CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Conference may have been scattered to the winds by the league's dissolution and re-emergence as the Mountain East Conference, but that doesn't mean that the WVC's traditions have been discarded.One such tradition - albeit a very new one - carries over when Fairmont State visits Glenville State in the renewal of the "Battle for the Bit" at 7 tonight at Morris Stadium in Glenville.The Fairmont-Glenville rivalry dates back to the first meeting between the schools in 1909, a 6-0 Glenville win. The Falcons hold a 45-40-3 advantage in the longstanding series.The "Battle for the Bit" tradition, though, didn't get its start until 2009. That's when the athletic directors at the two schools, Glenville's Janet Bailey and Fairmont's Rusty Elliott, decided that the century-old rivalry needed a kick-start of sorts, and that the two schools needed a greater motivational incentive than just bragging rights.
"They always wanted to play for something," explained Glenville State sports information director Jonathan Griffin. "They just didn't know what."The inspiration came from, of all people, Rich Rodriguez. Yes, that Rich Rodriguez, the former West Virginia coach who has ties to both Fairmont State (as a Marion County native) and Glenville State (where he coached before moving up the ranks).Speaking at his weekly press conference while at Michigan in 2008, Rodriguez was asked about the intensity of the school's rivalry with Michigan State, the Wolverines' upcoming opponent that week."Obviously I know about the rivalry because if you coach here or you coach there, you understand it," Rodriguez said at the time. "The big Paul Bunyan trophy - that sucker's pretty big - has been sitting in our hallway."
Later in that same media gathering, while again talking about rivalries, Rodriguez harkened back to his younger days in West Virginia."The Glenville State-Fairmont State game was pretty good. Those were two rival schools," Rodriguez said. "It wasn't quite 100,000 in the stands. There were about 1,000, and I was related to half of them, but that was pretty intense."That was all the two rival athletic directors had to hear."Janet and Rusty saw that and said, 'Wow, we've gotta play for something,'" Griffin said.And thus was born "The Battle for the Bit."
Of course, every intense rivalry needs a theme. Considering the history of the oil and gas drilling industry in West Virginia, Bailey and Elliott came up with the drilling motif.Every rivalry also needs a trophy, which led to a Glenville-area business, Waco Oil and Gas, donating a large drill bit to the schools.
"They turned it upside down, drilled the end of it into a wood platform and turned it into a trophy," Griffin said.Fairmont won "The Bit" in that first battle in 2009, but it's belonged to Glenville ever since. The Pioneers won 17-14 in overtime in 2010, 36-30 in triple-overtime in 2011 and, more comfortably, 41-21 last year.Glenville (0-2 overall, 0-1 MEC) has more than recent history on its side in the battle. The Pioneers also have sophomore running back Rahmann Lee, who earned WVC freshman of the year honors (and some Division II All-America mentions) after finishing second in the conference with 123.4 rushing yards per game and an impressive 7.2 yards per carry in 2012.This year, Lee has picked up where he left off, accounting for 401 all-purpose yards (245 rushing, 156 receiving) and four touchdowns in Glenville's first two games."He's a very smart and instinctive runner," Pioneers coach Dave Hutchison said of Lee. "He's small [6-foot, 184 pounds] so he doesn't need a lot of room to slide through, and he avoids a lot of contact, which helps him stay healthy."Quarterback Steffen Colon is also off to a good start for Glenville, throwing for 494 yards and three touchdowns.
Glenville, home for the first time this year, has dropped road games at Division I FCS opponent VMI (34-27) and West Liberty (16-13).Fairmont State (1-1, 0-1) opened the season with a 37-29 home win over former WVC member Seton Hill, then lost to Shepherd 27-7 in both teams' MEC debut Saturday in Fairmont.The rest of the MEC teams line up Saturday: Urbana (1-1, 1-0) at Shepherd (2-0, 1-0), noon; West Liberty (1-1, 1-0) at West Virginia State (0-2, 0-1), 1 p.m.; Concord (2-0) at Bowie State (1-1), 1 p.m., in a non-conference game; Charleston (0-2, 0-0) at Virginia-Wise (0-1, 0-0), 2 p.m.; and Wesleyan (0-1, 0-0) at Notre Dame (1-1, 0-1), 2 p.m. in South Euclid, Ohio.Reach Nick Scala at 304-348-7947 or firstname.lastname@example.org.