Blue Devil Pride Is Still Going Strong

BRILLIANT — They say tradition never graduates. Any doubters to that belief should have been in Brilliant last Saturday.

Brilliant High School closed its doors for the final time in 1972. The Blue Devils were subsequently joined at the southern Jefferson County school by the Smithfield High Spartans, forming Buckeye North, as part of a seven-school into three-school countywide consolidation plan.

As always is the case with such school consolidations, there is a lot of kicking and screaming along the way, especially for the seniors-to-be.

Kevin Barr was cast in that role after spending his first 11 years of his academic life as a Blue Devil. The former longtime and very successful St. Clairsville Parks & Recreation director said it was far from a seamless mesh.

“The entire Brilliant Nation was upset. We have a lot of community pride here and the high school was the centerpiece,” Barr said. “We saw no need for the consolidation. No one here was happy.”

Robin Yocum is a nationally acclaimed author. The former award-winning Columbus Dispatch crime reporter also felt the effects of consolidation.

“I had two great years at Buckeye North. I made a lot of friends from Smithfield and I got to play football for Bill McHugh. All positives,” said the former Times Leader sports writer. “But it was heartbreaking to see the end of Brilliant High School. When I was growing up, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to wear the uniform of the Brilliant Blue Devils. There was something magical about playing football Saturday afternoon in Brilliant and the entire town turned out.

“It was the same for the plays, concerts, and other sporting events. People supported the school and the kids. I think you saw from the turnout Saturday how important that high school was to the community. There was a bond with a community high school that you simply don?t see in consolidations.”

Fast forward nearly five decades later and the Brilliant Blue Devil pride remains unwavering.

Barr and Chuck Brettell were co-chairmen of the inaugural Brilliant High Hall of Fame event. The induction served as a virtual Blue Devil Pied Piper as some 500 partisans filled the old high school gym, the exclamation point of 18 months of planning.

The ceremonies were prefaced by a parade that weaved through the streets packed with blue & white-clad well-wishers.

Barr and Brettell left no Blue Devil stone unturned as noteworthy players, coaches, teams and even fans gained induction to the HOF, now housed at the town’s community center.

Taking center stage at the induction ceremonies was the 1968 10-0 football team, coached by Jake Olsavsky and assisted by Craig Closser and Denny Penza. The Blue Devils finished sixth in the state ratings that fall.

An undefeated season wasn’t on the radar leading up to the campaign. Compounding matters was the fact Brilliant lost its starting quarterback before the first game.

“That 1968 team was a special bunch. We weren’t the biggest or fastest and we lost our starting QB before our first game. No one expected us to go undefeated,” Olsavsky said. “But what we did have was a bunch of tough kids who took to coaching. We were tough on them and they responded. They refused to lose.

“We played a quality schedule and won some close games. We made some nice comebacks,” the former Indiana University grid captain said. “It will be a season I never forget. There was unbelievable spirit as the whole community bought in. This Hall of Fame celebration is amazing, and so many people want to talk about the 1968 season.”

Jake’s Devil dandies had several scrapes with defeat. But as all great teams do, they find a way to win. Brilliant edged Cadiz, 12-8; rallied from down 22 at halftime to beat Smithfield, 32-28, nipped Jefferson Union, 20-18, and rallied late to edge Mingo, 12-6.

Team members were Greg Hamilton, Phil Harvin, Tim Kamerer, Jody White, Bruce McKinstry, Dean Fellows, Bob Cassidy, Gary Schaefer, Dick Rine, Kim Walker, Bill Henry, Steve Roush, Greg Himes, Earl Mayle, Greg Kinsey, Rich Kackley, Dave Benedict, Garth Grant, Dave Bednarek, Tom Fox, Craig Harrison, Tom Joiner, Jeff Kamerer, Glenn Blanchard, Tom Ellis and Jack Neal.

Harvin, Rine, Schaefer and Blanchard were inducted into the Brilliant HOF football category while Olsavsky was enshrined in the coaching category.

Special recognition was also delivered to the 1964 basketball team coached by Bob Henderson. The Blue Devils advanced to the regional while finishing fourth in the state polls.

Barr is proud of what the 50-member HOF committee accomplished.

“People from 34 states returned to the Brilliant Blue Devil Nation. This is one of best things ever to happen this community,” Barr said.

“The Blue Devil Pride never shown more brightly. We have already started planning for next year. This has been long overdue. After 18 months we silenced the doubters.”

The second annual Brilliant HOF ceremonies are set for Aug. 7-10.

BUBBA’S BITS

∫ The Leo Zambori feature that graced the front of last Sunday’s News-Register sports section was a journalistic masterpiece by Cody Tomer and the ultimate inspirational piece. I know Leo well. What he has overcome in his short life is truly remarkable. He has the ultimate support from two special families. Any athlete claiming to be having a bad day should re-read the last paragraph of that story. Leo had a chemo treatment Saturday and that same morning cranked out a 31-minute 5K.

∫ Wheeling Park grad Elijah Bell has enjoyed two tremendous seasons as a North Carolina A&T wideout. The 6-foot-1, 221-pounder enters his junior campaign has been listed on the preseason Black College Football Player of the Year Award Watch List. If the former Randy Moss Award winner stays healthy this fall, he would likely hold virtually every receiving record in A&T history. The Aggies open their season Saturday at Jacksonville State,

∫ WVU Offensive tackle Emilio Appolloni has been named to the NCAA.org college football all preseason name team. The 6-8, 325-pound Martins Ferry grad is a Purdue transfer and a redshirt sophomore.

∫ In my column the week prior to the PGA, I tabbed Tiger Woods as my choice to emerge as champion. The resurgent 42-year-old moved golf’s needle off the charts via his runnerup finish. I noted after the British Open Tiger would win more majors. After Sunday, there cannot be many, if any, doubters. With that said, Brooks Koepka is now the man on the PGA Tour.

∫ West Liberty University continues to show impressive athletic growth. The new indoor practice facility which broke ground Monday is a reflection of that. Kudos go out to Belmont Savings Bank for being a major player in the project.

∫ No pun intended but the Cleveland Indians received a bad break when it was revealed standout hurler Trevor Bauer incurred a stress fracture in his right ankle. He has been dominating at times. A healthy Bauer is needed for an extended Tribe post-season run.

∫ High school football has arrived. To get a comprehensive look at the upcoming season, pick up a copy of The Wheeling Intelligencer/News-Register football preview on Thursday. It features 132 pages full of in-depth stories, photos and predictions.

∫ For the second straight year Harrison Central’s Ray Hibbs has been named OVAC Athletic Director of the Year.

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