3-time CHS champs watching closely
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Today's Class AAA title game will doubtlessly spark a lot of interest in the greater Huntington area, as well as along the entire Eastern Panhandle.
But the outcome of the Cabell Midland-Martinsburg contest will also carry intrigue for a small pocket of followers right here in Charleston.
A Martinsburg victory today in Wheeling would allow the Bulldogs to match Charleston High School as the only programs to ever capture three straight Class AAA championships. The CHS Mountain Lions, who were part of the Capital consolidation in 1989, took three crowns in a row from 1968-70.
Since the Secondary School Activities Commission adopted a Class AAA division in 1958, eight different schools have won at least two titles back-to-back (see box), but only Charleston High managed to pull off a three-peat.
Needless to say, today's game will pique the interest of former CHS players and coaches inside and outside the Kanawha Valley.
"Records are made to be broken, but I'm sort of greedy,'' said Keith Pritt, a former Mountain Lions assistant coach. "I hope this one hangs around for a while.''
Pritt, who still lives in Charleston, joined the CHS staff with head coach Frank Vincent in 1962 and stayed until 1974. Pritt was part of a remarkable run that included a 58-3-2 record from 1965-70, and an unbeaten mark of 31-0-2 during the final three seasons of that span, all resulting in state titles.
"I feel so privileged to have been part of that time period,'' Pritt said, "and to have worked with those guys. All championship teams have special guys on their team - that's why they're champions. Frank and I and the other coaches had a great, great bunch of student-athletes who were committed to what we wanted to do, and that's win championships. We'd look forward to playing the game because we were so prepared.
"Dave Walker's developed a super program up there in Martinsburg, and so has the coach at Cabell Midland [Luke Salmons]. My hat's off to the winners. It's been a pretty good ride [for CHS], and I hope it continues for a while.''
Charleston High's feat has been under fire for quite a while now.
Over the last eight seasons, the state has produced four straight back-to-back AAA titlists - Morgantown (2004-05), Parkersburg (2006-07), South Charleston (2008-09) and Martinsburg (2010-11). But until now, none of those teams managed to make it back to the Super Six to try for the third jewel in that triple crown.
North Marion was the last team to get that far, claiming championships in 1980-81 before falling to George Washington in the 1982 title game.
"I think it's a good thing,'' said Ricky Hurt, the Mountain Lions quarterback on all three title teams. "The positive thing about it for us is that it took 42 years to get it done. Records are meant to be broken, and maybe it's time for that one to be broken - or tied. I wish them luck.''
Hurt, who played at the University of Cincinnati after high school and still resides in that area, said he talks to some of his former CHS teammates a lot on the phone, and the topic of their achievements from 1968-70 has come up quite a bit in recent years.
It's not exactly like the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the lone NFL team to complete a perfect season in the Super Bowl era, going 17-0 that year to earn the crown. Since then, whenever the last unbeaten team in any NFL season finally loses, members of that Dolphins squad celebrate the survival of their accomplishment.
"We don't celebrate every year,'' Hurt said. "We talk about it quite a bit, and I've kept in touch with a couple of my teammates since. [Martinsburg] has definitely been part of the conversation.
"We're pretty proud about it, but we don't brag or boast about it. It's kept us close for 40-some years, and some of us are still close. We worked hard at it, and the hard work we put in paid off for us. It's carried over into life - our children, our business, our jobs. It's led us to being the family men we are today.''
Vincent, who had relocated to Stafford, Va., died in 2010, but Pritt stays in touch with many of his former Charleston High players. He said they've been keeping a keen eye on Martinsburg's march.
"I talk to Ricky Hurt a lot,'' Pritt said, "and I talk to Chuck Green. Yes, they're interested like I am. We know there's going to be a winner Saturday, but we're hoping our record sticks around.''
Another CHS player from that time, lineman Walter Chamberlain, is a little more forgiving when it comes to the possibility of sharing the all-time record for consecutive titles.
"I don't begrudge Martinsburg,'' Chamberlain said. "If they win, they've got my congratulations. They have a good team. I kind of thought at the beginning of the year that they would do that. They had that type of team. I'd be surprised - shocked - if they didn't [win], in all truthfulness.
"If they do win, it's well deserved on their part. I know what it takes to do what they're doing - a lot of hard work and dedication, and a superior coaching staff. It's probably harder to do what they did than what we did back then, considering the psychological barrier.''
Chamberlain, who also played at Cincinnati and still resides in Charleston, pointed out that Martinsburg - as well as the other recent back-to-back champs - needed to win four playoff games to take a title, whereas Charleston High only had to win one.
"I've thought about that here recently,'' Chamberlain said. "I'm kind of shocked the record hasn't been broken for a long time, but actually with the playoff system being the way it is, it's a little harder to win three in a row.
"By the time we played 10 games and then one [in the postseason], it was very tiring. I couldn't imagine playing four. The mindset of playing four [playoff] games and staying mentally tough all four games - that's tough psychologically. That's probably one of the reasons it hasn't been broken.''
No matter the outcome today in Wheeling, count on a few more telephone conversations between old Charleston High players and coaches this weekend as they rehash old times and what it's like to possibly share the spotlight after all these years.
"I'm kind of with Coach [Pritt],'' Hurt said. "I'd like to remain there. It's something to stick your chest out about.
"It's stood for 42 years, so it speaks for itself. That conversation still has the Charleston Mountain Lions at the top of that list until Saturday. Hopefully - I'm not wishing them bad luck - but I'd like to stay on top of that list.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teams that have won two straight Class AAA state titles in football (the SSAC started the AAA division in 1958):
1960-61 - Weir
1968-70 - *Charleston
1980-81 - North Marion
1992-93 - DuPont
2004-05 - Morgantown
2006-07 - Parkersburg
2008-09 - South Charleston
2010-11 - Martinsburg
*Note: Only team to win three titles in a row