Why Bridgeport? An Accomplished Quartet in the City

By Jon Griffith on May 11, 2024 from Why Bridgeport? via

Rising to prominence in any field requires hard work and dedication. Achieving a significant stature is recognized as a personal and professional accomplishment. Bridgeport has had countless individuals distinguish themselves across many fields of endeavor.
Why is that?
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” This quote from Albert Schweitzer embodies a philosophy that often leads to becoming noted in your field. It is a principle that has been and is being practiced by many in our community.
Today, I want to tell you about four Bridgeport residents who have embraced this idea in one unique discipline. These four individuals have attained statewide prominence in a sector dominated by our southern neighbors from the Kanawha Valley for almost a hundred years. All four currently are or have been in high-level positions at the West Virginia State Track & Field Championships.
After installing the first rubberized track at Wayne Jamison Field, we were excited to begin hosting home track meets. However, we discovered a problem. Not surprisingly, there were almost no track and field officials in Bridgeport. We were forced to bring in and pay officials from other areas to help us.
In response, we decided to recruit and train local individuals to become volunteers and officials for our home meets. We were very successful in our efforts. In addition to countless volunteers, we produced well over a dozen certified track & field officials here in Bridgeport.
We also encouraged many of them to serve as officials at the West Virginia State Meet. It was always good for our athletes to have a few familiar faces officiating when they showed up to compete in Charleston.
Over the past 20 years, Bridgeport has had officials working in almost every capacity at the State Meet. They have served as field event judges, umpires, clerks, computer operators, and many other positions at Laidley Field. There are too many to name here, but their contributions have been substantial.
Quality meet management is essential for hosting track and field events, especially for larger meets like the West Virginia State Championships. There are five critical leadership positions for successful meet management: Meet Director, Referee, Starter, Timer, and Announcer. Amazingly, Bridgeport residents have manned four of these vital assignments at the State Meet.
The lone exception is Meet Director. This job has been filled by legendary track official Richard Messenger for many years. His predecessor, another legend in West Virginia track and field circles, was the Kanawha Valley’s Dottie Gandee.
At next week’s state championships, Bridgeport officials will again serve in three notable positions: Starter, Announcer, and Referee. Much of the credit for this goes to Mr. Messenger for his vision of expanding the representation of officials from across the state for this championship event.
First in our high-achieving Bridgeport quartet is Steve Sellas. Even though Steve is no longer officiating, he was one of the pioneers for Bridgeport track & field officials at the West Virginia State Meet.
Three of Steve’s four children competed in track & field for BHS. Steve was active in the BHS Track & Field Parent’s Association and was a founding member of the Track to the Future initiative that brought the first synthetic track to Bridgeport. He was a willing recruit as an assistant coach in the program and became a certified official.
As an official, Steve began as part of the three-person crew operating the computerized finish line timing system for our home meets. He eventually took those same skills to the State Meet for an extended term. In appreciation for his many years of service, Steve was recognized as the West Virginia Boys Track & Field Official of the Year in 2009.
The newest member of our quartet of high-ranking officials is Diane Kinney. She also ventured into officiating when her two kids competed for BHS. She began officiating home meets for the Indians. Rather than sit in the stands, she got to be down on the track where her kids were competing.
Diane has performed many roles as an official: clerk, umpire, finish judge, starter, and more. She first expanded her officiating career beyond Bridgeport by working at the West Virginia State Meet. Later, she began to work at other area track & field meets, including home meets for West Virginia University. She joined K&J Timing and has been working at competitions across the region.
Last year, she was named one of three starters for the West Virginia State Championships, becoming only the second female starter in State Meet history. She has also gone beyond the state level as an official. She was tapped last year to work as an implement inspector for the U.S. Senior Games in Pittsburgh and the U.S. Junior Olympics in Eugene, Oregon.
The third member of our quartet is Ryan Nicewarner. He competed in several sports in his high school athletic career at BHS, including track & field. Ryan then served as an assistant coach in our BHS Track & Field program and eventually took over as the head coach of the BHS Girls’ Track & Field team.
Even though he never became a certified official and has since retired from coaching, Ryan served as our announcer for our home track meets for many years. The announcer at a track meet is a critical component. Ryan is ideally suited for the position with his broadcaster’s voice and energetic personality.
Beyond just announcing calls for events and reading results, the announcer maintains an orderly progression and helps establish the pace of the meet. It is in that capacity, at the state meet, that he still serves and has for over 15 years. To many in attendance, Ryan is “The Voice” of the West Virginia State Track & Field Championships.
The fourth and final person in our Bridgeport quartet is me. With the construction of an actual track at BHS, I realized the importance of becoming a certified official. I needed to be able to recruit others to become officials for our home meets, and I needed to set an example to aid in that mission.
Only a couple of years later, I began working as an official for the State Track & Field Championships. For nearly 20 years, I have worked in the finish line booth at the State Meet as part of the timing/computer crew. My other role has been as the unofficial concierge, answering the questions and complaints of coaches, officials, athletes, parents, and fans.
The combination of two decades serving as the meet director for our home events and my concierge experience made me an ideal candidate for appointment as the Running Referee for the State Championships. This year will mark my fourth time serving in that role.
I have also unofficially assumed the post of Meet Director Richard Messenger’s assistant. I will spare you the colorful nickname I have had bestowed upon me by my fellow officials and coaches. All in good fun … I think.
I hate to speak for my fellow members of this quartet. Or for those who have served as officials at our home track meets or the State Meet. However, I am confident they don’t do it for the money because it pays very little, if any. They do it for the kids. They do it because they love the sport. They do it because they enjoy officiating. In short, they love what they are doing.
Why Bridgeport? Success is the norm in Bridgeport. Yet, we don’t take it for granted. Instead, we continually set high expectations and work hard to attain our goals. It is a mindset that permeates our community. Whatever path we select, we choose to do something we love and then approach it with the attitude of being the best we can be, regardless of what that pursuit might be.
Albert Schweitzer had it right. “If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” It sure worked out that way for this Bridgeport quartet.
Editor's Note: Top photo shows Diane Kinney in action, while the second photo shows Steve Sellas, second from left, receiving recognition as best in the state from various state officials. Second from right in the photo is Richard Messenger. In the third photo, Ryan Nicewarner gets ready to make a call, while Coach Jon Griffith is shown below. Cover photo shows Nicewarner and Sellas at a past state meet.

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