By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When the Beavers and the G-Men clashed Friday night at Mitchell Stadium, many of the fans filling the stands could remember what it was like to put on a football uniform and play for their schools. One such fan can remember playing for the Beavers and coaching for them later on.
William E. Albert, known to family and friends as Bill, recently marked his 40th year working at First Century Bank. During a lunch break, he spoke about the days when he played football for Bluefield High School.
“I’m still a huge fan and wish them well. I played for the Beavers back in the ‘60s; played inside tackle and center. I played on the 66, 67 and 68 teams. We won the state championship in 1967,” he recalled.
After graduating in 1969, Albert attended Concord College and graduated from that institution in 1972. He started working for the bank that same year.
He remained a fan and supporter of the Beavers football program, but then a friend asked him if he would like to play a bigger role for the team.
“Well, I’d known Coach (Fred) Simon for a number of years. He and my brother played together — my younger brother Randy — and over the years we became pretty good friends. He asked me to help coach in 2004.”
The Beavers had reached the state finals in 2002 and 2003, but lost, Albert said. Simon shuffled his staff and asked for some help.
“I started and fortunately the bank was very cooperative in giving me a little bit of time to help them,” he said. “We’re a community bank. It’s always been my position that this community has been good to me. I was born and raised here, and I wanted to give back to the community. And I’ve always been involved in civic activity. In 1992, I chaired the United Way campaign and I’ve always loved Bluefield.”
Albert said that working as an assistant coach for Bluefield High School’s team was another way to serve the community.
“When Fred asked, I said I’d give it a try for a year and do it on a year-by-year basis,” he added.
Albert stated that he probably would have coached again this year, but his mother became ill and needed his help. Coaching added more to an already busy schedule.
“Something had to go, and, unfortunately, it was football,” he said. “I’m also chairman of the board at the local hospital, Bluefield Regional Medical Center. That takes a lot of my time as well. Between the banking and the coaching and the hospital, something had to give.”
Being an assistant coach was different from being a football player, but it was not a big difference.
“I guess inside every player, there’s a little bit of a coach buried in there,” Albert replied when asked about that difference. “It’s not a big adjustment. The game’s changed a bit over the years, but it’s still blocking and tackling — basically, the fundamentals that we were taught. I was fortunate to play for some really good coaches like Coach (Merrill) Gainer, Coach (John) Chmara and Coach (Glynn) Carlock. We were pretty grounded in the fundamentals. It was drilled into us for year that you do it this way, and those things really haven’t changed.”
Some plays and techniques may have changed, but the basics have stayed in place.
“When you get right down to it, it’s the same old game. Block and tackle,” Albert said.
Besides learning how to play football, the young people who play high school football and other sports learn lessons that go beyond techniques and rules.
“Well, I think all team sports sort of prepare you for life,” Albert stated. “Football’s particularly good at that. It teaches you defeat, it teaches you the value of hard work, and those things serve you well in life. It really does teach you life lessons. You’re going to face adversity. I don’t care how good of a team you’re on. You’re going to face a third and long — and know you have to get it done — and that’s true in life, too.”
“The thing you learn as a high school football player, those are lessons you can use the rest of your life,” Albert continued. “Hard work’s going to get you a long way. You learn that as a player. It applies to life in general. All the things that make for a good football player make for a good citizen, too.”
Albert planned to attend Friday’s game.
“I plan to be there, willing the creek doesn’t rise. I haven’t missed many of them over the years.”
There are many reasons why the annual Battle of the Bluefields has a long-standing local following as well as a national following, he said. The opposing schools are only two miles apart, and they represent West Virginia and Virginia.
“I think in recent years a lot of class reunions at both schools have planned their weekends around the Beaver–Graham game,” Albert said. “I know there’s a lot of people who come in from out of town for that very reason. It always amazes me that you’ll have 10,000 to 12,000 people there for the opening game and the very next week it will drop to 5,000 or 6,000. It’s a special time and the communities seem to enjoy it. It’s really good for the economy. It’s a win-win and it’s unique.”
Souvenirs from previous games and other Beavers memorabilia inhabit a den in the Albert home appropriately dubbed the Beaver Den.
“We have a lot of stuff we gathered over the years I’ve been playing and coaching and being around the program. My wife just puts it up on the wall. It’s sort of my little man cave.”
— Contact Greg Jordan at