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GEISA: Sense of community drives Bridgeport to succeed

By Tommy Atkinson, Staff writer

Bridgeport is like so many idyllic small towns that dot West Virginia’s hills and valleys.

You can bet on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July that American flags line main street, and high school sports is king. Yet unlike the other slices of Americana across the Mountain State, the Indians are setting themselves apart in their athletic achievements.

Bridgeport secured its second straight Class AA Gazette Excellence in Sports Award, which recognizes the state’s top overall prep sports programs in the classification.

The standings, compiled by the Gazette since the 1996-97 school year, are based on a system that awards points (8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1) to the top eight finishers in each of the 19 sports sanctioned by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

“On Friday nights things tend to shut down a little bit and people don’t schedule youth events and different things like that,’’ said Bridgeport football coach Josh Nicewarner, who guided the Indians to the state title. “We try to encourage people to get out and enjoy our game.

“If you look around the state, most of these schools that have a tight-knit community tend to be successful on the athletic field. Bridgeport has a rich tradition in athletics. I think when kids reach high school, they have an understanding of the importance. The community really rallies around the school both athletically and academically.’’

The Indians took their sixth award in the 18 years the rankings have been compiled. It’s actually Bridgeport’s sixth straight GEISA title as a AA school, as the Indians won four straight from 2000-2003 (including a tie with Winfield in 2003) before moving to AAA for eight years. Bridgeport captured last year’s GEISA in its return to AA.

“If you visit Bridgeport on a given spring or fall day, just about any time you’re going to see a lot of activity with very young people and their parents, kids who are transitioning from middle school to high school,’’ said Bridgeport eighth-year athletic director Matt DeMotto.

“From a very, very young age there’s definitely community pride. Our young people see the high school from a very young age and become a part of it. We have a lot of people that haven’t left [Bridgeport], second and third generation.’’

Bridgeport won state championships in football, boys and girls track, boys cross country and baseball and scored in 10 of the 19 sports in easily outdistancing Fairmont Senior by 16 3/4 points (57 3/4-31) for the GEISA. The Indians were runner-up in girls soccer and cheerleading, and also had top-eight finishes in golf, boys basketball and tennis.

“We have a very supportive community,’’ DeMotto said. “We have a community that takes pride in hopefully doing things the right way. We have parents that are supportive of our school and what we’re trying to do.’’

“We don’t benefit from a lot of transfers,’’ added Nicewarner. “A lot of our student-athletes are kids that start here in the elementary ranks and stay all the way through high school.’’

The Indians spread the wealth among their boys and girls programs, finishing first and second, respectively, in the GEISA points system. Bridgeport’s boys, who grabbed four of the school’s five state titles, tallied 35 3/4 points and scored in seven of the 10 sports while the girls, whose lone championship came in track, totaled 22 points and scored in three of the nine.

“Our kids expect to win, expect a lot of themselves and they work hard,’’ said DeMotto. “Our last nine state titles have been in different sports. It’s not one thing we feel we’re known for now.

“We want to be strong across the board. Competing at the triple-A level and succeeding kind of set a tone and maybe a confidence that once we did drop down, we expect to be at the top of the class.’’

Bridgeport will receive a permanent plaque signifying its achievement as well as custody, for another year, of a traveling trophy.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4811.


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