By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
It wasn’t about a man returning to his stomping grounds, getting back to the profession he loves so dearly.
Yes, Bob Bolen looked right at home at Van Meter Gymnasium, where he held countless practice sessions preparing Mountain State University for its annual runs to the NAIA National Tournament. He was even dressed in a MSU warmup, although no whistle dangled from his neck.
The players he coached wore blue uniforms, but there was no Moss, Nabors or Gilliard to be found. Familiar names were replaced by the likes of Weaver, LeRose and Chapman.
And that was just fine by Bolen.
Normally, this weekend would have Bolen in a gym somewhere in South Carolina, coaching his Cougars to an obligatory Independent Region Championship. MSU, by the end of the season, was always assured of an at-large bid to the national tournament; the region tournament was a mere technicality.
This year, however, Bolen is at home. The Beckley native is coaching the West Virginia Generals youth travel team in the 41st annual Wendy’s/YMCA of Southern West Virginia Biddy-Buddy All-Star Tournament.
Bolen, who was left without a coaching job after the MSU athletic department was disbanded last summer, isn’t just passing time until a new college gig comes calling. The Biddy-Buddy holds a special place in his heart. His father, Bob, got the tournament rolling in the early 1970s, and now Bolen has the chance to help a new generation create its own memories.
“It’s the top tournament of the year for everybody,” Bolen said after his team lost a 44-41 game to the East Warriors in the fifth-grade division. “Nineteen fifth-grade teams from all over the country. It’s just a great tournament. Good competition.”
Winning is nice, but a tournament such as this is as much about the good times as it is the trophy. Bolen got to experience both fun and the hardware as a former tournament MVP.
“I just remember the excitement of playing in it as a young kid,” he said. “We won the championship; beat Oak Hill. Just real fond memories. It’s grown over the years. It’s just a first-class tournament.”
The Generals started their tournament play with a 47-40 overtime win over the Chesapeake Swarm Friday afternoon before falling to the Warriors in the quarterfinals. There’s no chance at a championship, but Bolen doesn’t see that denting his players’ desire to play well, even with a 9:15 a.m. game looming today.
“The thing about these kids, they care,” Bolen said. “They play so hard and they want to win so bad. It’s a lot different for me than coaching in college, because I never fuss at them. I don’t fuss at them (and) very seldom fuss at the referees. These kids care so much. They are really a joy. I don’t know, this might be the only year I get to do it.
“It’s been fun. They work so hard, and to see how much better they have become since October, that part of it I have really enjoyed.”
The idea for the team came when Bolen’s son, Jaysen, asked his dad to round up some players and get it going.
“Well, I guess I had some time on my hands,” Bolen said, laughing. “It’s very enjoyable. Very different.”
The differences between coaching at the two levels are night and day.
“It’s harder (at the youth level), because you only get to practice once or twice a week,” he said. “You constantly have to get them in the right place, whereas in the college game, you’ve watched all this film and you call one number and everybody knows where to go.
“I’ll tell you this, as far as a caring standpoint, they care as much about winning that game right there — and I’m not so sure I don’t — as you do winning a game in Kansas City (in the national tournament). And that makes it enjoyable, because they do care.”
The Generals roster is: Tate Richardson, Zach Weaver, Jaysen Bolen (Bradley); Austin Anderson (Beckley); Luke LeRose (Summersville); Tommy Williams (Daniels); Brian Walker (Maxwell Hill); and Haven Chapman and Dean Chapman, natives of Beckley who now live in North Carolina but join the Generals each weekend.
The Chapmans’ dad, Brian, is an assistant coach and regularly communicates with Bolen in regard to strategy.
“I fax him some of the little sets we put in,” Bolen said.
The Generals regularly work with another area travel team, the Green Machine.
“We practice together all the time, so they have seven and we have seven,” Bolen said. “It’s an enjoyable experience.”
No surprise that Bolen misses his job. At the same time, it has opened the door to time that he will never take for granted.
“The only job I ever wanted was taken away,” he said. “But the time I have got to spend with my family and coaching these boys this year has been a blessing.”
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