3:06pm: Hotline with Dave Weekley

My Memory of Stew

 

I’m not a native of West Virginia.  However, I’ve lived in this great state for 22-years.  During that time I’ve developed a deep love for these mountains and the people who inhabit them.   Our state is truly one giant family and it’s a privilege to be an adopted member.

This week, we suffered a tragic death in the family when Bill Stewart collapsed and died on the golf course at Stonewall Resort.   Stew exemplified all we love about West Virginia.  He was honest, genuine, and deeply caring about those he met–especially his brothers and sisters from West Virginia.   He was fiercely competitive and ready to draw a line in the sand and defend the honor of the state he so richly loved.  

Nothing I write in this column can top the thousands of stories we’ve heard over the last couple of days about the man we affectingly knew as "Coach Stew."   Therefore, I won’t even try.  I wasn’t personally acquainted with the man.   I knew him only from his public personae, but all indications are it never changed when cameras and microphones were away.   But like most West Virginians, I have a Stew story and felt compelled to share it with you here.

Part of my cherished duties here at MetroNews is to work as the sideline reporter every December at the Super Six Football Championship games in Wheeling.  The task necessitates you come up with interesting angles and sidebars to the games.   Live interviews are always a lucrative addition to the coverage.    There were two occasions I got to interview Stew on the sidelines.

The most memorable came during the Class AAA title game in 2004, Martinsburg was playing Morgantown for the championship.   Stewart was on hand recruiting Brandon Barrett and Nate Sowers to come play for the Mountaineers.   NCAA rules forbade him from saying so on the air–but it was no secret as he stood on the Bulldogs’ sideline.   MetroNews broadcaster Travis Jones pointed him out to me and said I needed to grab him.  I had never met the man.  I’ve learned to approach football coaches cautiously–particularly when their mind is on a game.  Therefore I was nervous as I waited for my chance to introduce myself to Stew.

I carefully told him who I was and wondered if he’d spend a few moments with me.   You would have thought I had invited him to deliver the President’s inaugural address.   He was as genuine, honest, and open as anybody I had ever spoken too.   He even waited patiently as a play on the field interrupted our conversation three times and he picked it back up where he left off when Fred Persinger handed it back to us.  

I wrapped up the interview and thanked him for his time, but it was after we were off the air Stew really made me feel special.   He launched into what amounted to an oral recitation of my career.  He told me he had been an avid listener to West Virginia Outdoors for years and enjoyed the discussion every Saturday morning about hunting and fishing.   He went on to say he wasn’t a big hunter, simply because his busy time of the year was in the fall.     But then he regaled me for another 10 minutes with stories of fishing off the banks of the Ohio River in New Martinsville as a boy.  He said most of his fishing trips during those days morphed into a rope swing out of a tall tree overhanging the river bank.   There was no mistaking the gleam in his eye. He was speaking from the heart.  

I walked away from the conversation floating on a cloud.   The encounter made the Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma even sweeter (if that was possible) along with his landing of the head coaching job.  You couldn’t help but root for Bill Stewart if you ever spent 10-minutes with him.   He embodied all we love about West Virginia and her people.  He was the epitome of what was right about college football, even though he was part of a rare breed in an often ugly business. 

It was hard to report the story of his sudden death this week.  Reading the story on the radio felt very much like informing a family they’d lost a cherished loved one.   Truthfully, we did.

 

 







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