50th Annual Coppinger Baseball Tournament Opens Saturday

Apr. 10—BLUEFIELD — Let the games begin.

The Coppinger Invitational Baseball Tournament has been the gold standard of events since 1974 and the oldest continuously held competition in all of West Virginia celebrates its 50th anniversary with opening ceremonies this week at historic Bowen Field in Bluefield and Princeton's Hunnicutt Field.

Bluefield High will host rival Graham in the traditional opening game at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 13.

Due to weather concerns and scheduling, there will be three games at Hunnicutt Field also on Saturday beginning at 12 p.m. featuring James Monroe against Shady Spring, followed by Woodrow Wilson and PikeView at 2:30 p.m. with Tazewell and Princeton in the finale at 5 p.m.

Games will then be played variously during the week with the championship set for Saturday, April 20 at Bowen Field.

Two-time defending champion Tazewell leads an eight-team field for the 2024 event, with teams divided into two pods of four squads each. The events are sanctioned by both the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) and the Virginia High School League (VHSL).

Developed by the late Bluefield High School coach John Chmara, the event was known as the Bluefield Invitational Tournament from 1974-81.

In 1982, the tournament was re-named the Allen D. Coppinger, Jr., Invitational Tournament in honor of Mr. Coppinger, a prominent Bluefield businessman and sportsman who was then president of the Bluefield Baseball Club. That organization coordinated the Bluefield Orioles, a Class "D" affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles for more than 50 seasons.

In a special tribute Saturday at Bowen Field, Danny Coppinger, son of the tournament namesake, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by sons Todd and Brad and grandson, Jack, to commemorate four decades of family association.

Over the years, the Coppinger event has altered formats to accommodate changing numbers of schools, enrollment and participation. From 1985—93, the Coppinger had two divisions with a Most Valuable Player in each. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation. Games have been played at Bowen, Hunnicutt and at Lou Peery Field in Tazewell on occasion.

In addition to the late Jeff Boyles, for whom the Coppinger Most Valuable Player award is named, a local legends list of event officials includes, among others, Tony Colobro, Ergie Smith, Glynn Carlock, Lou Peery, Morgan Campbell, George McGonagle, Tom Ferrell, Rocky Malamisura, George Fanning and Bill Kinser all working over the years at various times.

Boyles worked the tournament for 30 years, played for Princeton High the first year when East Bank edged the Tigers, 7-6, and later coached the Bluefield Beavers while later working to direct the event for several years before his untimely passing.

Justin Gilbert, also a player as a Graham G-Men, later a coach at Bluefield High, and now BHS assistant principal, is working the event for the ninth time as director. Gilbert has led a systematic changing of the guard among officials as older generation luminaries have retired or passed from the scene.

He says, "This (Coppinger) is a team effort on and off the field. A couple of my 'go-to' guys who know the area so well are Josh Wilborn from Princeton and Aaron Buchanan from Tazewell County. They do a great job and do much to make this tournament possible. Jerry Lambert works with the umpires and I guess you could say he has become my 'Ergie' (Smith) now.

"Ray Maupin helps with record keeping every year, and both Jay Disibbio and Josh Wyatt have stepped in help whenever we need a job to be done. Rocky Malamisura, in charge the facility of Bowen Field, always does whatever we need to maintain a top-flight atmosphere for these games."

Dozens of standout area athletes, headed by MLB All-Star Billy Wagner (Tazewell) and NFL star Curt Warner (Pineville), along with famed player/coaches such as Buster Large and Barry Reed have played the Coppinger and many have played professionally in the Appalachian League.

Tazewell (11) has the most team championships in tournament history, with Richlands (5), Princeton (4), Peterstown (3), Pineville (3) next in line. East Bank (2) won the first two tournaments in 1974-75 and Bluefield (2) is the only team to have played in the tourney every year. Mount View won the '79 event in the very first year of the school's existence and captured a title on May 9, the latest title game ever, due to a series of weather issues. Nearby PikeView (2) won back-to-back titles in 2015-16 and Woodrow Wilson (Beckley) has 2 trophies. Summers County, Christiansburg and Oak Hill are also double champions.

Single winners include Honaker, Union, Independence, Greenbrier East, Carroll County (Va.), Pulaski County (Va.), Shady Spring and Lebanon. In 1989, co-champions were named in each of the two divisions due to the extended dates which threated to overlap the state playoffs. Schools such as Peterstown in Monroe County and Pineville in Wyoming have had great success but have been consolidated into new facilities.

Each of the eight teams is guaranteed four games. Tickets are $7 each and each venue will have a concession stand. All games will feature the 10-run rule.