Outside the Tribe: Colors Don't Define Tradition of Bridgeport High School Football, Actions Do

By Chris Johnson on September 17, 2023 from Outside the Tribe via

I’ve been fortunate enough to be present for a lot of the Bridgeport matchups with Fairmont Senior through the years.
It’s become one of the state’s best high school football rivarlies which is odd in a way since a lot of people will say Robert C. Byrd and East Fairmont are the respective school’s biggest rival.
Since 2013, either Bridgeport or Fairmont Senior has went to the Super Six in Wheeling every season except last year and the 2020 COVID season.
An asterik needs applied to 2020 though as there was no Super 6. However, if you look in the record book, Fairmont Senior was declared Class AA state champions and Bridgeport was the Class AAA runner-up so had the state championship games not been cancelled and the semifinals played out the same way, both the Polar Bears and Indians would have ended their seasons at Wheeling Island Stadium.
There have been six state titles won on the field by the two schools since 2013.
There was the 2016 semifinal game that Senior won in overtime (sorry Bridgeport friends, but yes Jake Abbott got in). There was a game-winning field goal by Taylor Thomas last year. There have been domiant performances by Zach Frazier and Dante Bonamico and Gage Michael and Kamar Summers and so on and so on.
There have been big hits, big plays and a thousand different things to talk about.
On Friday night the two met again at Wayne Jamison Field and it was everything we’ve come to expect out of them. It was one of those “closer than the final score indicates” type of games. It was 27-20 deep into the fourth quarter before Zach Rohrig scored on a pair of touchdown runs in the span of about 30 seconds to make it 40-20.
There were clutch defensive plays. There were big pass plays for the Polar Bears, big running plays for the Indians and underappreicated plays by the guys up front.
Once again, these two football teams gave us a great game with plenty to talk about.
Two days later though the primary point of discussion remains colors. More specifically, uniform colors.
When the Indians took the field on Friday they sported a new look. Black jerseys, black pants, red trim, white numbers. Personally, I liked the uniform scheme. I actually liked it a lot. I thought they were sharp, clean and I thought they popped. Many shared my opinion.
But to say the issue turned out to be polarizing would be putting it lightly.
I’ve heard everything from it was an embarassement to the school, a slap in the face to the community, and legendary coaches were rolling over in their graves.
Mild comments asking when black became a school color.
Extreme comments suggesting that if the players want to wear black uniforms then they should just pack up and go to North Marion or South Harrison.
Had the players issued a joint statement proclaiming, “Connor the Therapy Dog is a jerk, pepperoni rolls are overrated and 2:45 p.m. traffic on Johnson Avenue during a school day isn’t all that bad,” I don’t think they would have received as much heat as they did from “The Great Uniform Conspiracy of September, 16, 2023.”
All of those above statements in the imaginary proclamation are untrue and absurd of course. Maybe even as absurd as getting that upset over the color of a jersey.
You know who really liked those uniforms?  The players. A bunch of kids who were excited to wear them to school Friday morning and were excited to unveil them to the general public at the game. Yet, adults in the community made them feel like they somehow did something disrespectful.
The BHS volleyball team has frequently worn black jerseys for years. The baseball team has a black uniform scheme, so does the softball team. What’s the color of the end zones at Wayne Jamison Field right now?
I can’t recall anybody being upset about other BHS atheltic teams incorporating black into their uniforms. And if you want to step outside of Bridgeport for a second, I don’t recall anybody being that upset when WVU introduced the charcoal gray uniforms or when Marshall wears its black uniforms with green lettering.
The BHS band right now isn’t even wearing uniforms during the halftime show. Black t-shirts with the KISS font in red. And it’s OK. It’s actually kind of cool and I haven’t heard one complaint.
If you are attached to the notion and convinced everything at BHS should be red and white and you haven’t been in the gym recently, I’ve got some bad news for you.
The new bleachers are not red or black, they are gray and they look pretty good too. In fact, I think it’s roughly the same shade of gray from the pants that several of Wayne Jamison’s teams wore.
I could very well be wrong about this, but I’ve always thought that black and white and by proxy, gray, were considered kind of neutral colors acceptable to compliment a team or school’s primary colors. Take the uniforms from Friday night and I honestly think the best part about them is how vibrant the red stripes and the white numbers are on the black landscape.
Maybe Wayne Jamison would have hated the new look. Maybe Bruce Carey and Dylan Tonkery and Alex Sutton and Devin Hill do too. I don’t know. I have never had a conversation about colors with any of them.
If Coach Jamison was still with us though and at Friday’s game, I know he would have loved the way Tanner Hathaway dragged mulitple Senior players into the end zone on his touchdown runs.
He would have loved how Beau Ford and Aidan Sparks, arguablly the best defensive end combo in the state, teamed up for the biggest play of the game – a sack, forced fumble and recovery that led to Rohrig’s first touchdown.
I bet Coach Jamison and any other coach who has taught the tip drill would have loved Cale Culicerto’s interception. I bet he would love the way Wes Brown controlled the line of scrimmage. I bet he would love the way Josh Love reads plays at middle linebacker and is a threat to score everytime he touches the ball.
I bet Coach Jamison would love how Rohrig goes out every week and puts himself higher on the school’s all-time list of rushers and higher on the list of Kennedy Award candidates.
Above all, I bet Coach Jamison would have loved how the Indians made clutch plays and beat a good team.
There is no question Bridgeport has a rich football tradition. I guess I’ve always thought of it more in terms of actions than colors.
I think of upbacks and how that is a position where you tell a kid, “We need you to be in the backfield, but you are seldom, maybe never, going to touch the ball. You are going to be at the point of contact on every play and we need you to be tough and unselfish. Our success on offense is going to be dictated by you doing all those things and the average person watching is going to give you no credit for any of this.”
That’s a tough sell at a lot schools. Yet at Bridgeport, every year, there is not only someone who succeds in that role, they relish it.
I think of opponents who have double the amount of players and every lineman is four inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than anybody Bridgeport has. Yet with techinque and strength, Bridgeport is the one wearing them down and pushing them 5 yards off the ball every play.
I think of the stick-I, the pistol and the single-wing, three offenses that work no matter what the critics say.
I think of low pad levels and buck laterials. I think of fullback dives and interior counters. Sometimes you have to get to the edge, sometimes you have to go right up the gut and you aren’t going to get far with either without blocking.
I think of a program that is one win away from extending its streak of non-losing seasons and probably three wins away from extending its streak of qualifying for the playoffs. Both are running state records and I have no idea how you pick which one is the more impressive.
I think of head coach Tyler Phares and his staff and how much stock they put into maintaing the very tradition that was questioned by some on Friday night. I think of how they get a group of young men to buy into being a physical, hard-working, cohevise unit because that was the legacy left to them by past teams and that legacy isn’t going anywhere on their watch.
I think of running out of the tunnel, two rows, side by side. I think of the arrowhead. I think of how important the support of the community is to the program and how that plays a large role in making sure that tradition doesn’t fade into the black, it expands and thrives in it.
Tradition is alive and well with the BHS football team. These players have made sure that it is. They wear that pride and honor on their shirt sleeves everytime they take the field, everytime they are in the weight room. They do it for their school, their past, present and future teammates, their coaches, their community. They do it for you.
Sometimes those sleeves are red, sometimes they are white and yes, now sometimes they are black.
And that's OK. Bridgeport has won more than 700 games since the school started playing football. The only school with more total wins is Parkersburg. Not one of those wins was decided by what color uniform the team was wearing.
Editor's Note: Photos by Joe LaRocca show BHS football players sporting new uniforms during Friday's clash with Fairmont Senior.

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