is a higher percentage of excellent football players at Bluefield.

Simon has three previous unbeaten seasons: 1997, 2004 and 2007.

This would be his fourth if the Beavers win Friday night.

It would also be his fifth state championship, a record number for a Bluefield coach.

A title would also give him in terms of state championship rings “one for the thumb.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at

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