So is organizing and running a successful all-star football game, according to one of the top Virginia High School Coaches Association officials responsible for this past Saturday’s state game.
“It took a lot of people working together to make this thing work,” Phil Robbins said.
Robbins served as the VHSCA clinic coordinator for this year’s football weekend in far Southwest Virginia. The retired Hall of Fame coach who guided the former Powell Valley High to multiple state championships, worked for several months to bring to Virginia-Wise’s Carl Smith Stadium the game that features the top high school senior football players from across the commonwealth.
This year marked the first time the annual all-star contest has been played west of Roanoke in the game’s 47 years.
Robbins estimated that 2,000 to 2,500 people were in attendance. The game was the highlight of a weekend that included a banquet at the historic Wise Inn featuring retired Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer as the guest speaker.
“It was a good weekend for everybody,” Robbins said. “It was a total effort from a lot of folks in the town of Wise, the Wise Inn and the college.”
According to Robbins, 78 players participated in the game. A total of 68 of those players were from locations east of Wytheville and stayed with their families in hotels in Wise.
“I don’t know what the total economic impact was, but I know that two hotels in Wise were sold out for two nights and some families decided to stay a third night in Wise after the game,” Robbins said. “I think they found the area was nicer than they anticipated.”
In addition to hotel stays, Robbins said the Wise area reaped the financial benefits of players and their families and friends purchasing food, gas and other items over the weekend.
“The coffee house in Wise was so busy that it ran out of supplies. The owner went out twice and bought more and finally just had to close down because they ran out. And the manager at the Huddle House said they were so busy over the weekend that he anticipated that his sales will be up 10 percent for the year,” Robbins said. “Then we had the people who stayed another night at the hotels. They had them booked up for two nights and then some of them stayed another night.”
The entire region went out of its way to make sure the gridiron guests were made to feel welcome.
“Some of them traveled over to Kentucky because they have never been to Kentucky before. Some went down to Big Stone Gap and visited the museums, some went to the Sugar Hill Brewery in St. Paul, some went over to Bristol and went shopping at the Pinnacle, some went to Abingdon and visited Barter Theatre,” he said. “They were like kids in a candy store. This was a new experience for them.
“They were in a part of Virginia that they had never been to before. And for some of them, it was as far west as they have ever been. Of the 68 kids that stayed in hotels, I’d say 85 to 90 percent of them had never been this west in Virginia.”
That welcoming feeling was extended to the visitors from throughout the entire region.
“They were really surprised when they got to Abingdon and saw signs welcoming them to the area and to the all-star game. And then they traveled another hour and saw signs all throughout the area and VDOT signs directing them to the game. Then there were banners hanging in Wise welcoming them,” Robbins said. “I really think it was just the welcoming attitude of the people in this whole area that made the difference. Everybody was made to feel welcome.”
Robbins said the event was so successful that plans are already being made for the 2018 game to be played at Virginia-Wise.
“We’re going to keep it as long as we’ve got sponsors,” he said.
In addition to the football game, the VHSCA also held the state volleyball all-star game in Southwest Virginia this year, at Emory & Henry. And Virginia-Wise’s Prior Center will be the site for the state basketball all-star games in March.
Moving the games to Southwest Virginia didn’t require a magical formula for Robbins.
“It’s all about working together,” he said. “Without a doubt, it’s the growing attitude that we’re stronger when we work together instead of trying to work against each other.”