1993 Airport Road | Fairmont, WV  26554

 

East Fairmont High School

East - West Football Game History

The 2019 matchup between East and West Fairmont will make the 99th meeting between the two high schools.  The Annual East-West game, first played in 1921, is the oldest continuously-played football game in the state of West Virginia.  The Polar Bears hold a 63-28-7 all-time record in the series and have won the last 11 games.  The Bees last win in the series was 2007, when they entered the state playoffs and made it to the semifinals.

East - West: A Rivalry Supreme

By George W. Ramsey, Jr. for the Times-West Virginian

You can boast about high school athletic rivalries far and wide, but you could have probably searched this nation from sea to shining sea and not found another that -- judge on color, pageantry and intensity -- would have equaled the East-West gridiron rivalry here. This colorful football classic is staged annually at East-West Stadium between the East Fairmont High School Bees and the West Fairmont (Fairmont Senior High School) Polar Bears -- two Class AA schools of approximately 850 students each, located on opposite banks of the legendary Monongahela River. When it is reenacted for the 99th consecutive time this season, it will perpetuate a rich athletic tradition that has firmly established itself as one of the oldest and foremost high school athletic rivalries in the State of West Virginia.

 

East-West has been unique among high school athletic rivalries. More so than just the annual battle to determine the city grid championship, the rivalry has been a catalyst around which Fairmont residents have been able to showcase their city's rich historical legacy. The city of Fairmont enjoys a rich geo-historical setting that is reminiscent in many ways to the beautiful European capital of Budapest. Like Budapest, the modern city of Fairmont was formed on the opposite banks of a wide and beautiful river, and when joined by charter in 1899 was connected only by a towering suspension bridge.

 

These two communities -- Palatine on the East Side and Fairmont (formerly Middletown) on the West Side of the legendary river -- functioned harmoniously in their assumed roles as a single administrative unit, but each was too deeply entrenched in its individual culture to ever been fully absorbed into the other. So, like the ancient communities of Buda and Pest, which would make up that European capital, the two communities still continued to exist like two souls dwelling in the same body.

 

Although the competition between these two communities was never malicious, their residents loved to turn out and try to out-do each other -- no matter how menial the endeavor. And as luck would have it, it was through their prep football elevens that they chose to express their individual identities. The climate for the rivalry was rather enhanced during the 1918-21 era when the city fathers approved the construction of the Monongahela River Bridge. More commonly known as the High Level Bridge, or even more endearingly, the Million Dollar Bridge, the structure was a perfect example of the then spawning art of reinforced concrete construction. It was so advanced in architectural beauty that it was praised by its builders as "bearing somewhat the same relationship to the next finest bridge structure that Notre Dame Cathedral bears to an ordinary church."

Dedicated in 1921, the same year as the advent of the East-West Game, this magnificent structure -- instead of serving as the umbilical cord to unite the two communities as the city's fathers had hoped -- evolved into a half-mile-long no man's land over whose decks revelers could launch forays across town to the other school's campus, confront each other in spirited rallies, or stage ebullient victory celebrations which turned the East-West Game into a spirited rivalry.

For many Fairmonters, the East-West game is the World Series, the Rose Bowl and the Kentucky Derby jammed into one great athletic spectacle.

John Veasey - 1968

During the days surrounding the East-West Game, the ends of this magnificent bridge were as zealously guarded against spies from the other side as the borders of any sovereign nation. The rivalry was further enhanced by a unique sibling relationship that existed between the city's two public high schools. Following its charter, the newly-formed city of Fairmont, just like Budapest, was swept by a wave of unprecedented prosperity. Located in the hear of the world's richest coal fields, Fairmont became the epicenter of the nation's coal industry. It evolved into the headquarters for two of the world's largest corporations -- the Consolidated Coal Company and the Monongahela Valley Traction Company, the world's largest electrified railway system -- and served as the site for the lavish estates of three of the nation's leading coal barons.

 

By the 1916 era, to quote the words of a visiting railroad executive, Fairmont stood "head and shoulders above about every other West Virginia city." It was dubbed "The City of Millionaires" and was believed to have reigned as possibly the wealthiest city on the planet based on per-capita income. Riding this euphoric wave of opulence, Fairmont residents expressed the desire for a new high school that would be worthy of the city's rarefied status. The city father's responded of a new, state-of-the-art Fairmont High School.

 

Dedicated in 1907, the new school, designed of English collegiate architecture, was hailed as the "most beautiful and best equipped high school" in the state. In less than a decade, due to the spiraling growth of the city, the new school was afflicted by overcrowding, and the city fathers were already formulating a plan for expansion. East residents argued adamantly that any addition to the school should be located on the East Side.

 

Accordingly, in 1916, the expansion became a reality as 68 students began attending classes in the Central School building on East Side. In going back and examining the minutes of these meetings, the school board members do not appear to have seen themselves as creating a new school but merely placing an annex of Fairmont High School on the east side of the river. In fact, the first school was simply called "the High School on the East Side."

 

In 1919, under continual persistence from East Side residents, funds were approved for the construction of the beautiful East Fairmont High School on Morgantown Avenue. Opened in 1922, the new school appropriately bore the name East Side High School. In 1926, it was determined, by machinations unknown to this author, that these two high schools would henceforth be officially known as Fairmont East and Fairmont West, seemingly to indicate that each saw itself as the direct descendant of "Old Blue" -- the old Fairmont High School.

 

Until just recently, sometime around the mid-1980s, West High administrators resorted to calling their school Fairmont Senior High School, which is somewhat illogical since their institution is a four-year and not a three-year high school. But the unique relationship between these schools endured, and it was evident in the way they portrayed the school names on their athletic teams' uniforms.

 

When playing on the road, both schools displayed simply the name Fairmont. Only when playing at home was it deemed necessary to distinguish between East and West. Fairmont football fans were to benefit fro this unique sibling relationship, for it meant that the East-West Game, although fiercely contested, was to remain relatively free of the animosity that is usually present in most traditional rivalries. The nearest thing for comparison in the college ranks would be Army-Navy, where the two service academies battle each other fiercely on the field of competition, but hold no real dislike of each other, but instead feel a sense of kinship.

 

With this unique set of favorable circumstances, Fairmont was more ideally suited than any other city in the nation to create a pure athletic rivalry. Consequently, before the football was ever teed up for the first kickoff on October 25, 1921, the East-West Game was predestined to become the premier high school football rivalry in the state, and the model which all subsequent rivalries tried to emulate.

 

These early East-West games provided the citizens of the "Friendly City" ample excuse for a colorful autumn pageant. For nearly a full week preceding the game, Fairmonters reveled in the jubilant and boisterous excitement of thuse meetings, bonfires and pep rallies. On the West Side, students snake-danced through the streets and set fire to wooden structures that had been constructed on top of Watson Hill (above the old American Laundry on Locust Avenue), which when lit displayed the flaming letters FHS all across the city. On the East Side, followers paraded in throngs along Merchant Street and participated in spirited pep rallies during which one visitor to the city proclaimed, their shouts could be heard from more than a mile away.

 

The student bodies of both high schools conducted forays through the other school's campus, engaged in cheering jousts on the street in front of the courthouse, held fruit fights on the High Level Bridge, staged lively pregame parades through the heart of the city and on out Fairmont Avenue to South Side Park (today's East-West Stadium), and concluded with any number of equally boisterous post-game activities.

 

On the day of the second East-West Game in 1922, ebullient East Side students, bursting with enthusiasm, turned up at the stadium a full hour before game time. Accompanied by a burlesque band and attired in various forms of imaginative costumes, they stirred up the gathering crowd with a continue stream of cheers. Just prior to kickoff, the East students unleashed 50 pigeons with blue and gold ribbons dangling from their legs to fly around the stadium while they taunted Fairmont High's rooting section with a spirited rendition of "The old West Side, she ain't what she used to be," sung to the tune of the traditional ditty, "The Old Gray Mare."

 

Fairmont High School students once arrived at South Side Park leading a cow which bore a sign around its neck boasting: "This ain't no bull; we're going to beat East Side." Sometime during the course of the afternoon, East Side students stole the cow and replaced the sign with one reading "We stole their cow, and we got their goat." It was a spectacle that would have put even the finest of college rivalries to shame. And the ebullience generated by the two rooting sections was not limited to the spectators in the stands. On the gridiron, East-West games became synonymous with epic battles.

 

In their first three confrontations, the teams ended up in a dead heat with each side claiming a 14-7 victory and the third game ending in a scoreless tie. By the year 1945, when this author first became aware of the East-West Game, 16 of the first 23 games had been decided by a margin of one touchdown or less. Although heavily skewed in favor of West by a 53-28-7 margin, the East-West Game has been trademarked by close and exciting struggles that have come right down to the final gun.

 

Of the 98 games played to day, more than half (48) have been settled by a margin of two touchdowns or less. Nearly half (36), counting the seven ties, have been decided by a touchdown or less. Only seven have been decided by a margin exceeding 30 points, and in more than eight decades of competition, only two have concluded in what could be called blowouts with 40-plus points. The approximate average score is West 17, East 12.

 

But although the exploits of the Bees and Polar Bears in front of the athletic arenas alone would rank East-West at the forefront of state rivalries, it has almost always been the contributions of the 12th man -- the fans and cheerleaders -- which made the East-West rivalry famous. On the morning following the inaugural East-West Game, the accounts in the daily newspapers exclaimed "No cheering like that of yesterday has ever been seen at South Side Park." Special praise was meted out to the Fairmont High cheerleaders, who were called the best prepared. "They sang their college songs and gave approved yells in the most appropriate manner," the scribes stated. East Side's cheering section was also lauded for the manner in which it delivered the school's new fight song, which was sung to the tune of "Hail West Virginia."

 

In the early 1930s, the city fathers began to fear that many of the pre- and post-game antics were on the verge of getting out of hand. So they incorporated the East-West Game into the city's Armistice Day festivities. In this more formal format, the East-West pageant was highlighted by joint thuse meetings on the courthouse steps. There were cheering jousts in which the massed student bodies squared off in an endeavor to outdo each other in volume and creativity. There was also the Armistice Day parade, which featured the marching bands and majorettes of each of the county's eight public high schools. The highlight of the parade came when the two city high school bands passed in revue. Their supporters, stepping forward by the thousands, thrust their blue-and-white and blue-and-gold pom-poms towards the heavens and made downtown reverberate with the trademark East-West war cries -- Swat those Bees and Sting those Bears.

 

Festivities at the stadium were augmented by spectacular halftime shows presented by the bands and culminated in the Bee-Bear Tear, a dance held in the Fairmont Hotel. There the captain of the losing team would present the "Little Brown Jug" to the winning captain. In the 1960s, affected by the conflict created by the state playoff system, the game was moved forward from Nov. 11 to an earlier Saturday afternoon setting and a decade later was transformed into just an ordinary Friday night game that marked the end of the season.

 

While admittedly not the glittering spectacle that it used to be, the East-West Game continues to attract a capacity crowd to East-West Stadium.

Quick Facts:

 

The first East-West Game held on Tuesday, October 25, 1921.

Overall record: 63-28-7 (West Fairmont)

Longest streak: 11 wins (West Fairmont - active)

Breakdown by decade:

  • 1920s - 5-2-2 (West)

  • 1930s - 5-3-2 (West)

  • 1940s - 5-4-1 (East)

  • 1950s - 10-0 (West)

  • 1960s - 6-2-2 (East)

  • 1970s - 7-3 (West)

  • 1980s - 7-3 (West)

  • 1990s - 7-3 (West)

  • 2000s - 7-3 (West)

  • 2010s - (9-0) (West)