It wasn’t his intention, but Rick Baker has doubtlessly settled a lot of bets among football fans from all across West Virginia.
A little less than a year ago, Baker launched the website fourseasonsfootball.com, billed as “historical high school football results for WV and VA.’’ It’s named after the Bluefield region’s popular nickname of “Four Seasons Country.’’
His site is a treasure trove of information involving virtually every score of every high school football team that ever laced up the pads in the neighboring states of West Virginia and Virginia — both present-day and past, with some of the games going back before the year 1900. Dozens of defunct schools in West Virginia are included in the mix.
Included in the easy-to-navigate menu are not only a list of each team’s results and head coaches season by season, but the dates and playing sites for every game in a particular year. Inside each team’s spreadsheet, you can also see a photo of most teams’ present field or stadium and click a tab that shows you a school’s all-time series against any single opponent.
“It’s not complete, but it’s close,’’ Baker said. “It’s as complete as I can find.’’
Baker, who has served as the public address announcer for Bluefield football games since 1987, more or less stumbled onto his role as a state sports historian bit by bit, and along the way never really intended to post the information on the internet until he realized what he had accomplished.
During a game in the 2003 season, he was handed a script to read during a ceremony honoring one of the Beavers’ past teams, and included with the script was a list of all Bluefield’s games to that point.
“I don’t remember why it was included,’’ Baker said. “I took the printout home and from time to time looked it over. I found it interesting. I must have gotten bored one day and I started typing the information into the computer in plain text files because that was all I really knew how to use at the time.’’
In 2009, when Bluefield captured its 10th state championship, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph published a booklet with information on each of the title teams. In reading an article about the 1965 team, Baker noticed what looked like a score discrepancy. So he went to the local library and pulled up microfilm to read the story that ran in the newspaper the day after the game. From that point, Baker thought “it would be really cool’’ to have a box score from every Bluefield game ever played, so he began that project.
Pertinent information was often left out of newspaper game stories decades ago, so Baker started to travel to nearby towns to visit other libraries and research complete details for his Bluefield box scores. When finished, he’d show the results to his friends, who often asked how neighboring schools like Welch, Princeton or Graham, Virginia, did that year. Thus began another quest to fill out opponents’ information for each game.
By this time, after Baker had culled complete histories for several schools in southern West Virginia, he came across another prep football historian in Robert Bonar, the longtime radio play-by-play voice for Calhoun County football. Bonar was researching programs in the northern part of the state, especially teams in the Little Kanawha Conference. Baker and Bonar shared their data and corrections they had made along the way. Bonar introduced Baker to Rick Fields, who was researching Kanawha County football, information that helped immeasurably in that area of the state.
“At any point,’’ Baker said, “I never tried to [research the entire state]. It was never my intention. So I just kept going. I’d finish one thing and would head to another, and that led to another.
“It’s just what I do, and I enjoy doing it. It’s like a crossword puzzle. People finish one puzzle and go on to the next one.’’
Still looking to enhance his information on Bluefield, Baker decided to track down articles on every game the Beavers played, both by local newspapers and those covering the opposing teams. That led him to visit libraries where he could scan entire pages of old newspapers, so starting in 2010 he began traveling to places like Roanoke, Virginia and Morgantown. The four-hour trips to Morgantown, which he did two or three times a month from his home in Bluefield, were especially fruitful because WVU had newspapers archives from all over the state.
Baker also made several trips to the state archives in Charleston, which allowed him to complete his research on West Virginia schools around 2014. Then he turned his focus toward finishing his work on Virginia schools.
“There are many more schools in Virginia,’’ Baker said, “but I had become better at researching and finding online sources, so I was able to do that in about four years. It just became the further along you go, the easier it gets. And when I retired three years ago, it gave me more time to spend on it.’’
Baker now also began to see a possible landing spot for his work, but wasn’t sure how to go about it.
“I wanted to get it on the internet so everybody would have access to it,’’ he said. “Then it could be permanent record.
“People would suggest that I write a book about Bluefield football, but I really had way too much data for a book and most of what I had was data, which really wouldn’t appeal to people in book form. I really had no idea how to do a website either.’’
In May of 2018, Baker made an inadvertent but useful clicking error on his computer, accidentally hitting “save as’’ on an Excel spreadsheet instead of just “save.’’ What he found is that one of the options allowed him to save it as an internet file, which meant all his work up to that time could easily be transferred online. He was then able to make a contact in his area who helped him set up a home page and he can now post updates to his website, which launched last August.
“The obvious reason for the site is to just share the information,’’ Baker said, “but just as important to me, the site is there for people to submit corrections or to submit scores that I don’t have. I have made hundreds of contacts with people correcting or adding to the site. I really enjoy that aspect.’’
Anyone wishing to add, update or correct information on the site can contact Baker at email@example.com.
Even after hitting the “finish line,’’ Baker continues to polish his creation. He’s visited every county in the state at least four times, taking pictures of most high school football fields to “add a little bit of personality’’ to the spreadsheets. He’s included lists of All-State teams from past years and is currently researching scores and information for football programs in Kentucky. He already has posted information on a few schools from eastern Kentucky, western Maryland and northeast Tennessee.
Baker estimates that he spends six or seven hours a day on the site, researching and revising. That doesn’t include long mornings and afternoons on Saturdays during football season, making sure each team’s spreadsheet is updated.
“I was never married and I don’t have any kids,’’ he told the Staunton News Leader last year. “So this is kind of like my baby.’’