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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section III 1

Pieces of our puzzle: Downtowns Country roads

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C o n t ri buted photo by W.Va. State Pa rks System

Breathtaking... The tram descends the mountain at Pipestem Resort State Park. The tram is the main connector between the main part of the park at the Canyon Rim Center and the lower parts of the park, in particular the Mountain Creek River Lodge located in a horseshoe bend of the Bluestone River.

Aerial tramway gives visitors to Pipestem a breath-taking view of the...

Year-round Crown Jewel of West Virginia By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph IPESTEM — Moving up and down through the mountain mist, the two halves of Pipestem Resort State Park would be separated by a gorge if not for a marvel of engineering that transports visitors to and from the highest part of the park to its lowest. The Bluestone River and the Bluestone River Gorge it created bisects much of the 4,050 acre state park, leaving a distinct change in elevation between the upper and lower sections of the park. Giving visitor’s a bird’s eye view of the park dubbed the “Yearround Crown Jewel of West Virginia,” the aerial tramway has being bringing passengers up and down the Bluestone River Gorge for more than

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four decades. Eddie Richmond, tram supervisor at Pipestem Resort State Park, has been working on the tram for 19 years but the tram itself has been operating for nearly 42 years. “The tram has been operating since 1971,” Richmond said. “The lower part of the park was pretty isolated before the tram. At one time, the area where the lodge was operated as a trading post. There was an old man named Cox who operated a small little outpost there. When the park bought the property, the made the tram so people would be able to get down to this area, since this part of the park is very pretty.” The tram is the main connector between the main part of the park at the Canyon Rim Center and the lower parts of the park, in particular the

Mountain Creek River Lo d g e located in a horseshoe bend of the Bluestone River. “The tram is used to serve the lower lodges, restaurant and is a good recreational activity for the park,” Richmond said. “They built the lodge and the tram at the same time. There was really no way to get down to this part of the park before the tram. There is an access road, but it take about an hour and a half drive to get down to the lower part of the park and we only use that for emergencies.” The tram carries passengers on a six-minute-long ride and drops the more than 1,000 feet in elevation from where they started. “The upper part of the tram is 2,639 feet up and from top to bottom is a 1,097 foot vertical

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C o n t ri buted photo by W.Va. State Pa rks System

Aerial travel... The aerial tramway has being bringing passengers up and down the Bluestone River Gorge for more than four decades.


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2 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pipestem... Continued from 1 drop into the Bluestone River Gorge,” Richmond said. “The tram itself spans 3,600 feet over the gorge. We have 18 total cabs and keep eight cabs on the cable at all times. We add two more for a total of 10 cabs if we get really busy. The cable is a steel cable with a 5to-1 wrap and we change is every 18 years. So far, we have changed it twice. However, Richmond said human cargo isn’t the only thing the tram has been used to transport. “We regularly haul luggage down in the tram,” he said. “We haul down clean linens for the rooms and food for the restaurant. We haul down people’s pets. We’ve hauled down canoes for people going to canoe the river. Once we hauled down a refrigerator for the restaurant. We haul just about everything.” Tram tickets are sold from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. with tickets priced at $4 for children age 5 to 12 and $6 for adults. Richmond said the tram can see anywhere from approximately 600 riders to more than 1,000 riders a day. “Each cab holds up to four people,” Richmond said. “During last year’s Fourth of July we did more than 1,100 people total between our night and day shifts. We have about 600 riders on an average weekday but we do a lot more on weekends. Between our day and night shift, we probably average around 1,000 riders per day on weekends.” Wildlife is one of the main things Richmond said riders look for while they are on the tram.

Contributed photo by W.Va. State Pa rks System

Stopping point... Though the tram usually closes for the season on Halloween, when the tram opens for the year depends on what type of winter the region has experienced. “They like to ride and seeing the deer especially,” he said. “They look for the moonshine still in the cliff. Some of them start out scared of the ride, but once they get off they want to ride it again. We have people who come here and stay a week at a time. We have visitors we know buy heart who come here two or three times of a summer.” Richmond said the tram draws visitors from all over the world. “We have people from as far away from Alaska and all over the United States,” he said. “We get people from England,

all of Europe, Japan and Australia. People from all parts of the world come to ride the tram.” The tram’s flair for attracting international travelers might be because of its European origins. “The tram itself is from Switzerland,” he said. “The tram itself was made in Switzerland by a company called Mueller Lifts. We order the parts through a company based in Canada, which gets the parts from the company in Switzerland.” Though the tram usually closes for the season on

Halloween, Richmond said when the tram opens for the year depends on what type of winter the region has experienced. “The tram season usually end son Oct. 31 but it varies when it starts,” Richmond said. “This past year we started on May 17. It depends a lot on the weather when we will start in the spring. Typically, we start in mid-May thought we have started earlier and later depending on the weather.” While a little rain won’t shut down the tram, Richmond said larger storms mean the

“We only shut down for high winds and lightening,” he said. “When the rain gets more than 24 miles per hour we shut down. If lightening strikes we shut down after the first strike because of the metal in the tram. Storms typically don’t last very long, so we are usually back up and running fairly quickly.” Richmond said a little over a dozen employees work to keep the tram running smoothly. “I’ve been both a full-time and part-time employee at the tram,” he said. “Per shift, we typically have between five

and six employees working with three employees working each end of the tram. There are 15 of us total. The training is mainly by experience. You learn by doing maintenance and just running the tram.” Keeping the tram running at its best requires regular maintenance work. “We do most of the maintenance work ourselves,” Richmond said. “We shut down twice a between from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays to do maintenance. We grease the wheels , inspect the lines and make sure everything is safe and running right. Once a month, we also close down for 24 hours to do whatever maintenance is needed. We rebuild the griffs once a year.” Richmond said getting to meet new people is one of the reasons why he has spent nearly 20 years helping run the tram. “I like it here because I love mechanical work and this is a great place to work,” Richmond said. “I like getting to meet all sorts of people. Pipestem is just a beautiful place. We love the tram and take care of it. You meet all sorts of great people working here.” Though the tram is more than 40 years old, Richmond said it is showing no signs of slowing down. “The tram has held up pretty well,” he said. “They told us this is one of the last detachable lifts of its kind still running in the U.S. and runs in a complete circle. Most of the trams you see today do not have detachable cabs and only run in one direction. We take care of her and she’s a good old machine.”


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section III 3

File photo

High above... For those who want a bird’s-eye view of Bluefield there is no better destination than the overlook atop East River Mountain.

Bird’s-eye view East River Mountain Overlook: One of the first major centers for tourism in the area By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph LUEFIELD — For those who want a bird’s-eye view of Bluefield there is no better destination than the overlook atop East River Mountain. At one point, any traffic coming into Bluefield had to come over the mountain from Bland County and those lucky enough to make the journey were treated to a spectacular panorama not to mention a warm welcome to the area. Marie Blackwell, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Vi s i t o r s Bureau, said the East River Mountain Overlook was one of the first major centers for tourism in the area. “The overlook opened in 1960 and was the location for the first visitor information center for the area,” Blackwell said. “The Ridge Runner Railroad was located atop East River Mountain from 1964 until it closed in the early 1980s. Thousands of tourists and locals alike rode the Ridge Runner and enjoyed the panoramic views aboard the train.” It took an army of volunteers to make the overlook a favorite destination for out-oftown travelers as well as local families, Blackwell said. “The Little Garden Club, the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, the Bluefield Jaycees, city of Bluefield, State Road Commission and hundreds of volunteers donated their time and effort to make the visitor center a reality,” Blackwell said. “The total cost of the original project was $6,250. In it’s first two months of operation, the overlook located on the busy U.S. Route 52 throughway was reportedly visited by a record 7,700 visitors from 42 states and 26 foreign coun-

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File photo

On the mountain... The Ridge Runner Railroad was located atop East River Mountain from 1964 until it closed in the early 1980s. Thousands of tourists and locals alike rode the Ridge Runner and enjoyed the panoramic views aboard the train. tries.” Marc Meachum, executive director of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, said the overlook was a major local tourist attraction before Interstate 77

came to the area in the 1970s. “It was much bigger before the opening of the tunnels,” Meachum said. “It was the only accessible way into Bluefield from the south. That road or highway was really

the gateway to the Bluefields. It was the only way to get here from Wytheville and it was such a natural place for a road. It used to be the old U.S. Route 52, but since the tunnels have opened the

routes have changed and it is now Route 598.” When the highway over the mountain was the main route into the city, Meachum said the overlook was a major destination for both tourists and

locals. “It was really a huge area then,” Meachum said. “There was a visitor’s center and the Ridge Runner was originally up there before it was moved to its current location at Lotito City Park. The area was really a tourist destination and one of the most scenic drives in Bluefield, with views of both the east and west. There was a gift shop that catered to all the tourists coming up over the mountain. Even local people would go up there to the shelter and picnic tables and have picnics while their kids rode the Ridge Ru n n e r. It was a popular hang out for locals. People would go there just to relax. ” Art Riley, president of the Downtown Merchants Association in Bluefield, said many local residents still have fond memories of the gift show and Ridge Ru n n e r when they sat on top of the mountain. “It’s always been a popular place for visitors,” Riley said. “You can see for several miles. At one time, there were telescopes up there you could use to see the area and zoom in on different things. People went up there to have picnics and to the gift shop. They could really see how large the area actually was. It was a tremendously busy place back then. There were literally thousands of visitors each day.” Riley said the Ridge Runner was one of the most popular activities for those who visited the overlook. “People would ride the train and then go into the shop,” Riley said. “A lot of people from the area still remember it. We have thousands of people who ride the Ridge Runner each year at Lo t i t o

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4 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

Photos by Rodney Davis

Amazing... Located on the Eastern Continental Divide, visitors to the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory find themselves in the midst of southern bird migrations during the fall.

Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory: A bird-watcher’s paradise By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph ENITH — For nearly a century, bird lovers have been climbing a mountainside in Monroe County in the hopes the view will help them catch a glimpse of some of the most beautiful and wild feathered creatures that soar over the West Virginia skies. Located on the Eastern Continental Divide, visitors to the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory find themselves in the midst of southern bird migrations during the fall. The one-mile hike takes bird watchers atop Peters Mountain within the George Washington National Forest where a viewing tower brings visitors into contact with hawks, eagles, falcons, osprey and other feathered friends. Rodney Davis, a volunteer with the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory, said the rock formation on Peters Mountain has been a popular bird-watching designation We had some photos submitted dating to a Monroe County calendar from 1910 that shows Hanging Rock has been a destination for bird watchers for some time,” Davis said. “Our earliest recorded raptor count is 1952. The tower, in its present form, dates to 1956 when the state built it to use as a fire lookout. It replaced a smaller structure that had been used since the 1930s. In 1972, it was abandoned when planes took over the job of spotting fires. The Handlan Chapter, Brooks Bird Club, along with hawk watchers in Monroe County, took over its maintenance and upkeep to use it as a raptor migration observatory.” In the 1950s, the hawk watchers who climbed to the 3,812-foot Hanging Rock were

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mainly students, studying at either Marshall University or the then Concord College. Since 1952, students and volunteers have kept up the count of birds spied from the mountain. Migration season between is not only the most popular time for bird counting but Davis said is the most popular time for visitors to Hanging Rock. “We have more than 1500 visitors during the migration season which begins in late August and runs through early December,” he said. “We occasionally do a breakdown of the visitor’s log and usually have around 25 states and two or three foreign countries represented. Most are from West Virginia and Virginia.” Helen Graves, director of the Monroe County Tourism office, said visitors from all over come to see the observatory and birds. “We get a lot of inquiries online from people all over the U.S. and internationally,” Graves said. “We have gotten inquiries from places like Germany, Russia and Japan. We also get a lot of more local inquiries from people coming from Charleston, Roanoke, Beckley as well as from further out like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. It’s a popular destination, but that doesn’t mean it’s crowded.” Graves said Hanging Rock is highly popular in the fall but tourists come to visit throughout the year. “It is beautiful in every season of the year,” she said. “In the winter, the ridge gets this beautiful hoarfrost that is just wonderful to look at. The leaf peppers really like it in the autumn because of all of the colors and that is also when the majority of the bird watchers come in for the migrations.”

Additionally, Graves said Hanging Rock is a popular destination for local adventurers. “It is an asset to the county,” she said. “It is the main thing to do in Monroe County as far as outdoor adventure. It is easily accessible and a lot of people in the county help maintain it as well as do the annual count. Going up there and participating in the bird count is a family pastime for many people in the county. They enjoy getting to do that year after year.” Migrating birds are not the only animals spied from Hanging Rock. “Other than our migrant raptors there is usually a resident red-tailed hawk or two to watch, along with various fall warblers,” Davis said. “On the hike up the hill you are likely to see squirrels, the occasional deer, and on very rare occasion a black bear. Our most common sighting in the early part of the migration season is the broadwinged hawk. Last year 4,959 were recorded. October brings increased sharp-shin and red-tail numbers. We had 134 bald eagles in 2012. The eagle migration is spread out over the entire three-month season. The rarest sighting is a northern goshawk, which was last spotted in 2007.” In addition to providing numbers for the hawk count, Davis said volunteers play an integral part in keeping the observation tower in good working shape. “Our hawk count is a total volunteer effort,” he said. “Without them there would be no hawk count. Cleaning, small repair jobs, trail maintenance, record keeping, web site maintenance, all are done by volunteers. The large-scale projects are done

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Photo by Rodney Daviso

In the sky... A hawk soars above the Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section III 5

Staff photo by Eric DiNovo

The rock... Jutting up out of the hillside, those who take the curvy path of U.S. Route 52 headed toward Bramwell will most likely encounter the massive formation that is Pinnacle Rock.

Spectacular views await at Pinnacle Rock By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph RAMWELL — Jutting up out of the hillside, those who take the curvy path of U.S. Route 52 headed toward Bramwell will most likely encounter the massive formation that is Pinnacle Rock. Whether covered in snow, shaded by changing leaves or spring flowers, Pinnacle Rock is always a breathtaking sight for both local residents and out-of-state travelers who come to enjoy the local scenery at ATV trails. Ken Ashton, a geologist with the West Vi r g i n i a Geological and Economic Survey, said Pinnacle Rock is made from a specific type of sandstone. “The sandstone in Pinnacle Rock is stony gap sandstone, which is very resistant and very tough,” he said. “We are talking geological time and the rocks forming Pinnacle Rock are categorized within the Mississippian Age. The rock itself is older than the Appalachian Mountains itself. Most of the rocks in West Virginia are sedimentary, meaning they were laid down flat as the accumulated over time. The uplift of the mountains then pushed them upward toward the surface.” Ashton said the formation now known as Pinnacle Rock formed during the same geological period as the Appalachian Mountains. “When the Appalachian Mountains were formed, especially in the southeast part of West Virginia, the mountains were folded kind of like an accordion,” Ashton said. “The Appalachian uplift creating this rock formation occurred toward the end of the Paleozoic Era around the same time the Appalachian Mountains were forming. There is a fold that runs through this area call the Abbs Valley Anticline. Pinnacle Rock is a resistant sandstone on the side of the Abbs Valley Anticline. The rocks are nearly vertical because they are on an upward bend of the rock when it was lifting.” Ashton said formations like Pinnacle Rock created during this period are common throughout the region. “Pinnacle Rock is kind of a ridge and a line of these rocks,” he said. “You can line them up on the ridge top because of that resistant sandstone. If you drive on the Norfolk and Potomac Valleys you see similar rocks sticking out but Pinnacle Rock has been the biggest one in this area.”

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However, erosion coupled with the angle of Pi n n a c l e Rock have made the formation more noticeable. “Over the years of geological time, everything around Pinnacle Rock has eroded through time leaving that formation standing up, kind of like Seneca Rocks,” Ashton said. “ The mountains were a lot higher back then. Things have been eroding since this was formed and no new rocks have been formed. The uniqueness is this rock is standing up in the area and not lying flat, which is why it became so prominent.” Brett Harshbarger, a park ranger at Pinnacle Rock State Park, said Pinnacle Rock served as an important landmark for the area long before the state park was established. “Before the road or park was here people still used this as a landmark,” he said. “It’s just a special place. It sticks out like a sore thumb in that you can’t miss it. We have people in their nineties come here and tell us hat they remember Pi n n a c l e Rock was a landmark before there was a road through here, back when people were still using horses and wagons to get around. Even then people knew where Pinnacle Rock was.” Harshbarger said the park was founded as part of the federal New Deal program in the 1930s. “It was opened in 1938 at a 26-acre tract of land stared by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA),” he said. “The park was part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal program, which was designed to get people working again in the midst of the Great Depression. The rock formation was so unique they wanted to do something with it. The shelter itself is built out of sandstone.” The shelter in the park is one of the major projects undertaken by WPA workers when the park was founded. “The shelter itself is based off of the rock,” Harshbarger said. “They used Pinnacle Rock as a model for the shelter. The shelter opened the same year as the park. The shelter is a popular place for events. Every weekend when the weather is warm it seems we have it rented out for a birthday party, a wedding or a family reunion. People really work hard to decorate it up for their events.” In the 75 years since the park was originally opened, Harshbarger said Pinnacle Rock State Park has expanded exponentially.

“Originally, the park was just the rock formation, the shelter and two trails,” Harshbarger said. “Today, we have 396 acres that include Jimmy Lewis Lake, eight miles of hiking and walking trails, handicap accessible parking and a playground that was completed in 2010.” Because the park is free and located on U.S. Route 52, Harshbarger said it is nearly impossible to get an exact total of how many visitors the park receives each year. “It is hard to determine how many visitors we get because we are just right off the highway,” he said. “People stop for just two seconds, look around and leave. We also shut down in the winter because the conditions make it very hard to really do anything. We have a lot of visitors who have come down to see the Hatfield and McCoy Trails in Bramwell and stop by just to see what it is. I’ve spoken to visitors from Michigan, Texas and Florida. People just drive by and want to get out when they see it.” Though there are plenty of activities including hiking and fishing in the park, Harshbarger said the trail to the top of Pinnacle Rock is still one of the most popular activities for visitors. “The top of the rock is a remarkable view, especially to watch as the seasons change,” Harshbarger said. “We get a lot of people in the fall when the leaves are changing to see all of the beautiful foliage. The top of the rock is about 3,100 feet above sea level, so you’re pretty high up there. On a clear day, you can see about 15 miles.” Harshbarger said many visitors bring their cameras to capture a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. “We get a lot of photographers, both amateur and professional who want shots of the rock or from the rock,” he said. “We get a lot of kids who come for their senior photos and prom photos.” Nature lovers, especially bird watchers, also enjoy the park. “We get a lot of smaller animals chipmunks and squirrels throughout the park,” Harshbarger said. “We see bear and deer from time to time. Snakes sometimes come around, though most aren’t poisonous, as do box turtles. Bird watching is a very popular activity, especially on Pinnacle Rock itself. A lot of birds perch on the formation or use the winds from the formation to float up and over the valley below.”

In the past, climbing the rock formation was a favorite pastime for locals. “We have a lot of former students from Matoaka High School who tell us that when the school was still open this was where all the kids came to hang out after school,” Harshbarger said. “They said they would come here every afternoon and try to climb the rock. It was just sort of a tradition for people.” Bramwell Mayor Lo u Stoker said the rock and nearby picnic grounds have long been an important place for many local families. “A lot of families would come up and have picnics or family reunions there,” she said. “Since it was a short distance, a lot of people from Bramwell would walk up the hill to have picnics by the rock. A lot of the high school students would come out there every day after school. We have old post cards show-

ing the rock as it looked in the 1930s and 1950s.” However, Harshbarger said safety concerns have basically ceased climbing on Pinnacle Rock. “We really don’t encourage rock climbing any more, especially since irresponsible climbing can harm both the climber and the rock formation,” he said. “There are metal stakes used to support the rock and the handrails on the walkway people could injure themselves on. Anyone who wants to climb the rock has to get special permission to do so.” Still, the rock remains a popular tourist attraction. “It’s very hard to miss,” Stoker said. “The ATV tourism in the area has brought even more people there. You will drive by and see a lot of people have stopped to get out and see Pinnacle Rock. It’s another thing people can do when

they come to visit.” Of course, Stoker said Pinnacle Rock will always have a special place in the hearts of those who live in the area. “It’s very iconic,” she said. “It sort of serves as a gateway to Bramwell. A lot of our residents see that rock and know they are coming home.” As the rock has stood so long, Harshbarger said it is now the goal of the park to allow future generations to continue enjoying the formation. “Its been here so long that we try to keep it up as much as possible so future generations can enjoy it,” Harshbarger said. “It’s a free park, so anyone can just come and walk up to the top. We want to keep it in as good condition as it was back in the 1930s. It’s an important landmark, so we want to keep it around.”


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6 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cedar Bluff Overlook Park beautiful in any season By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph

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EDAR BLUFF, Va. — What today is a popular spot for visitors to view the fall foliage was once an early Tazewell County settlement and busy mill town, built along the Clinch River and below the tree-covered mountainsides. Town Manager Jim McGlothlin said it is the beautiful trees lining the bluffs above where the town sits that gave the area its name. While there are many bluffs dotted with red cedar trees in the area, there is one in particular many in town believe inspired the original settlers of their community. “The Cedar Bluff Overlook Park provides a beautiful view of the bluff that overlooks the town,” McGlothlin said. “We believe it was this bluff that the town was named for because it is so prominent. The bluff and the surrounding bluffs are covered with cedar trees. The Eastern red cedar is prominent all over the area and throughout town.” Though the town was named for the bluffs, McGlothlin said it was local waterways that actually brought the first settlers to the area. “The town is where the Clinch River meets Indian Photo by Jim McGlothlin Creek,” he said. “When this area was first settled, a Festival fun... group of Shawnee camped Held each autumn, the Cedar Bluff Heritage Festival brings current and former area residents together to celebrate local history. here near the creek, which is really well preserved here in The influx of people coming especially around the time of now called Indian Creek. We Cedar Bluff, and we named in from the railroad brought the annual Cedar Bluff haven’t found any archaeoour historic district after it.” many new amenities to the Heritage Festival. logical sites, but there is a In addition to exporting town, McGlothlin said. “The heritage festival is the documented history and eyegoods made in the local mills, “The first high school that largest event in the town,” he witness reports from the first the Old Kentucky Turnpike was built in Tazewell County said. “In 2012, we had 20,000 European settlers to the area also brought the Civil War to was Cedar Bluff High people attend with 109 venthat mention the Shawnee Cedar Bluff in 1864, School,” he said. “The first dors. The festival started in being there.” McGlothlin said. post office in town was the 1970s as a way to help It was the water power of “Cedar Bluff became a named Cedar Bluff. There educate people about the histhese two rivers that made crossroads for transportawas another post office called tory of the area and it has white settlers decide to stop tion,” he said. “In fact, there Indian Village that also opergrown. We have historic carin the area. was a Civil War battle in the ated on the other end of riage rides down town, salt “Cedar Bluff was founded in town because of that. Union town.” making, apple butter making 1800 and there were people soldiers were coming down The town was actually and a Civil War encampment setting the area prior to from Kentucky and heading incorporated twice. The first downtown. The trees make it then,” McGlothlin said. “This to Saltville, Va. to capture the incorporation occurred in a beautiful time to have the was mainly due to the water saltworks there. They ran 1895, but was withdrawn festival. The overlook is power of the Clinch River. into a group of Confederate after the town’s population beautiful in any season, but it troops in town, which led to a and revenue did not coincide The two had two major grist is especially beautiful in the battle. We mills and with Virginia incorporation fall when the maples on the Contributed photo have a hislaws. The town was then offiopposite side are changing two large History... toric markcially incorporated again on colors. They always make the textile The birthplace of George C. Peery in 1873. er for the Jan. 12, 1913. fall stunning in Cedar Bluff.” mills. The battle at the Cedar Bluff also became way the Cedar Bluff home to arguably one of the river Overlook most notable figures in flowed and at the Tazewell County history. allowed for post office, “The town was the birtheasy which was place of George C. Peery in damming looted dur1873,” McGlothlin said. “He of the river ing the batserved two terms in the 9th as well as tle. The Congressional District of use by the Vi r g i n i a Virginia before being elected mills. One Civil War the governor of Virginia in of those Trail is also the 1930s. U.S. Route 460 grist mills located in through this area has since is still town.” been named in his honor.” standing When the While mineral springs once and was war was brought tourism to the city, built prior over, the McGlothlin said the beautiful George C. Peery to the Civil town found views of the area from the War. The its economy bluffs are what mainly old woolen mill was owned by reshaped by the arrival of the attracts today’s visitors. the Goodwin family for more railroad to the region. “The bluffs are an impor“The railroad came to the than 100 years and made tant part of our community area in the late 1800s,” still,” he said. “They are on beautiful cotton and woolen McGlothlin said. “The railthe official town seal and goods. The water power was road changed the area in two people go up to the park to the original reason why a lot major ways. It caused the see the overlook all the time. of people chose to settle development of the mineral They had to cut through the here.” waters in the area, which bluffs when U.S. Route 460 The cedar trees provided brought in a lot more people. came through the area, lumber for some of the earliIt also allowed the mills to which makes for a very sceest buildings in town. grow exponentially. The mills nic drive. The bluffs bring a “Some of the local woods no longer had to use wagons. lot of visitors to the area. We were undoubtedly used in get a lot of attention from They could send out more construction,” McGlothlin goods and send them out wildlife groups because of said. “There was also a lumthe endangered wildlife in much more quickly through ber mill located in town for the rivers and the black the railroads.” some time, which was also bears, deer and foxes that The railroad also brought a powered by the river.” live on the bluffs. We’ve had new industry to the town: The economic power of the black bears spotted recently health-related tourism. mills made the town an by visitors up on the bluff.” “People would come in on important crossroads in The park is also popular the railroad from all over to Tazewell County, McGlothlin with local visitors for events, take the mineral water in the said. McGlothlin said. area for their health,” “The Old Ke n t u c k y “The town operates the McGlothlin said. “The Blue Turnpike came right through park and we pretty much Sulphur Inn was built next to the town and many of the have it booked throughout the railroad. It was a fourbuildings from the area when story hotel and a lot of people the summer and into the that was built are still standfall,” he said. “It’s very popuwould stay there while they ing,” he said. “The Old lar for weddings, birthday were drinking from the minKentucky Turnpike was char- eral springs in the area. The parties, both class and family tered by the Virginia Hotel Monticello was also reunions and other events.” Legislature to extend from started around the area to Of course, the fall is always Tazewell County into cater to all of the people the most popular time for visKe n t u c k y. A section of it is coming in on the railroads.” itors to come to the overlook,


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section III 7

File photo

Songs in the air... The family farm of Russell and Pat Synan on top of Peel Chestnut Mountain has long been the center of community events. Local residents and returning visitors gather each Fourth of July for fireworks while the area’s foliage is enjoyed each fall at the annual Pumpkin Festival.

Some of the best views can be seen from Peel Chestnut Mountain By KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph POCAHONTAS, Va. — When it comes to enjoying the beautiful color of fall leaves or sparkling fireworks many local residents think the best view can be found from the top of Peel Chestnut Mountain. The family farm of Russell and Pat Synan on top of Peel Chestnut Mountain has long been the center of community events. Local residents and returning visitors gather each Fourth of July for fireworks while the area’s foliage is enjoyed each fall at the annual Pumpkin Festival. At both events, members of the community come out to enjoy hayrides, fellowship, bluegrass and gospel music as well as the fried bologna sandwiches for which the events have become known. Debbie Green of Pocahontas, Va. said both events are regular celebrations for her family. “We come up here every year,” she said. “We just live down the road, so we always try to come for both the fireworks and the pumpkin festival. It lets you see family and

friends you don’t see often. The food and music are great. When you live in a small community, especially one where a lot of people have moved away, it’s important to have a place where people can come back and get together. We see a lot of people who grew up here. They bring their children and grandchildren. You see multiple generations of families at these events.” Mary Carbaugh of Bluefield, Va. said the music is often her favorite aspect of both festivals. “We used to live here years ago and come back for both the fireworks and the pumpkin festival,” she said. “The pumpkin festival is fun but the fireworks are my favorite. It gets so dark up here and they show up so well. It’s a beautiful view from here too. It’s a good thing for the community. You always run into someone you know.” Jay Hart of Princeton said going to the festivals at the Synan farm is like taking a trip home. “It reminds me of going to my grandparents’ house,” he said. “They feed you, you listen to music and you see people. You see the same people

year after year. It’s just like the farm my grandparents had. It brings everyone back together and shows you how tight knit the community is. You can have a good conversation with everyone you meet here.” Mike Sawyers of Bluefield, Va. said the event is a great opportunity for families to get together. “People are so nice and it’s a good family thing,” he said. “I bring my daughters and they love getting to do the hayrides and painting the pumpkins. It’s a fun family event. The fireworks displays are nice and it’s a good place to hear both bluegrass and gospel music. Being up here makes you feel like you are on top of the world.” While the farm is a wellknown community gathering spot, Russell Synan considers the area first and foremost home. Synan said his family has lived on the property he still calls home since the late 1800s. “My father was here by at least 1898 and my oldest brother was born on this property in 1900,” Synan said.

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8 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

Views... Continued from 7 “I was born here and, outside of a few short stints away from home, I have been here all my life. I am the youngest of the 14 siblings and I am the only one now surviving. All of us were born home up on the mountain. I still live in the house where I was born. It has changed a lot since I was little, but its still home. We didn’t have a big fancy house, but we had a lot of love. We all got along well and had a lot of love in our family. We have a lot of good memories of growing up in this house and on the mountain.” Synan said his father sold food grown out of the farm out of a truck to support the growing family. “It was a lot of hard work growing up on the mountain,” Synan said. “My father had us working in the fields from a young age. I remember being out in the fields pulling weeds and pouring water when I was very small. My father was a truck farmer and grew tomatoes, strawberries, tomatoes, green beans, corn, turnips and all sorts of vegetables. My father made his living farming up here.” While a good pit of work went into maintaining the farm, Synan said there was also time for having fun as well. “We got together on Sunday and play balls with our neighbors,” Synan said. “We would pitch horseshoes and play touch football. We would play a lot of sports together. We also got together and played music. We weren’t professionals by any long shot, but we would pick on the back porch. My father loved music. We played a lot of croquet and we still play croquet and have a tournament up here between the family every year. When family comes in we have about 30 people playing croquet. When I was small we had a small croquet set and now we have a large one to play with. We have relatives who come in from Minnesota, Georgia, and both the Carolinas for that reunion.” Synan opened his family farm up to the local public roughly two decades ago when he hosted the first Peel Chestnut Mountain Pumpkin Festival. “We have been doing the

fireworks and the pumpkin festival for about 20 years,” Synan said. “The pumpkin festival started before the fireworks. When I was working for the electric company I was working in a community around Huntington where they had a pumpkin festival. I saw it and thought I could do the same thing up where I lived. I talked to my neighbors and we started it up here.” Soon, Synan said his home became the center of local Fourth of July fireworks displays as well. “The fireworks started between my house and Pocahontas with Woody Milliner,” he said. “However, he didn’t have room for all the cars to park and so he asked me if he could use my farm. He brought the fireworks off here so we would have more room to shoot them off.” The popularity of the festivals has grown throughout the years as many former area residents return home just to attend. Synan said more than a thousand people may come up for each festival. “They have really grown over time,” Synan said. “We will see between 1,000 and 2,000 people come up for both festivals. A lot of them are people who have moved away and come back here for the festivals to visit, especially during the pumpkin festival when the foliage is so beautiful. It is great to see people come back that have moved away. We have several people who come in just for the Pumpkin Festival.” Synan said the festivals have become a way for him and his wife Pat to catch up with members of the community as well as old friends who have left the area. “I just started to have fun and it grew and grew,” Synan said. “Now my wife and I like seeing all the people, socializing with them and it is something for people to do. We don’t make money off of it, but people are good to us and contribute to it so we can keep these things going. People help buy the fireworks and give donations for the food. My wife Pat gets out and gets people to come in and help her. She has loves organizing things and getting everyone together.” Fried bologna sandwiches have also become an integral

part of both festivals, but Synan said he isn’t really sure how the tradition was started. “We are noted for the fried bologna sandwiches,” Synan said. “I don’t know how that started exactly. One year we just made those bologna sandwiches — probably because bologna meat was cheap — and people said they liked them. At least, people said they liked them. People tell me all the time they love those bologna sandwiches.” Pat Synan said the farm still gets many visitors during the fall. “McDowell County sends the school kids to the pumpkin patch here,” she said. “We have about six to 10 days of kids out here every year. We plant the giant pumpkins in May and the regular ones the first week of June. We have to plant a lot because we can have thousands of people at the pumpkin festival. You work yourself to death, but when you see everyone up here laughing and having fun it is really worth your while. It is rewarding to see everyone having a good time.” Pat Synan said a wide variety of people come to the annual events on the farm. “This is a small community, but a lot of people grew up here,” she said. “A lot of people use these festivals to come back home. We have had people from as far away as California and England come to the festivals. We just want people to have a good time.” The beauty of the land makes both of the Synans feel a little closer to heaven. “ Russell once told me that God blessed him with this place so he will never charge anyone to see it,” Pat Synan said. “We’re both so blessed and just want to share the sheer beauty of it.” Most of all, Synan said he enjoys having an opportunity to bring the community together. “People in the community really appreciate it,” he said. “I love getting to meet people and see old friends again. I love getting to listen to the music, especially all the local musicians. We love getting to fellowship with our neighbors and old friends who have come back. We meet new friends every year. It is just a fun thing for everyone involved.”


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section III 9

Photo by Rodney Davis

In the winter... Fresh snow covers the top of Peter’s Mountain and the rocks for which Hanging Rock received its name.

Paradise... Continued from 4 by the U.S. Forest Service. They purchased the tower and the surrounding land in 1983 and incorporated it into the national forest. Last year they replaced the steps and painted the inside. There is no staff even during the migration season. The tower is always open and is used by hikers on the Allegheny Trail year round.” Davis said Hanging Rock’s location makes it ideal for official counts of hawks as well as bird watching in general. The views from the tower allow visitors to see miles and miles of mountains as well. “The raptor migration data is sent to The Hawk Migration Association of North America by our head counter, Jim Phillips,” Davis said. “The HMANA collects data from every watch sight in North America. On occasion there will be someone at the tower recording migrant

monarch butterflies and migrant dragonflies. We keep data on 12 species of hawks, eagles and falcons. Last year 6,180 total migrants were recorded. Hanging Rock is the only watch site in West Virginia that sends data to HMANA. And while we don’t get the numbers that some sites get, there isn’t anywhere you can go to get a closer look at the birds. Because of this, Hanging Rock is considered to be the second best place east of the Mississippi to hawk watch.” However, Davis said the tower was almost lost completely to bird watchers. “The importance of Hanging Rock Tower was made evident in 1996 after vandals burned it to the ground,” he said. “There was so much public outcry that, at great expense, it was rebuilt using the original plans. It was clear that it wasn’t just a hawk watch, but a part of the community, and history, of Monroe County. People come to learn about hawks and vultures and their

importance to our ecosystem, but they also come to picnic, meet with friends, reflect on childhood visits, and take in the scenery from one of the few places in West Virginia that affords one an unobstructed 360 degree view of over 50 miles.” Davis said more volunteers are always needed to help out with the hawk count and bird watchers are welcome to the tower year-round. “Our web site www.hangingrocktower.org has information on count data, photos, directions to the tower, and tips for first time visitors,” Davis said. “People can also email the site at info@hangingrocktower.org if they have any questions about the tower or the count. It is a hike of a little less than a mile from the parking area on Limestone Hill Road to the tower. Everyone is encouraged to participate in the count, whether you are an experienced birder, or someone who is interested in learning raptor identification.”


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10 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

File photo

What a view... The scenic view from the overlook guarantees visitors will still come to the area.

Overlook... Continued from A-1 Park in Bluefield today because they remember riding it as a kid. They bring their children and grandchildren to ride it as well. When the push started to save the Ridge Runner we raised a lot of money from the people who remembered riding the train on the mountain in their childhood. It was a community effort and everyone stepped up to the plate.” However, the construction of I-77 and the opening of the East River Mountain Tunnel diverted traffic from the overlook. “When I-77 came through I would say about 75 percent of the traffic through that area went away,” Riley said. “Most people don’t know its still there or don’t take advantage of it. It is still a very beautiful place with a great panoramic view.” When construction began on U.S. Route 460 below the mountain, Meachum said the overlook began attracting hang gliders to the area. “When they constructed U.S. Route 460 down below the overlook, there were hang gliders that came to the area,” he said. “Apparently, that section of East River Mountain is one of the best for hang gliding in the area. They would run off the top of the mountain and glide down to the site where they were building the roadway. People

from all over would come up to watch them jump and glide off the mountain. It was really something to see.” Meachum said work is still done to maintain the overlook, even though it is not as prominent as it once was. “The current look with all the bricks and the wall was done as part of a restoration effort during the 1980s,” he said. “This past summer, we had the Boy Scouts down as part of the jamboree to work on landscaping and cleaning the place up.” Blackwell said it was the fond memories that many in the area had of the overlook that prompted the restoration of the area. “Years later, the overlook has been restored on this breathtaking overlook that is located high above the two Bluefields,” Blackwell said. “ With assistance from the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, Mercer County Convention and Vi s i t o r s Bureau, the City of Bluefield, Region I Planning and Development, the Hugh Ike Shott Foundation and many others, the restoration project became a reality.” The scenic view from the overlook guarantees visitors will still come to the area, Blackwell said. “Visitors and locals alike can experience the scenic views of Bluefield and the East River Valley at 3,500 feet above sea level from the scenic overlook,” Blackwell said. “The overlook offers observa-

tion deck, hiking trails, restrooms and picnic shelters, tables and grills. October especially is a busy month for viewing fall foliage while the spring and summer months host an array of greenery and flowers for viewing. Birds and wildlife are abundant in areas s u rrounding the overlook.” Though the way people come into Bluefield has changed, Meachum said the view from the overlook remains as beautiful as ever. “The view is still spectacular from the overlook,” Meachum said. “Anytime of year you go up there you will see something different. In the winter time, you can spy houses from the area and get a real panoramic view of the area. In the fall, the colors are just beautiful. A lot of people drive over the mountain then and we get a lot of calls from people inquiring about the area because they want to see the leaves in the fall.” The area still holds many memories for local residents as well, Meachum said. “A lot of memories are tied into that area because of how well-traveled the area was and memories of the Ridge Runner,” he said. “A lot of people return to the area to see the overlook. Class reunions will hold picnics up there. The people who came that way in the early days always saw it, but with the highway changing routes it’s become more of a hidden treasure for the area.”


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section IV 1

Pieces of our puzzle: Downtowns Country roads Vistas

Home Fields

Currents Horizons

Staff photo by Tom Bone

Play ball... The athletic fields above James Monroe High School include the football field with its bleachers, foreground; the softball field, at far left; the baseball field, center background; and a football practice field, far right.

H.E. Comer Jr. Sports Complex Home fields for James Monroe High School were massive undertaking and labor of love By TOM BONE Bluefield Daily Telegraph INDSIDE — To carve four spacious athletic fields from a limestone ridge in southern Monroe County took a lot of foresight, labor and money. The home fields for James Monroe High School, known collectively as the H.E. Comer Jr. Sports Complex, are named after the man who had the foresight and wrangled extensive labor and money two decades ago to make it happen. By the 1990s, the county school board owned some woods and steep meadowland uphill from the existing vocational-technical school near the tiny community of Coulter’s Chapel. When the long-debated proposal to merge Peterstown and Union high schools into a single countywide public school was finally approved, that site was chosen for the new building. The county did not have nearly enough funds to construct outdoor athletic facilities. In fact, the gymnasium seating reportedly wound up being cut back to save money. The Monroe Sports Foundation, with Comer at the forefront, stepped in to see to it that the new Mavericks teams would have a football/soccer field, softball and baseball diamonds, and a practice field to call their own in one convenient span, just uphill from their school. They started measuring distances, bought a few adjacent parcels of land, and went to work raising funds and soliciting volunteer help. Don Jackson, the first football coach in Mavericks’ history, recalled being introduced to the plan. “When I went up there for the first meeting, they took me up there,” Jackson said. “He (Comer) showed me where the football field was going to be. It was just a ridge. I said, ‘There is no way.’ ” “They just cut the whole top

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File photo by Tom Bone

Practice day... The James Monroe Mavericks football team runs a play on their practice field in Lindside in this file photo. of the ridge off ... . They just flattened it all. It was just kind of amazing to me.” “It turned out pretty decent,” the now-retired coach said with his usual understatement. Another retired coach, Steve Ballengee, said, “For a little town and a little school to try to move the dirt that we had to move, it was a real great accomplishment.” Ballengee said, “H.E. was the wheel. ... He was easygoing, but at the same time he was extremely smart. I mean, brilliant. He got an engineering degree from WVU; he was an engineer for NASA.” “He could get things done,” Ballengee said. “You have to have a chief. Somebody’s got to be the man — and he was.” Jackson said about Comer, “He was kind of a unique guy.

He was really relentless in his pursuit to build that complex up there.” “When they decided to consolidate ... I didn’t really think we would ever have what we have,” said Jackson, who had coached at Peterstown. “He got the community together, got a lot of people involved. ... He spent every day up there.” “I think he wanted to leave something to the community and all. ... He did a fantastic job. I don’t know of anyone else down here who could have pushed it through the way he did.” Monroe County’s legislator in the House of Delegates at the time, Mary Pearl Compton, helped convince the National Guard to bring in heavy equipment for site preparation, Jackson recalled.

“She got them to come down with their dozers and stuff,” Jackson said. “They worked on the baseball field and practice field.” He said it gave the drivers practice in moving large quantities of earth and rock while serving a larger purpose. “I thought it was pretty good,” Jackson said. “They got something accomplished instead of just busy work.” The coach started naming contractors and construction companies from all portions of the county who helped out as the project developed. At one point, he said, “You know, I’d hate to leave anybody out. It was a long time ago. ... Almost everybody in our community was involved,” he said. “Good gosh, all kinds of people.”

“We had so much individual made the state tournament help. I had two brothers that twice and the baseball team were there almost every day, reached the states once. The and myself. My best buddy up girls basketball team won here was a brick mason, three state Class AA champiRonnie Brown. He (and the onships in a four-year span. men working for him) did The outfield fences of the bunches of brick work, and softball and baseball fields most of the masonry.” are practically back-to-back. Ballengee and Jackson perBoth facilities have two-story sonally spread grass seed on press boxes, utilitarian the newly-leveled football dugouts and plenty of space field, aboard a 1951 8-N Ford in foul territory. tractor. At the Jackson west end of When the digging, the football would scramble field is the seeding, pipelines back to the Terri W. seeder to Jones and fencing were coax it to Training drop its conFacility, nearly complete, tents uniconsisting formly, of locker Jackson said, ‘Mr. Ballengee rooms, said. showers, a Comer said it was “It (the weight grass) was and a appraised for over a room beautiful, laundry when it first area. million bucks.’ game up,” Jones was Ballengee a basketball said. and softball Jackson said, “We were all coach at Peterstown who died digging footers, bolting in a car wreck a few years bleachers together. It was before the athletic fields were kinda fun. People enjoyed completed, Jackson said. The being together and doing community donated thouthings together. We had a lot sands of dollars in her memoof help, some people I didn’t ry. even know.” Jackson said the two main “It was just fantastic, to get banks in the county, the Bank a lot of done without a whole of Monroe in Union and the lot of tax money.” First National Bank of Jackson said the H.I. Shott Peterstown, were generous. Jr. Foundation provided Steve McNeer of the Union money to put the lights in for bank was the treasurer of the the football field, “and sports foundation, and Bill Appalachian Power kicked in, Bailey in Peterstown helped installing the lights,” he said. raise funds from that end of He said that a local citizen, the county. Beecher Crim, donated a genWhen the digging, seeding, erous sum to help pay for alupipelines and fencing were minum football bleachers that nearly complete, Jackson would seat at least 3,000 peosaid, “Mr. Comer said it was ple, the threshold required by appraised for over a million the state governing body to bucks.” host a playoff game. It didn’t take long before A brick memorial to Crim’s others noticed what the citiwife stands near the entrance zens of Monroe County had to the football stands. been able to accomplish. Playoffs became a recurring Jackson said that when reality for the football team, coaches from other schools which made the postseason first visited Lindside, “They 13 times in a 15-year span were just amazed, that we got from 1995 to 2009. Comer, 9 The girls’ softball team has


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2 Section IV Sunday, September 29, 2013

America’s pass-time Baseball has a long and colorful history in the Two Virginias By BOB REDD Bluefield Daily Telegraoh LUEFIELD — Baseball has been a popular sport in the two Virginias from the time railroad workers and coal miners came to the area in the 1880s until the present time. While there have been amateur teams in communities for more than 130 years, professional baseball dates to the 1920s and has been a constant in the region. At present the Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays are the area’s pro teams, but in the past there were also teams in Welch. The area’s first professional team was the 1924 Bluefield Blue-Grays who played in the Coalfield League and the field was located on Bluefield’s East End near the presentday location of the building that houses Frye Roofing. In 1936 as part of a Works Progress Administration project, Bowen Field was built at its current location with a wooden, covered grandstand. The first game at the field was on May 14, 1939, between the Blue-Grays and the Welch Miners, both members of the Class D Mountain State League. Baseball great Stan Musial played in the league with the Williamson team, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

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Bluefield was a farm team of the Boston Braves. The Appalachian Le a g u e had been in operation in the 1920s and ‘30s, but Bluefield was not a member. In 1946 the league underwent a re-o r g a nization and at that time Bluefield joined and has been a stable member ever since, the exception coming in 1956, when the Appy League did not operate. Bluefield had periods where it was affiliated with the Washington Senators, Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox before teaming up with Baltimore in 1958 to form what would become the longest affiliation between a major league team and a minor league city. From 1958 until 2010, the Bluefield Orioles were a mainstay in Appalachian League baseball and on the minor league landscape. The 53-year affiliation between the Orioles and Bluefield is not likely to be equaled in this day where teams more frequently change their affiliations. From 1948 to his passing in 1995, George Fanning was general manager of Bluefieldís professional baseball clubs. George McGonagle has, from 1995 served as president of Bluefield Baseball Inc., the group that operates minor league baseball in the

Baseball, 7

Contributed photo

Going to a ball game... Blakely Field was home of the Welch Miners, a professional baseball team in the Class D Mountain State League and the Appalachian League from 1937 to 1955. The Eubanks National Guard Armory sits today on the site of the field. Part of the stadium’s wall still exists.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section IV 3

Outdoor sports lead to Bland County By BRIAN WOODSON Bluefield Daily Telegraph ASTIAN, Va. — The ‘hot corner’ could really be hot for Norman Dillow as a member of the Bland High school baseball team. Dillow, a 1982 graduate of Bland, was a third baseman for the Rockets, playing on a diamond that doubled as the fairgrounds in the town of Bland. “If you had a horse show or a tractor race before the game, you were going to get some bad hops in the infield,” said Dillow, with a smile. That is no longer a problem. The Bland County baseball program now plays at Skip Dillow Memorial Field, which has been transformed into one of the better facilities in the area. “This field was just a skinned infield and full of rocks and old 1940 style dugouts, no side fencing or anything like that,” Dillow said. “It is not quite where we want it yet, but it is good and it is getting better and we are proud of it.” They should be. The facility is not only home to the Bland County Bears, but also to the Yo-Na Invitational, which has become a staple of small school baseball each April in the region. “Everyone kept coming in here and telling us that we have one of the best high school facilities around and how much they enjoyed playing here,” Dillow said. “We are always in need of funds for something so it just seemed like a good fit for us.” When it comes to sports played outdoors, all roads lead to Bland County Athletic Fields in Bastian. Name a sport played outside, other than tennis which is held across from Bland High School, and it is played on this complex that includes facilities for high school and youth baseball, football and softball. “There are a few other places (for recreation), but as far as other sports, they are all played right in this stretch,” Dillow said. Bland County is a rural community with a small population and limited financial resources. Yet, that hasn’t prevented efforts to make sure local youth are served. “This community will support anything that is positive for the kids and anything beneficial they will get behind you 100 percent,” Dillow said. “It is just a great place to live, anytime you want to do something helpful you will have people lined up to assist you.” Dillow should know. It is through the cooperation of the community, through monetary donations or volunteer assistance, that the current baseball field has become such a popular venue. The same goes for the rest of the recreational complex. “If is was not for the community we wouldn’t have it,” Dillow said. “You see the signs out on the outfield fence and it doesn’t look like a great many, but when you start thinking it is almost every business in Bland. “The businesses and people around here are great. If you are trying to do something positive and do something especially for youth, they will get behind you 100 percent.”

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Contributed photo

New look... A look at the revamped Bland County baseball field from center field. The baseball field has existed in Bastian for many years, even when Dillow was in school. For years, all that stood on the left side of the road in this part of the county was the now-closed Bastian Elementary School, the baseball field and lots of empty fields. “I am not sure when they first built the baseball field over here, when I was little there was one here, but it was pointing in the opposite direction,” Dillow said. “When Rocky Gap started up their high school baseball program, they put in the initial field and the outfield fence and turned it in this direction. When the schools combined then we both started playing over here, and it has been the way it is right now since like 2006.” It has changed much since then, with Dillow leading the way. An investigator with the Department of Corrections, he has assisted with Bland County athletic programs for nearly two decades. “Anybody that does a high school sport has got to have a love of for it, they won’t do it for the money,” Dillow said. “Plus, Bland is such a small school system because the community is so small that most coaches are not affiliated with the school, they just don’t have the numbers to do it.” That hasn’t stopped Dillow, who played baseball and basketball at Bland — tennis was the only other sport offered at the time — from staying involved in his first love. “I am from Bland County, I played baseball at Bland, baseball was just always my

sport and I always enjoyed it,” Dillow said. “I like being active with the school, prior to that I had helped with football a little bit. I like being around the kids and helping the school and I love baseball. My family loves baseball so it was just a natural fit.” Dillow helped began the process of transforming Bland County baseball eight years ago. “It is something where we have tried to do something to improve it every year,” he said. “The big push was at the end of ’05 and the beginning of ’06, we launched a big project to do most of the available stuff that you see. Sometimes these type of projects can run into snags, such as lack of money or help, but that was never a problem for Dillow. “I wanted the kids to have something good, I knew what it was like when I played in Bland County” Dillow said. “The schools do the best they can with athletics, but, one, that is not their number one responsibility, and two, money is so tight that they are limited. “We just decided to go out and do what we could do piece by piece and people in the community got behind us and in about six months we raised about $25,000. With a lot of volunteer labor and effort, we were able to do most of what you see.” Among those who have always been willing to help are Todd Havens, Jason Lambert and Robbie Pauley, all of whom Dillow says have put in more time than him on the baseball facility in recent years.

“If it wasn’t for people like that, and I hate to list them because there are so many I would leave somebody out, but those three guys in particular are always here ready to do something” Dillow said. “Anytime I come up with an idea or something we need to do or something needs fixed, they are right on top of it. “There are just a number of people in the community who would have a special skill or whatever and if we need them and call up on them they are right down here helping us immediately.” The additions have been many, including dugouts, fencing around the field, a well-manicured field — even if the outfield is used for football practice — bleachers and a press box. All that labor was free, with Dillow getting help from the Bland Correctional Center, along with Bluefield brickmason Joe Shrader and local carpenter Howard Carter. “Businesses and individuals here in the community and tons and tons of volunteer

labor,” Dillow said. “The prison down here provided the work force that did all the construction. “They sent up a carpenter crew and a brickmason class for about a month and a half and built this whole structure. The work is excellent, the time period, they did it in the dead of winter and built it in about six weeks.” The finished product was well worth the effort. “They enjoy it, of course the prison tries to be community oriented and do things like that for the schools in various counties around this area,” Dillow said. “It was good for them and it was great for us because it wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for them. “I can’t lay block or build nothing…We had expert craftsmen working for free, you can’t beat that.” There were no snags or issues along the way. “The surprise was how smooth everything went, and just how quick it was,” Dillow said. “It was just a matter of

months and we raised the funds and I was just amazed by the amount of money that we raised is just a short period of time… “I have learned a lot of stuff dealing with a baseball field, the main thing I have learned is who is an expert in different fields and make sure I get them in here.” While the work continues, the facility itself was then named for Skip Dillow, a longtime supporter of baseball in Bland County, who is remembered long after his death for his love of the game. “Skip was a gentleman over in Bland that was involved as long as I can remember until the day he died with baseball in the county and the little league and high school, church softball, anything involving a baseball field,” Dillow said. “Skip would be there helping out or playing, either one, preferably playing. “He was just involved in baseball so much in the community and everybody had

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4 Section IV Sunday, September 29, 2013

Tradition dwells on the home fields of Concord University By TOM BONE Bluefield Daily Telegraph THENS — For more than a century, students have been putting on uniforms with the name “Concord” on them to represent the teacher- t r a i ning school that became a college and ultimately a university on the eastern edge of Athens. The fields and courts on which they play, and around which thousands have gathered to watch, have gone through considerable evolution in more than a century of athletic competition at the state-assisted school. Three Concord presidents were responsible for the home sites that draw the largest number of fans annually: Callaghan Stadium, the Carter Center and Anderson Field. ••• Football began at Concord in the 1890s, first organized by the school’s principal at the time, George Ford, a former lineman for the West Virginia University football team (back when they were called the Snakes, rather than the Mountaineers). The first Concord State N o rmal School football games were reportedly played at a plot called “Stump Field,” probably at the front corner of the current campus lawn at the intersection of Cooper and Vermillion streets. “Stump Field” was at the edge of a farm owned by the Vermillion family. The street that eventually bore that name was then known as the Red Sulphur Turnpike. The school building itself at that time was located near the middle of town, where Athens School is now located, along State Street. Concord moved to its current campus in 1911, and the football field and baseball field were eventually established behind the administration building, taking up part of the space on which the Alexander Fine Arts Center now sits. A small five-sided brass marker in the lawn between Marsh Hall and the fine arts center marks the location of home plate for the old baseball diamond. The public address announcer for Concord football for 50 years, Professor Emeritus Harry Finkelman, described announcing games at that field in the fall of 1948, his first year at the school. “I ran up and down the sidelines with 50 yards of mike cord,” he said. Concord President Virgil Stewart spearheaded a campus building plan in the 1950s and a new football stadium took shape, using a natural hillside on the easternmost edge of campus. In September 1956, Concord played its first home game at its current location, a 19-13 loss to Salem College. The hillside that fall contained one n a rrow segment of bleachers. That humble beginning was gradually expanded to its current seating capacity of 5,000. George McKelvie, a center and linebacker in 1956, r e t u rned to the stadium for a team reunion 50 years later. He told the Daily Telegraph that day, “It was nice to have a new facility. We didn’t have much of a facility before that. We thought it was a big deal.” Phil Jeffries of Lerona played quarterback and linebacker on that team and said getting to use the new field “was quite a treat.” He said, “There was a lot of excitement. We had a large crowd and a lot of enthusiasm.” He also remembered, from close personal inspection at the conclusion of some plays, that “the grass was thin” during the field’s first season of use. The facility was named for f o rmer coach James B. Callaghan in 1966. A marker bearing his portrait stands near the entrance to the stadium, to the left of the path that years of fans have walked to enter the bleachers. Seven years ago this month,

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Concord University began play on a new synthetic surface of plastic strands of “grass” with a layer of rubber granules underneath. For the first time, lights were added, allowing night games to be played. A new scoreboard was also unveiled. Bluefield resident June O. Shott gave the vast majority of money for the renovation, a fter being convinced of the need by football coach-athletic director Greg Quick and Concord President Jerry Beasley. The synthetic field was named in Shott’s honor, though the venue retained the name Callaghan Stadium. Head coach Don Williams led Concord to its first conference football title in 1962, and has had its ups and downs in wins and losses since then. The Mountain Lions put together a 10-0 undefeated regular season in 1980, but lost in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. Under current coach Garin Justice, Concord won the conference championship again in 2011 and played in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Justice sees “lots of advantages” of playing at home, especially homecoming. “We have a very good crowd that always comes out for homecoming, and that’s imposing for another team (to face) when you can create some noise, and create a hostile environment. That always messes with you as a (visiting) team.” Justice said, “With home field advantage, there’s the comforts of sleeping in your own beds, of having your own food, of not having to ride in a bus for three or four hours. I think that’s the big part of home-field advantage that people don’t realize.” He said Concord’s long football tradition “means a lot” as well. This preseason, when the team was divided for practice purposes into two units, Justice named them the Colobro and Williams units in honor of former coaches Tony Colobro of Welch, an NAIA Hall of Fame honoree, and Marvin Williams, a defensive coordinator under Colobro who succeeded him as head coach. “Probably the golden years of Concord football has been when Coach Colobro and Marvin Williams were associated with this program,” Justice said. “That’s a way for us to honor the history of the program.” ••• Basketball at Concord goes back at least as far as the 1915, when the hardy players practiced on an outdoor court. The first permanent oncampus building to house the hoopsters was a gymnasium opened in 1924 in a curve of the road on the front drive of campus. With seating in a balcony arrangement above the playing floor, the gym was the home of the Mountain Lions for more than 40 years. The current home of Concord’s indoor sports, the Carter Center, opened in 1972, near the end of the administration of Concord President Joseph F. Marsh. The building was originally named Centennial Hall in recognition of the 100th a n n i v e r s a ry of the chartering of the school by the state legislature. The multi-level complex was renamed for a quiet pair of supporters of the university, Leslie and Ruby Webb Carter, in the late 1990s. In its last home game of 2011, the Concord men recorded the 1,000th win in program history, beating Virginia State University at the Carter Center. Of those wins, 387 came during the tenure of coach Don Christie, who also taught mathematics at Concord. He led the Lions to their first state conference basketball title in 1979 and repeated in 1989. Kent McBride is the 14th men’s head basketball coach in Concord history. He played point guard from 2002-06 for

Steve Cox, who was a coach on the Concord bench for 33 years, the last 22 as the head coach. The 1991 Concord team reached the NAIA championship tournament in Kansas City, Mo. McBride succeeded Cox as head coach in 2011. As a player and a coach, McBride has been impressed with the support that the Mountain Lions enjoy in their home environment. He said, “You look back at the time from 2002 and continuing now, Concord has always been known for its fan support. Teams don’t want to come here, especially when you’ve got a crowd of home students cheering for the home team.” “It makes us a team that’s very, very, very hard to beat, and it’s remained that way.” Though the building is now more than 40 years old, McBride said, “I think we do have a very nice place to play. We have a rich tradition. ... Some talk of an arms race in the conference (to build new gyms). I don’t necessarily believe in that.” He noted that the playing floor was refinished last year, and will soon be renamed for Cox and Christie. “I love where we play,” McBride said. “I love the tradition there. I can’t wait for the first home game, and the first game to be played on the C o x -Christie Floor.” The women’s basketball program was launched by the late Georgia Swan Kelley in the early 1970s. She also coached volleyball, softball and the cheerleaders in a Concord career that spanned more than a quarter century. The women’s hoops squad has also been coached by Russell Hill (1983-93), Will Johnson (1993-2000), and Kenny Osborne (2000-present). Osborne’s Concord teams have won 190 games. In 1987, the Concord volleyball and women’s basketball teams won the state conference tournament championships. ••• The Mountain Lions’ baseball team found a new home in 1980 with the dedication of Anderson Field on the northern fringe of campus. A steep hillside behind right field gives visitors a glimpse c o n c e rning the volume of mountainside that had to be leveled to provide a collegesized playing surface for baseball, and later intercollegiate soccer. The excavating and grading were done with heavy equipment brought in by the Anderson family of Princeton, who operated a company that specialized in surface mining of coal. J.W. Anderson was on the institution’s board of advisors. With the coal market in a slump in the late 1970s, Concord President M. N. Freeman suggested, and Anderson agreed, to put his idled workforce and their machines to work on the ballpark project. Anderson’s contribution, “in combination with state funds,” is memorialized in a plaque at the base of the stairway leading up to the field. The ballpark is almost completely ringed by a thick, mixed forest of pines and hardwood. The wind blowing from the north in the early spring can play tricks with fly balls, and can even deliver snowflakes for early-season games. Concord, which has had a baseball team since at least 1902, ended a 50-year drought of baseball titles when the Mountain Lions won the state conference baseball championship in 2001 under coach Kevin Garrett, now the institution’s athletic director. The Concord pitcher on the mound at the end of that game was Andrew Wright, who took over from Garrett as the Mountain Lions’ head coach in 2011. That spring, a fter a 10-year gap, Concord won the conference again.

Concord, 5

File photos

In Athens... Top, the 2012 first team offense of Concord University football gathers at Callaghan Stadium-June O. Shott Field in Athens. Next, Concord University guard Mike Boyd (23) gets by a Pitt-Johnstown defender in the Carter Center in Athens last season. Bottom, Concord University baseball coach Andrew Wright, left, and athletics director Kevin Garrett stand on the Anderson Field infield. Wright, a former player for Garrett, succeeded him as the Mountain Lions’ coach.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section IV 5

Gardner is where it is for little league By BRIAN WOODSON Bluefield Daily Telegraph ARDNER — When it comes to Little League in West Virginia, all roads lead to Gardner. No one knows that better than Stanley Six, whose tenure as the president of the Greater Princeton Little League continued in 2013, one year after the Princeton Tigers claimed the Class AAA state baseball championship. The Tigers didn’t forget ‘the old man’ during that celebration a year ago. “They are all the same bunch of kids that started out in T-ball here at Gardner Field,” Six said. “I walked on the field (in Charleston) and Corey Quick grabbed me and he said ‘give me some love old man’ and I told him ‘I changed your diaper.’ “When the parents say, ‘Well, you finally made it’, that was a lot to know that these kids had played together all those years. They are all good kids and they put every effort out to be good and I was glad to see them get on top.” ••• The preparation for that championship began in Gardner many years before. Six was there for the entire ride. “Those kids started out with me. Every one of them except one in T-ball,” Six said. “They came all the way through the league. I have had a good relationship with the parents and the kids and I am known as the ‘old man.’” Six retired as a supervisor from Norfolk Southern Railroad at the age of 55, and decided to help out at the GPLL for a good reason. “I got into this with my grandson,” he said. “Since then I have been here and he (Eric Six) is (23) years old.” Six has been able to use his vast network of connections to help bring in the funds needed to help run an organization that services more than 500 boys and girls each year, including 11 T-ball teams last year alone.

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Concord... Continued from4 The Mountain Lions and Wright won their second title in three years last spring — the last baseball championship of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which went out of existence this summer. Wright said, “I think what makes playing at Anderson Field so special is that it’s ours. It’s on campus. Our guys put a lot of time into making sure that we can play games. We spend the majority of our time there throughout the year.” “In 2000, my freshman year, when I was a player, I remember it like it was yesterday, when we beat Fa i rmont State in a play-in game (to advance in the state college tourn ament).” In addition to the bleacher seating, he said, “People lined up down the foul line, there were people hanging on the backstop, things like that. That’s really when you saw the program kind of turn the corner and become the perennial contender that we’ve been.” “That was a special time. It was one of the many steps, and one of the many moments, that made playing at Anderson Field so special.” The coach said potential recruits to the program find “that we have everything that we need at that complex, in order to develop our players.” He said the players are starting to adopt “a sense of ownership over that field, with the amount of time we put in.” “We joke all the time about ‘Anderson Field miracles.’ Twice this year we’ve shown up and there was an inch of snow on the field at 8 o’clock,

“There are a lot of things that led up to it, but it was the money,” Six said. “I could get more money than anybody else in the league and the money is the drive of Little League or anything else. If you have got the money you can make a mistake and still come out on top. “You have to go out and raise money. It takes anywhere from $50-to-55,000 a year to operate the park and you can’t do that sitting around, you have got to do it 12 months out of the year.” He has done just that, and now the facility that sits just off I-77 in Gardner has six fields for six leagues, including T-ball, coach-pitch, minor, major, senior and softball. The age groups range from 4 to 16, with the season starting in late April and usually not coming to an end until the final pitch of another state tournament, such as the one held in July. However, the work to begin the season starts much earlier for Six. “Every day is a Little League day,” said Six, once the registration for the upcoming season begins. “I enjoy it, making friends, laughing and joking with people and most of all, the kids.” Six has found the local merchants more than willing to help out with expenses, rather it be an ad in a program, blocks needed to build bathrooms or any other project that needs to be completed. “We are non-profit, we have to get out and raise every dollar we get and sometimes the money is hard to come by, but I would like to thank the people of Princeton and other sources where I have got money over the years to keep this project up and ru nning,” said Six, who added with a laugh. “They have been good to me. They would rather give me the money than keep me hanging around their business.” ••• Little League baseball began in Gardner by chance, with the help of Six’s father, Clarence Wade Six, who served on the Princeton

County Commission many years ago. “This was a facility owned by Mercer County and the county commissioners traded that land where the new courthouse is for these fields so they could build an annex at the courthouse,” Six said. From there, Anderson Construction Company, which was working on the football field at Concord (then) College, began the process of developing a Little League facility which Six says has a 100-year lease. “He built the Concord College football field and when it was finished he didn’t have no where to go with his equipment so the county let him put it on this land,” Six said. “While he was here to keep his men busy and the equipment running, he built two fields and that got it started. “He was the one that got it started and from then on we have been building and building and building.” The building continues, for good reason. “It is for the community, the people of Princeton,” Six said. “I think the word is pride, and if you have pride at the Little League field you have got the people that have pride in the city itself and everybody loves a winner.” Not only are there six fields in Gardner, but Six and a friend spent 16 months developing an old barn on the property into a practice facility that gets lots of use throughout the year. “If it is a rainy day and these kids that are in these tournaments, they can go to the barn and they can still practice,” Six said. “If you don’t have this facility, you go home. You have batting facilities and pitching facilities, and cots on the side for the parents to talk about each other.” The building projects aren’t complete. He hopes to develop another facility adjacent to the barn on the property. “The barn was built in 1930 and it was falling in and I raised the money to restore that barn and there is a lot next to it that in the past I have dreamed of putting a

and then at 1 or 2 o’clock, we’re playing a doubleheader.” “That was (due to) us having the will of getting out there and getting snow off, pushing it,” Wright said. “Our guys know how to get the thing ready, because ... you want to play, you’ve got to make sure your field is ready to go.” “That’s how we’re as successful as we are, because we put ourselves in the position to play all of our games. This year you’re allowed to schedule 50, and we played all 50. We’ve never looked at (bad weather) as an excuse. I look at it (as though) we have 40some groundskeepers who can move snow, move a rake ... to get the field ready.” The wind that can sweep across the ridge has a homefield effect of its own. “It’s interesting, some of the home runs that have been hit there, like when Greyson Schram was a senior,” Wright said. “Some of them have gone a long, long way. That’s just a matter of playing at your own park. “You’ve got other ballparks, and a guy really squares the ball up, and you think maybe it’s got a chance (to clear the fence). At least, at Anderson Field, you know, as soon as the ball’s hit, it’s probably going to get out.” It’s not that the outfield fence is closer to home plate than some parks, which make use of the historic tradition of allowing different distances. “We have made a very strong effort to make sure that it is uniform, as uniform as it can be, all the way around, and within what the NCAA suggests for guidelines,” Wright said. “We want to make sure we are playing on a very standard, almost generic, field.” “I don’t want to ever be in

the situation where we’re r e c ruiting to play in our park,” he said “I want to recruit the best athletes, put them on the field and then we go out and win. I think that’s the best way to keep the door open to every potential difference-making skill — is to have an almost cookie-cutter-type field, and then we just go out and play.” Anderson Field is also home, in the spring months, to the intercollegiate soccer program, begun around 1990. The full-sized soccer pitch incorporates most of the baseball outfield. The women’s soccer program at Concord won its only state conference championship so far in 2002, capturing both the regular season and the postseason conference tournament. The Lady Lions also reached the state championship match in three of four years between 2006 and 2009, but were beaten each time. In the 2008 title match, after a scoreless bout in regulation and overtime, West Virginia Wesleyan denied Concord 4-3 via a penalty-kick shootout. ••• The 1956 Concord yearbook The Pine Tree contained an anonymous commentary, with a singular depth of wisdom, on the building projects on the campus. “A fter Today, there is always Tomorrow,” the quote read. “With far-seeing eyes, we build and hope and plan. Yesterday is but a memory; Today is soon gone, but Tomorrow lives forever.” The same can be said for athletic contests and the home fields on which those games are, have been and will be played. — Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com

park there,” Six said. “That will let everybody know that this was the ‘poor farm’ and people lived on these facilities back in the thirties. “I hope to build a park there and maintain it so people can come in and see the Little League facilities and the little park.” Six wants the park to not only draw in more folks, but to promote the history of the area. “I have people come here from Ohio that have played ball here and places like that and they would like to see something put up like that,” Six said. “If I can get with the historical society (on board), we should work it out. “I have already got the pictures of the people who grew up around here. There is a railroad that ran through this park and nobody even knew that so there is a lot of history here that needs to be brought forth before it gets lost.” ••• Six is proud that the Princeton Tigers baseball team, and many of the kids on the improving Pi k e Vi e w squad, got their start in Gardner, but realizes Little League is about much more than developing a championship team in the future. “People don’t quite understand what I think of Little League,” Six said. “Little League is a place for that little kid to play in the dirt, the big boy hits a home run, but most people think it is to build a high school team and all that, and you get your least help out of those people. “To me Little League is for little Johnny to put his picture up that will never play ball in high school, but he can always look back and say that is when I played for so and so coach. “Every kid dreams of playing Little League. Everyone on the team wants to be good, but it can’t happen that way, that is Little Le a g u e . ” Six, who watched that same Princeton baseball team win a senior league title in 2010, has seen what it takes to be successful. Many of those kids will play at the

college level, and that is also an accomplishment to be cherished. “It takes anywhere from 8 to 10 years to build a championship, you have got to have a certain group of kids and a certain coach that is willing to go 24/7 for baseball and you stay in it long enough you will develop into a good ball player,” said Six, who has numerous banners and photos on the walls at the GPLL headquarters, including one of that senior league title team. “Seven of those kids (in that picture) on the wall there got scholarships,” he added. “My dream, if I can get two kids off this field and two girls softball players to get a scholarship, I have done my job.” ••• State tournaments have become an annual affair in Gardner. It takes a lot of work by a dedicated collection of volunteers, including W.D. “Bill” Jackson, who can often be found on his mower working on maintaining the fields. “(He) makes all this happen,” said Six, who added that nothing would be possible without the help of volunteers, including the coaches of the various teams. “He is a volunteer, he is on the board, he is out there every day mowing some of these fields and making them look nice, he is a very loyal board member. “He wants a pretty park and I want a better park.” Six credits that Little League board with helping to make Gardner a top stop for baseball and softball in West Vi r g i n i a . “If it has got a good board and they are all after the same dream to make it better…you would have to say right now we are right at the top,” Six said. “We never did get the tournaments here before, but now we are the number one in the state to hold tournaments and that is due to good fields, running the operation and all of that is what makes a good tourn ament.” Over time Six has figured out what draws teams from

the across the state to Gardner. “It takes three things to have a successful tourn ament,” he said. “Good fields, clean bathrooms and a good concession stand, that is a tournament.” There is not a problem with any of those in Gardner. “We can hold them every year as of now,” Six said. “What the future remains I don’t know, but all roads lead to Gardner as long as you can get the fields in safe condition.” That is also not a issue. What Six likes most are smooth running tournaments full of good baseball or softball, and lots of fun for everyone involved. The winner isn’t always what is important. “I have held tournaments here at the championship game where they both leave and you can’t tell who won, that is when you have a good time, having a good time overrules losing,” Six said. “They are out there having a good time, it is competitive, but they don’t hold a grudge. “I would love to see it happen one year with the stands full of people.” ••• In exchange for bringing so much joy to children from across the state, the region surrounding the Gardner fields are also the beneficiary of a huge economic impact. Six is an avid supporter of making sure any improvements or needs go through local merchants. “I buy everything local, and it helps the community as a whole,” Six said. “They buy gas running back and forth to the ball games, they are coming in here with the coolers of food, but a Little League is something to be proud of and it is way ahead of most organizations around, in this area, not some areas, but this area.” The economic impact to the community from state tournaments is vital to Princeton and the surrounding areas. “They come down here and stay in the motels, eating and resting, played good ball and

Gardner, 9


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6 Section IV Sunday, September 29, 2013

Soccer is a family sport for father and son By TOM BONE Bluefield Daily Telegraph RINCETON — It’s been 21 years since Sean Dickerson took the field as a member of the first interscholastic soccer team at Princeton Senior High School. Now he’s watching his son Colton do the same. “He told me he was on the first team they ever had,” said Colton, a sophomore at PSHS. “I thought that was pretty amazing. Now I’m playing for them, too.” “A lot of people told me he used to be one of the best on the team. I thought it was pretty cool.” Rather than wait to be asked about how the sport used to be, Sean said, “I usually tell him a lot.” “When he starts complaining, I’m like, ‘Hey, you’re lucky. We played on fields that were old hayfields.’ And the stuff they play on today is kept up, all year long. Really nice stuff.” When the Tigers first organized a high school team, there was no spacious stadium with shiny bleachers like today’s girls and boys use at Everette K. Bailey Field. They played in a lot just down the road, where Princeton Primary School stands, Sean said. “Then there’s the equipment,” he said. “When I played back in ’92, we had long-sleeved shirts, cotton shirts. Now they’ve got nice satin, silk (shirts). It’s evolved tenfold (from) what it used to be.” At least the 1992 Tigers didn’t have to start learning the game from scratch. Sean said most of the players “had actually been together for three or four years ... . We’d been together playing rec league and (on) a travel team. So it was the same guys.” “It really wasn’t different,

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Bland... Continued from 3 been around him that played in the sport, it was just a logical fit that the field be named after him…We have a sign up there with his name on it and it gets published so every year somebody hears about him again.” A staple of area baseball has now become the Yo-Na Invitational. It was started four years ago to provide a small school baseball tournament for a week of high school baseball. “Being such a small school, you look around and you can see how it is to schedule similar programs to play,” Dillow said. “One of the biggest issues with that is travel so we thought we could get everybody here to one central location for a week and pair them up with schools they normally wouldn’t get to play, it would be a good for everybody. “It has worked out real well, we have been real happy with it.” That has helped the school, along with county to bring traffic into the community. “Absolutely, all the feedback on it we have got has been positive,” Dillow said. “I have not had anybody tell us they have a problem with it or had anything wrong with it so I am going to take that as it is going well. The fan turnout has been good, the participation by the schools has been good we are very happy with

Sean and Colton Dickerson except we were playing schools, now, instead of playing counties.” Introducing a new sport at the high school was not all smooth sailing. “A lot of the classmates were (into) football, because that’s all we’d ever had,” Sean said. “What helped us was, several of the football players used

to play soccer when they were younger. A lot of the football players tried to give us a hard time, but the football players that had played soccer stepped in and said, ‘Guys, YOU can’t do it.’ So it really wasn’t that bad.” “Our team was really good. We won two state titles right before we came into school (competition).”

it… “We have been closely affiliated with the county, they sponsored the Yo-Na Invitational and we feel like that is a positive reflection of the county and they have been very supportive of us. We have got a great relationship with the school board and the school system and the county, everybody is very supportive of us and helps us out any way they can.” Every year there is another task envisioned by Dillow. “I have always got a list of stuff and as the money is available and the right volunteers are available, we mark something off,” Dillow said. “Last year we put up new batting cages and went to two cages, that is something I have been wanting to do since we have been over here, the opportunity presented itself last year so we finally got done. “I keep a list of something I want to add and there is always something that needs to be repaired or fixed.” That is the way it is throughout the complex. If something needs to be done, efforts will be made to make it happen. David Lambert and Ed Selfe are just two area men who helped with the football field in the early 1990s, which eventually led to the creation of a football team that combines Bland and Rocky Gap high schools. “They started work down there and started a little league team and they brought that team up and as they rose

into the high school level, that is when Bland started having a high school football program.” Dillow said. “The softball field has come and gone over the years. It was a little league field when I was young and then it went away and was the football practice field for a long time and they rebuilt it and made it a softball field probably in the mid90s.” The two Little League facilities have also been added to area that also includes a building with a weight room adjacent to the baseball field, and a facility to store schools buses next to the football field. “They have got two little fields up there and they were built just like this one with community support and a lot of effort,” Dillow said. “The school owns all this land through here now so everything is pretty much here to stay.” Dillow’s baseball field is getting a break now. At least the infield does. The outfield serves as a practice field for the football team. “We have got to have a break and the field has got to have a break,” Dillow said. “It gets played to death, we have got to three teams practicing over here five days a week and three teams playing on it, and then the Yo-Na tourn ament so it gets played out and gets bare spots. “We have got to give it some time after the season to kind of recover and the grass build back up.”

“But back then, travel teams were just starting, and now, a lot of the kids play soccer all year ’round. They get on a travel team in Beckley or in Charleston. So the level of practice and the time that you put in is a whole lot more than what it used to be.” And what about community acceptance? “There’s a lot more of a following now, than what it was when I was playing,” he said. Everette Bailey, who died in January, was the first coach of the school team in 1992, and continued to coach the team, and mentor students, for decades. “Everette was a super-nice guy,” Sean said. “I knew him a LITTLE bit before he was my coach, but after he was my coach for that one year, I came back and helped him the next season.” “He was a 20-some-year friend, ever since that first year of playing (for him).” “He brought soccer a long way. He stayed with it. ... Everette and his wife Carol and his daughter Heather stayed with it a long time. They did well.” Sean is the junior varsity boys coach at Princeton. Asked what he gets out of coaching soccer, he said, “Steve Bailey (the current varsity coach) ended up saying I think it’s like 50 cent an hour, is what it adds up to be.” “But it’s not about the money. It’s about the kids, and (teaching) them the game, and the sportsmanship.” With the current program, Sean said, “We do some weight lifting. We try not to bulk them up too much. They do a lot of running, a lot of bleachers. And a lot of ball-tofeet. They go out and kick the ball to their feet, just play around.”

“The more you’ve got a ball to your foot, the better you are.” What’s special about soccer? “I used to play several different sports growing up, and I was pretty decent in all of them,” Sean said. “I just love the sport of soccer. It’s challenging, very challenging, and it’s not a one-man show. It’s a whole team. One man cannot win a game for you, and one man will not lose a game for you. It’s a whole team effort.” He said, “I don’t play now. I played in a small adult league, right out of school, ’93, ’94, ’95. My son was born in ’97, and after he turned the age of 4, I’ve been coaching him ever since.” Colton sampled several sports as a child, according to his father. Sean said, “He played soccer; he played baseball, basketball and football. He played football for a couple of years, baseball for a couple of years, while he was playing soccer at the same time.” “And he just stuck with soccer. He said, ‘That’s my sport. That’s what I like.’ I didn’t push him one way or the other. Whatever he wanted to play, he played — and trust me, he played it all. But he really liked soccer.” Colton plays mid defender. Sean said, “He plays defense, I played offense. He keeps people from scoring, and I used to score. ... I used to play with him all the time. Now, I can’t, so much. I try to, but you know, I’m a lot older than I used to be.” Colton said that his father “did a few drills with me that just helped with my footwork. ... He was really good (and) quick. He showed me how it would be in a game situation.” “He wanted me to try to drive him to the outside. I did pretty well.”

Sean said that he taught Colton “basic ball skills,” but their interaction meant more than learning soccer fundamentals. “Father-son time,” Sean said. “That’s the most that can come out of it.” Colton has been on his father’s JV team, but is now getting more time working with the varsity, he said. “The older team is a lot more physical, and stronger,” he said. He also plays for a travel team, Giles County United, “that goes a bunch of places in North Carolina and Virginia,” he said. Seeing the different styles of play and the talent level in travel soccer “really helps you,” Colton said. “Not every team is the same.” Because of his years of work in the sport, “I’ve gotten a lot better and a lot faster,” he said. In addition to his devotion to soccer, he is a drummer in the award-winning school band, and an honor roll student. How does he do it all at the same time? “I try and find time for all of it. Sometimes it’s hard,” he said. His parents find creative ways to help him meet his obligations. “They alternate days off and stuff,” Colton said. “They’re always trying to find me a ride.” Sean said, “He’s an excellent kid, an excellent student.” The bonds this father and son possess have grown by spending a lot of time at the soccer field. One is a coach now. One is a player. Both have common ground in their opinion of the game. “I love playing soccer and my friends do, too,” Colton said. Sean said, “It’s an awesome sport. I love it.” — Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com

Dillow does have more projects in mind before the 2014 season begins. He always does. “What we will add now is little cosmetic stuff that improves it and I try to add something every year for the kids,” Dillow said. “I do a little more for them, I just want them to have a good experience with the baseball program, I want it to be something they can be proud of. “I know what it is like to play in a facility that is looked down upon or isn’t on par with everybody else and I want our kids to not have to go through that.” Dillow also has players who take pride in their facility too. “We have a work day every season and all the kids will show up and all the parents will show up,” he said. “All the kids are great about taking care of it, we will remind them

before the season how things used to be and what type of facility we used to have. “The fact that momies and daddies and businesses paid for this and we have got to take care of it and they are very responsible and help us out a great deal in that respect.” What makes Bland County unique as well is the sports teams are a combination of two schools, something that began with football in the early 90s, and the rest followed soon after. “Logistically it is an issue, that is something that can’t be controlled, but there is no problem with the kids” Dillow said. “They have come together and basically they have accepted it as being the same school, just in different locations.” Every community needs folks like Dillow, who is willing

to do what it takes to make life better for the rest of us. Dillow doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. “As long as I enjoy it and doing something positive for the kids, when I get to the point where I don’t want to work on the field and keep it up and deal with it, then I will give it up,” Dillow said. How does Dillow know his efforts are worth it? Baseball isn’t a sport of focus in many communities, but the Bears lack for little in terms of facilities or support. “We go into these bigger towns that we play in and these small cities and I am amazed by the businesses in it and the fact that they don’t have more at their schools and facilities,” he said “They just don’t get the support that we do.” — Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com


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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section IV 7

Baseball... Continued from 2 city. He also served as general manager before retiring, having been succeeded by Mike Showe, Jim Pettus, Chris Maxwell and current Bluefield Blue Jays GM Jeff Gray. Fire ripped through Bowen Field in the spring of 1973 and destroyed the wooden ballpark. The late Patsy Malamisura, long-time gatekeeper at the ballpark, and a high school umpire who worked a game the evening prior to the fire, used to joke that his calling that night was so bad that someone burned the stadium. The only thing that survived the conflagration was the office. Work began immediately and the current concrete grandstand was constructed. For more than 20 years fans brought lawn chairs to sit on the concrete structure before seats were installed in the late 1990s. Those seats came from Anaheim Stadium, home of the then Anaheim, now Lo s Angeles Angels, after a refurbishment of their stadium. The late ‘90s also saw the construction of the building housing batting cages along the right field line. Over the last decade, many improvements have been made to the historic ball park. Fences were moved back to meet minor league standards, a new field and drainage system was installed along with new and improved lighting for the playing field. Many major league players got their start with the Bluefield Orioles, most notably Hall of Fame members Cal Ripken, Jr. and Eddie Murray. Cy Young winners Dean Chance and Sparky Lyle played for the Baby Birds as did All-Stars Don Baylor, Bobby Grich, Mark Belanger, Boog Powell and Enos Cabell. Though it has not claimed a championship since 2001, Bluefield leads the Appalachian League in titles won. Bluefield teams won the Appy League pennant in 1949, ‘50, ‘54, ‘57, ‘62, ‘63, ‘67, ‘70, ‘71, ‘82, ‘96, ‘97 and 2001. A new era in Bluefield baseball began in 2011 when the Blue Jays flew into town. Baltimore announced at the end of the 2010 season that they would no longer field a team in the Appalachian Le a g u e .

In two of the three seasons Toronto has been the parent club in Bluefield, the Blue Jays have made the league playoffs, in 2011 and ‘13. Kevin Pillar became the first Bluefield Blue Jay to make it to the majors when he advanced to Toronto in August of this year. Professional baseball came to Princeton in 1988. The Princeton Pirates were an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the 1988 and í89 seasons. In 1990 the team was a co-op team and known as the Princeton Patriots. The Cincinnati Reds were the parent team from 1991 to 1996. Since 1997 Princeton has been the Appalachian League team of Tampa Bay Rays. In the short time between the baseball winter meetings in late 1987 in Dallas and the beginning of the Appalachian League season in June, organizers and volunteers managed to cram 15 months of work into six by the time the Princeton Pirates played their first home game. Dewey Russell was president of the Princeton Baseball Association from 1991 to 2009 and worked closely with the initial president of the Association, Jim Thompson, who passed earlier this year. Russell talked about how baseball came to Princeton. “Mr. Thompson was very good friends with Allen Coppinger who was very big in baseball in Bluefield. He (Coppinger) loved baseball and Jim was a sports fanatic. They just thought it would be neat if the two communities, Bluefield and Princeton, had professional baseball,” Russell said. “Pr o b a b l y because of Allen’s involvement in baseball in Bluefield, they collaborated and Allen probably made some calls. I think it happened a lot quicker than they thought.” And happen quickly it did. Records from early 1988 indicate that the ball started rolling at the baseball winter meetings in late 1987 and on Feb. 4, 1988, the Pittsburgh Pirates announced they were placing a team in Princeton for the upcoming season. Russell recalled some of the events that occurred. “Harry Finkelman, he could talk an elephant to its knees, went out to the winter meetings, I think it was in Texas, they sent him as a missionary,” Russell recalled. “You ought to have seen people

scurrying to get the field ready, just get things done to be ready for the season to open.” While there was a baseball field in Princeton, according to Russell it was not playable. Once word came that the city was getting a franchise, things shifted into high gear. “As I recall it was quite hectic. There was a lot of volunteer work. Charlie Pace was very involved, Harry Finkelman and many others,” Russell said. “The volunteerism and the benevolence of this area, the community rallied real quick. Jack Brown was GM of Pepsi Cola in Princeton, he got them to buy the first scoreboard. You had people like R.C. Belcher, the premier mason in the area, he did a lot of work on the dugouts, things like that just to get it ready.” In addition to all the volunteers and community support, Russell said there was one group that was vital to baseball not only coming to Princeton but helping keep it in town for a quarter century. “Nothing in this community would have happened without the benevolence of the Hunnicutt Foundation,” Russell said. “Bill Stafford and Buck Sarver, those were the two sons-in-law of H.P. Hunnicutt. The Hunnicutt Foundation, they've always been behind it. Obviously they're 90 percent responsible for all we've got out there right now.” The community has been involved with the team in Princeton from day one. Whether it was the Pirates, Patriots, Reds or Rays, the fervor for the home team can be seen throughout town and on game days by the fans that turn out to root, root, root for the home team. “It's been a great source of community pride and it's been good for the community, just as well as the Bluefield team there. Who can remember when there wasn't a team in Bluefield? Most of the people who don't remember are, I guess, dead,” Russell said. “Baseball in Princeton is good for the community. When you see those elderly people out there, I guarantee you there are people out there who haven't missed a game since it started in '88.” Russell ended his tenure as president of the Princeton Baseball Association in 2009, but he can still be seen at the

Hunnicutt Field cheering on the Rays. He believes that baseball will have a long life in the town for one basic reason and he shared a conversation he had with a fellow Princetonian. “Will Stafford said to me one day, ‘Dewey, the Hunnicutt Foundation is going to do everything it can do to keep professional baseball in Princeton for the main reason it's good family entertainment.’” Jim Holland has served as general manager in Princeton since 1991. Hunnicutt Field has been home to pro baseball since its inception in Princeton. Originally a structure with wooden bleachers and dugouts, the entire stadium was razed and rebuilt with a steel frame in time for the 2000 season. Improvements have continued to take place at the park including a new playing surface and drainage system and a building housing batting cages. In its relatively short time as a professional baseball city, Princeton, however, has sent many players to the major

leagues. Since becoming a Tampa Bay affiliate in 1997, 38 players who called Hunnicutt Field home have made it to the show. Those include AllStars Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Matt Moore, along with Jonny Gomes, Desmond Jennings, Seth McClung, Jared Sandberg, Rocco Baldell and Wade Davis. Pokey Reese was a famous Princeton Red who made it to the majors. Princeton has won one Appalachian League championship, that coming in 1994 as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Professional baseball is no longer played in Welch, but from 1937 through 1955 the McDowell County seat was home to the Welch Miners. The Miners played in the Mountain State League from 1937 through ‘42 and in the Appalachian League from 1946 to 1955, winning the Appy League championship in 1952 and ‘53. There was not a team from 1943-45 due to World War II. Of the 16 years pro baseball operated in Welch, the team made the playoffs 10 times.

Blakely Field was home of the Welch Miners. It was located on Stewart Street at the site of the current National Guard Arm o ry. The stone wall that surrounds the arm o ry is part of the outfield and perimeter wall of the former ball park. Throughout their existence the Miners were affiliated with the Philadelphia Athletics and the Boston Braves. Baseball history was made in Welch on May 13, 1952 when Ron Necciai of the Bristol Twins struck out 27 Miners in a nine inning game. The game was a no-hitter, but four Welch batters reached base, due to a walk, an error, a hit batsman and a missed third strike. With regard to the missed third strike Necciai was able to record four strikeouts in that inning. Pro baseball ended in Welch a fter the 1955 season. The Appalachian League did not operate and 1956 and when it r e t u rned in 1957, Welch did not have a team. A fire destroyed the grandstand in 1956 and in 1961 the National Guard Arm o ry was constructed on the site.


8 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

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Sunday, September 29, 2013 Section IV 9

Gardner... Continued from 5 went back up the road happy,” Six said. “I held a tournament once when every hotel in Princeton was full and they was staying in Wytheville and Beckley, all the restaurants were full, cars going through town with No. 8 and stuff on the sides, the town was alive. “It brings an impact to the restaurants. One guy (recently) spent his spare time at Dan Hale (Reservoir) fishing, some of the kids got to go to Pipestem. If you hold a tournament for any length of time it is a big impact on the city, the area and like I said before, if you sell the tournament you sell Princeton.” ••• Six has become an avid follower of youth baseball, having attended the Little League World Series several times. He also designs pins that are such a popular item to trade during those festivities in South Williamsport, Pa. Not bad for someone who didn’t play much ball as a youth. He was usually working on the family farm, which

Comer... Continued from 1 such nice fields and that we did it. You know, that’s the amazing part, that there wasn’t much money put in it other than what people had donated.” West Virginia’s governing body for high school sports, the Secondary School Activities Commission (SSAC), also took note. Jackson said, “They really liked our (football) field. The SSAC said it was probably the second best grass field in the state.” It marked a big improvement from the first year of Mavericks football, before the present facility was useable. “There was a lot of hardship,” Jackson said. “It was pretty tough that first year. ... When I took the job, there was no place for us to practice.” The team ultimately practiced in a meadow “beside

was located not far from where the Gardner fields are now located. “I have got a lot of love for the game,” said Six, who spent nearly 30 years with Norfolk Southern. “I played in the Marine Corps, but at 129 pounds...” After an eventful retirement from his first job, Six considered the same from the GPLL after last year, but decided to return. When Six does decide to move on, there is little doubt his tireless efforts at the GPLL have been appreciated and remembered by many. “Everywhere I go, Pigeon Forge, Virginia Beach, anywhere I go I run into people I know that’s played ball here,” Six said. “You take 500 kids that go through here a year and you have been here 10 years that is a lot of people.” His personal goals have nearly been met. He’s developed lifelong friendships, helped make the GPLL a state-wide destination and even watched the Princeton Tigers win the state championship in baseball at both the senior league and high school levels. He will continue, even when he does retire from the

GPLL, to work on the park he wants to build adjacent to the old barn on the Gardner grounds. “We have won one state championship and we win districts every year, but we have never got over the hump, but with one state champion,” Six said. “That was a goal, to stay here until I got a state champion and I have that.” A proud father of four children, and grandfather to 11 grandchildren, Six has often had to sacrifice time with his family to spend it with everyone else’s families. “You never get to see them except at Christmas time if you are in Little League ball,” he said. “I never go anywhere unless I have a letter to give somebody to get a dollar from them.” All that time and effort has continued for 13 years at the GPLL. If Six ever does decide to step aside and ‘retire’ for a second time, his work can best be described as a labor of love. “Instead of lying on the couch, I spent 13 good happy years out here, right?” he said. — Contact Brian Woodson at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

the sewer plant,” he said, about a half-mile below the school, and played its first season of home games at the old Peterstown High School field. The team would put on their uniforms in a barn, directly across from where the visitors’ dressing room is now. “One summer we fixed up the barn,” Jackson said. “The boys called it The Stable. I think we wound up staying in that two years.” When the new football field was ready he said, “It was a tremendous boost for our kids. You could tell big difference. We played totally different.” For the broader population of the rural county, he said, “I think the people (were) extremely proud of what they did up there, because they mostly did the darned thing.” The visitors’ dressing room beside the football field presents opposing teams and coaches with a psychological challenge even before the

first whistle. Barging out of a simple metal door, the team must climb a steep, unlit hillside to get to one corner of the playing field, staring into the bright lights all the while. Jackson insists that the arrangement was “not anything intentional” in terms of planning. “I think everybody was tired” by the time that building was laid out and constructed, he said. While there is much to be proud of at the fields, Jackson said, “It needs some maintenance done. It’s gotten a little run down. Not a lot of money has gone into it.” He understands that the county school system has had problems staying out of red ink financially, but with the recollections of fund-raising in the 1980s back in his mind, he added a phrase to which H.E. Comer Jr. would probably relate. “Looks to me like somebody needs to take the bulls by the horns,” he said. — Contact Tom Bone at tbone@bdtonline.com


12 Section III Sunday, September 29, 2013

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