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Facilities, competitiveness stressed upon return to Big 10

by Mike Nutter

SPORTS WRITER

For much of the '90s, Lewis County athletic director Richard Hiserman watched, and even coached as the school endured some of the roughest times on the playing fields.

Leaving the Big 10 Conference in the late '80s, the Weston school bolted for the North Central Athletic Conference, but struggled against Class AAA giants University, Morgantown and Fairmont Senior. Now it's a new millennium and, according to those close to the school, a chance to start over.

Beginning in 2001, Lewis County will officially join the Big 10. The Minutemen will be eligible to compete in the upcoming season's winter sports.

The move, said Hiserman, is one he feels was necessary from a financial standpoint, but more importantly a competitive one as well.

"I think now we're sort of better matched up against schools more our size," Hiserman said. "I think we will have more natural rivalries now that we're in the Big 10.

"We don't feel (the Big 10) itself is any weaker. In a lot of ways it's more balanced. I think the kids can feel a little more comfortable about themselves and feel more confident in the Big 10. I think it makes a little more sense for us and hopefully with playing so many teams from the Clarksburg area, the kids can see themselves on TV and pick up the newspaper and read about themselves and their opponents."

Still, the road hasn't been easy to this point.

In 1994, Lewis County moved from its former school, located in Weston, to its present site. However, the school still plays its football and baseball games on its old field. Scheduling conflicts leave Lewis County's football team playing four of its last five games on the road every other season, meaning smaller gates especially with late fall and early winter weather starting to become a factor.

Construction of a new football field is under way, but plans are behind schedule. The field was originally scheduled to be ready for this season, but won't be playable until the 2001 season.

"Things are still up in the air as far as the football field goes," Hiserman said. "The grass on the field isn't coming along as it was expected to. That's put us behind, but we aren't eligible to participate in the Big 10 in football until 2001."

Hiserman also indicated a new baseball facility is in the works. The field will be situated near the football field, giving the school a multi-sport complex, and should be ready for the 2001 baseball season.

Current head football coach Eddie Williams is a graduate of Lewis County and has been associated with the school for the past 26 years. He said although not being able to play on a new field this season is a little disappointing, it's not putting a damper on the new enthusiasm heading into the football season.

After a dismal 0-10 season in 1998, the Minutemen finished 3-7 last season, but took many of its opponents to the fourth quarter before bowing out. A big portion of that team is back for Williams, making the transition into the Big 10 even more promising.

"We've got a real nice junior group coming back this season, and really I still feel like we may be a year away," Williams said. "A lot of them are working pretty hard this summer in the weight room, but we've still got a pretty tough schedule this year.

"As far as the field goes, there's nothing we can do about it. Actually, a lot of our seniors wanted to finish their careers at the old field. Most of the others just want to play. It doesn't matter where it's at as long as it's 100 yards long."

Like Hiserman, Williams said he is anxious to renew old rivalries with some of the Big 10 schools. Teams like South Harrison, Lincoln and Grafton, which were once on the schedule and then had to be dropped, return next year.

"Most of these kids don't know about the rivalries with some of those schools," Williams said. "It's mostly a community thing. I'm just as anxious to coach against some of those guys (from the Big 10) as the kids are to play them.

"In no way do I mean the Big 10 is inferior to the NCAC, but now we're on more of an equal playing field. I think a couple of years down the road there will be some pretty interesting rivalries again."

For now, though, Lewis County's football team will have to make due with the older field which sits behind Robert L. Bland Middle School.

Hiserman, who once served as the schools boys and girls basketball coach says despite the delays in some of the current projects, the confidence he has seen in many of the school's athlete's is as high as it's been in a long time.

"To me this is an exciting time," Hiserman said. "We needed something to shake up the doldrums. We've been in here for a while. We're still going to have good relationships with the schools (from the NCAC) and nothing's going to change about that.

"The most important thing is the kids, though. I've been to some of the various summer leagues and the kids really have much better attitudes about themselves. If that has anything to do with the move to the Big 10, then no matter what, the change was worth it."

Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444.

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