BLUEFIELD — A local group has organized a concerted effort to bring the state high school football championship games to Mercer County.
Spearheaded by former Del. Marty Gearheart, a presentation has been made to the WVSSAC (West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission) to start a rotation of the games, which are now being held in Wheeling each year.
“They bid it in December,” Gearheart said of the Super 6 event, which includes A, AA and AAA state championship games. “I went up with Josh Cline (CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Two Virginias) and Jamie Null (executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau) last winter and met with the WVSSAC and I had hoped to negotiate to have the championship games this fall because of the probable traffic problems in Wheeling.”
All of the bridges in the area are being replaced and Wheeling Island Stadium “is on an island,” he said. “That construction is under way and it’s a two-year project. They will have delays from the main artery into the ball games.”
Gearheart said the proposal would help relieve the Wheeling area of any congestion and also provide a start to rotating the games.
“But the WVSSAC didn’t see it that way,” he said. “They have a contract (with the Wheeling facility).”
However, next year may be a possibility.
“We prepared a nice presentation,” he said. “We have established ourselves as credible and will be included in the bidding this December.”
Gearheart said the championship games at one time were rotated, and included Charleston and Bluefield (1975) but Wheeling has hosted them for about 20 years.
“They do a very nice job with the tournament,” he said, adding that what is included in the proposal duplicates the good things Wheeling does, and adds more.
“They make a good tournament from the perspective of the players, fans, coaches, cheerleaders and officials,” he said. “Their dollars are well spent.”
But Gearheart said Mercer County can do the same thing and make it an even more attractive place to come for everyone involved.
“We can make our proposal head and shoulders better,” he said. “We are still working on that.”
Gearheart said the Super 6 South Committee, which is informal and has about 25 members, has already contacted several local foundations and has received an enthusiastic response.
He has also talked with Bluefield High School Football Coach Freddie Simon and others about what is expected and wanted by players and fans, what works and what doesn’t work.
“I wanted to know what they thought we can do to make it better,” he said.
That may include helping to offset some of the travel expenses to the teams to bring them here, and may involve the cooperation of Bluefield State College and Concord University.
Mitchell Stadium, one of the most revered football stadiums in the state and beyond, has a seating capacity of 10,000, large enough for the games. Hunnicutt Stadium in Princeton could also be used for one of the championship games.
“We want to include Princeton,” he said. “This is a county effort.”
Gearheart said it’s time for a change in the location of the games and he envisions rotating with Wheeling with Super 6 South in Bluefield one year and Super 6 North in Wheeling the next.
That would give Wheeling tournament sponsors a break as well as allow time for more work to be done on the stadium there, which has a water/flooding issue, and possibly improve its parking problem.
Not only can Mercer County accommodate the games, the area would receive an economic boost with about 20,000 people coming here during championship weekend, staying in hotels and eating at restaurants and shopping.
It would also provide an opportunity for visitors to see what is offered here, including skiing and ATV tails.
Gearheart said the committee, which will soon file for a 501c3 (charitable status), is looking for community support and ideas about how to make Mercer County “head and shoulders” above the rest.
“They (Wheeling) do a great job and nobody is complaining about what they are doing,” he said. “This is not adversarial. We just want to be able to give Southern West Virginia teams an opportunity not to travel so far.”
As far as the WVSSAC is concerned, Gearheart said they receive the money from the ticket sales so that would not be an issue here.
Gearheart said Null and the City of Bluefield’s IT department have put together an “outstanding” video to present to the WVSSAC and it’s a matter of basically showing them it’s an opportunity that should not be turned own.
“I think we can make a solid offer,” he said.
Gearheart said that offer can also be backed by community support, and that is what the committee wants to see and take with them when they go back in December to bid.
Contact Charles Boothe at firstname.lastname@example.org