By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Greenbrier East radio broadcaster Jeff Campbell knows just what tonight’s game with Woodrow Wilson means.
“It’s the biggest game on the schedule, for sure,” Campbell said. “It’s the most important game on the schedule year in and year out.”
Campbell, who is in his 29th year as the Spartans broadcaster, has seen many Woodrow and Greenbrier East games, but the one that stands out most in his mind was his first season behind the mic, in 1984.
“It was the first game of the regular season. East had never beaten Beckley in school history,” Campbell explained, “It was Homer Criddle’s first game at East, and Beckley was ranked No. 1 in the state during the preseason. During a practice, Coach Criddle told the team that Beckley was going to get a lead, but we weren’t going to panic and we were going to win the game 8-7. Well, they ran a hook-and-lateral and that’s exactly what happened. They scored and went for a 2-point conversion and won the game 8-7.”
The win in 1984 marked the end of a long Woodrow winning streak against the Spartans. The Flying Eagles had won the previous 10 games, outscoring their rival 276-78 in the process.
The Spartans went on to win nine of the next 10, proving that this rivalry wouldn’t be as one sided as it was in the beginning.
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Veteran Woodrow broadcaster Fred Persinger Sr.’s views on the rivalry are a little different than Campbell’s.
“I was very fortunate during that time at Woodrow,” Persinger said. “I’m sure there were a couple of times, but I can’t really remember many games where Beckley lost to Greenbrier East. There isn’t a particular game that stands out in my mind. It was always a great rivalry, regardless of who won the ballgame.”
Persinger recalled his final season broadcasting Flying Eagles football for WTNJ, before moving full-time to MetroNews, as one in which the rivalry showed its kinder side.
“The year that I announced I was leaving, I left the first part of October but finished out the season, and we went to Greenbrier East,” Persinger said. “The folks at WRON and Greenbrier East presented me with a plaque for 27 years of broadcasting Woodrow Wilson sports. He’s a rival that does this thing for the opposing broadcasters. That’s the thing that stands out.”
In fact, the relationship between Campbell, whom Persinger calls “Soup,” is what Persinger believes the rivalry should be all about.
“A lot of times, when you think of rivalries, it’s not nearly as bad as it could be,” he said. “With Jeff and I, whenever we needed something, the other was always willing to give it to him — whether it’s at football or basketball games. I think sometimes the fans want it to be a bad rivalry, but it’s a good one. I think Woodrow and East both need good rivalries. I don’t have anything but good memories about Beckley or East football or basketball games. They were great games, but I’ve been fortunate. I really forget about who won and just enjoyed it.”
Persinger’s son, Fred Jr., will broadcast his first home Flying Eagles’ game tonight and hopes for more of the same.
“I think it’s a big rivalry,” he said. “I graduated in 1990, and Beckley didn’t beat East my entire years of high school. But these teams are so relatively close. It’s going to be a good game.”