Jerome Van Meter, Part 2

Beckley Pays Honor To A Great Coach

This article appeared in the Sunday Register on Dec. 20, 1953. Thanks to Frog Young for supplying the article for the website.

To Coach J. R. Van Meter

I'd like to think when the Big Game ends, the last that I'll ever know,
That I could muster just half the friends Van Meter will have to show
For the way he lived and the way he played, the way that he won or lost,
For the pace he set in life's big parade, the bridges of years he crossed.

I've seen him lose when the chips were down, but lose in a gallant way;
I've seen him gather some great renown with grace on a better day.
He took the bad and he took the good -- and he took them both like a man;
He fostered a sportsmanlike brotherhood -- for that was a part of Van.

He's past high noon and his hair is white, he's mellowed a bit by age,
But he's as good as they come tonight and writing another page
Of the epic tale of the friendly strife, a book we can proudly scan
Of the hard-fought game and the schoolboy life ... and making a boy a man.

We know he's great but we'll never know the problems this coach has met,
The workouts long and the progress slow, perfection that's hard to get.
His patience rare is indeed a gem. Just ask any star he's taught,
Yes, talk it over with one of them, and learn how this skill was wrought.

They learn to play from this gifted man, with golden advice to give;
They also learn, in a tiny span, the way that they ought to live.
A lowly sub on his Eagle squad has honor and joy to spare,
His thanks should rise to a gracious God which loved him, and put him there.

Well, time rolls on ... and our eyes grow dim ... but memories never die;
We'll never give credit enough to him, no matter how hard we try.
But here's a toast to our honored guest, who's never an also ran.
He's Beckley's coach. ... and the very best ... my neighbor, my friend ... old Van.

Poet Laureate of West Virginia


The above poem, written especially for Coach Jerome Robert Van Meter at a surprise banquet Friday night honoring the "Gray Eagle" of Johnstown Road for his 25 years as head coach of Woodrow Wilson High School athletic teams, was printed in The Beckley Post-Herald yesterday morning.

As a general rule it wouldn't have been repeated here today since more than half of the readers of The Sunday Register will have already read it. But it so well expresses the love and respect "Van's boys" hold in their hearts for the Beckley mentor that we break rule to bring it to your attention again.

I believe that the reverence and esteem Van inspires in his players, the indelible impression of him that lives for all time with the athletes who have toiled under him in past years, is unique in the coaching business.

Sure, there are other great high school coaches. There are probably many with a better won-lost record. And more too with a greater number of championship teams to point to for credit.

But I know none whose work and life have left such an impact on the boys he tutors. None are so respected and liked by friend and foe alike.

Sure, he gives some of 'em a going over. Many of them have caught holy heck for mistakes. Some few have even felt a cuff or two, as pointed out some time ago by an affiliate on this newspaper.

But when their schoolboy careers have ended, they realize this has been a vital part of their training and virtually all of them come back at one time or another to thank him for the part he has played in their molding ... for the fibre and core of citizenship and Americanism he has instilled in them.

That's when they begin to realize just what kind of a fellow he is, and then's when they really become "Van's boys."

Beckley is indeed fortunate in having a man like him at the helm of its scholastic athletic program. The surprise banquet and gifts tendered him Friday were a find tribute for his work here.

But that's all it was. Nothing the town could ever do would really acquit Beckley of its debt to him.

Now it can be told. It may be a breach of etiquette to tell it, now that "his boys" have thrown their banquet for Van, but the fete actually didn't reach the goal some of his most loyal well-wishers had hoped for.

In addition to the banquet and the many speeches extolling his virtues, Van was presented a $500 silver tea service appropriate for his 25th anniversary at WWHS, and a "substantial" check, the amount of which has not yet been disclosed.

Every bit of this came from voluntary donations by fellows who had played under him in the past. It came in little bits, with no large contributions at all. It was more or less a spontaneous thing growing out of the bigger goal mentioned before.

The fellows at first talked of putting on a drive to raise enough money to pay off the mortgage on Van's new house on Johnstown Road.

But times hereabouts are bad, the plan would have necessitated a concerted drive with a fireball man in charge, and local business houses would have had to have been appealed to.

The boys finally discarded this in favor of the plan they finally followed, with every bit of it coming in small packages from fellows who had actually played under him. They felt this would more truly express the sentiment in their heart, and mean more to him in the long run than a more substantial gift on the other basis.

I tell this now because I believe Van will appreciate knowing the fellows wanted to do more for him, but also wanted what they did do to come wholeheartedly from "his boys" as an expression of regard and appreciation.

The guest list at the banquet included a hand full who had come from many miles to honor the Beckley coach. Among them were John O. "Buster" Smith, former owner of the Sports Center here and now residing in Richmond, Va.; Clyde Underwood of St. Albans, head football coach at Nitro High School; Donald G. Ferrell, former Beckley athlete, now at Jacksonville, Fla.; John D. Skull, of the State Board of Education in Charleston, assistant to Van in his first year here; and Larue Van Meter Sr. and Jr. of Falls Church, Va., and Camp Gordon, Georgia, respectively, Van's brother and nephew.

Letters and contributions also poured in from many in distant places unable to attend. To name a few in this category were Jack Ellison of Los Angeles, Cal., Bob Watts of Chicago, and Clarence "Red" Underwood, assistant Coach at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Larue Van Meter, Van's elder brother by two years, is also a veteran of the coaching business. He coached high school ball in the Illinois Coal Fields for 10 years or so and was also head coach at Illinois College at Jacksonville, Ill., before giving it up to become a lawyer.

Ray Eliot, coach at the University of Illinois, began his coaching career under Larue Van Meter as a line coach at Illinois College.

It was easy to see the resemblance between the two Van Meters. As Emcee Ken Shroyer said, "By golly, they look alike, they act alike and they talk alike." The latter came after Larue had touched the audience deeply with a short talk thanking them for the honor accorded his younger brother.

That he's a persuasive talker is evidenced by the fact that, in a telephone conversation with the commandant at Camp Gordon, he was able to get a furlough for Larue Jr., who's been in the Army six months now, to attend the fete for Van.

“I told him (the commandant),” Larue said, “that if it were a death in the family he'd readily grant a leave and, by gosh, this thing is more important than a death. He must be a pretty fine fellow for he agreed and arranged the thing despite all the red tape cutting it took.”

WWHS Field To Be Renamed for Van Meter

This article appeared in the Register-Herald on July 26, 2006.


When the Woodrow Wilson High School football team moved into its new stadium in 1985, many were surprised a name synonymous with Beckley athletics didn’t come with it.

Now, 21 years later, the name has arrived.

The Raleigh County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to rename Flying Eagle Stadium on the WWHS campus after the late Jerome Van Meter, who won three state championships in football and six in basketball during a 30-year coaching career at Woodrow that ended in 1959.

Van Meter died in 2003 at the age of 102. He is generally regarded as the greatest coach in West Virginia high school athletic history.

Van Meter’s name had been affixed to the 70-year-old field on Park Avenue formerly used by the Flying Eagles.

The high school -- now Park Middle School -- was next to the field until the current WWHS opened in 1967.

The Woodrow football team continued to play its home games there through the 1984 season.

Since then, the field was used by junior high and youth league teams until the school board closed the field to fans last August, saying the bleachers were not safe for spectators.

Future plans for the new Van Meter Stadium could include an artificial surface. With Beckley having a good location to host playoff games, turf would keep the field in good playing condition.

If the turf is purchased, Beckley could also bid for the state championship games.

The board also decided to name the entire sports facility at Woodrow Wilson the Flying Eagle Sports Complex.

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