NEWTOWN — If you are coming to Saturday night’s Hatfield-McCoy Bowl at Mingo Central and you have not yet seen the Miners’ James H. Buck Harless Stadium, you are in for a real treat.
For the first time, the 5,000-seat facility will host the annual high school football showdown between the West Virginia and Kentucky all-star teams.
Yeah, you could say that.
The stadium has a college-like atmosphere with green Field Turf, Carolina blue endzones with MINERS stitched in the area and the school’s logo in the middle.
There is a huge scoreboard to the side of one of the end zones and a spacious locker room and pressbox.
It would be the envy of just about any small college team.
Here’s another thing.
There’s lots of parking.
Lots and lots of parking.
That was an old bugaboo with Matewan’s Tiger Stadium, the host of the Hatfield-McCoy Bowl the first 16 years from 1996-2011.
In fact, the whole 90-acre site of the Mingo Central school, football stadium, parking lot and other yet-to-be constructed athletic fields, are one big coal reclaim site — land donated by Nicewonder Contracting Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources.
The school, a consolidation of Mingo County’s former Matewan, Williamson, Burch and Gilbert high schools, cost a reported $37 million to build but taxpayer and/or school funds were not used to construct the football stadium.
West Virginia All-Star football coach Joey Fields, a Mingo Central assistant coach, said he’s pleased to bring the Senior Bowl to its new home on Saturday night at 8 when the Mountain State All-Stars square off with the boys in blue from Kentucky.
“Oh man, this place is great,” said Fields of Harless Stadium. “We miss Matewan and I’m sure everyone misses all of the old schools but it’s great to have something like this that all four communities can be proud of and can represent in this bowl. Coach (Yogi) Kinder has done an amazing job hosting this game for 17 years. It will be even better here on the hill.”
A new access road, part of the King Coal Highway system, connects the old Route 65 down in the valley to Mingo Central High School up on the mountain top.
The elevation is high and you get the feeling that you are on top of the world — at least on the top of southern West Virginia.
It is said by locals that the average temperatures are often times 5 to 8 degrees cooler on top of the mountain than down in the valley at Matewan.
That’s good news for Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl fans, who have sweated it out over the years at Tiger Stadium as gametime temps often topped out at 90 degrees or more.
With the artificial playing surface, field conditions will not be a factor for Saturday night’s showdown. Rain and muddy field conditions hampered play at times at Matewan.
“If it rains if the fans don’t mind getting a little wet there will be no problem and there will be no mud on the field,” Coach Fields said.
Parking was another major issue when the game was held at Matewan. Simply put, there wasn’t enough of it and fans who didn’t get there early had to park on the road and walk.
Parking won’t be a problem at Mingo Central.
Although the lot has yet to be paved there’s acres and acres of available parking for Hatfield-McCoy Bowl fans.
The weather forecast for Saturday night looks decent at this point with a high temperature of 86 and a low of 66 under partly cloudy skies. There’s a 20 percent chance of rain.