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WVC commissioner Blizzard watches league melt away

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- THROUGHOUT THE FINAL West Virginia Conference basketball tournament, something was missing.

And, for once, the reference isn't to fans. A pall covered the event. It was the last hoops tournament under the banner of the WVC.

Sure, we saw some good basketball, as always. But the die-hard fans and administrators there were unusually quiet. You could see the sadness on the faces of those involved for years, in some case, decades.

Especially the sadness on the face of WVC commissioner Barry Blizzard.

His pained expression was striking.

"I'm extremely sad," Blizzard said during a break in the action. "I didn't want it to end this way. I view the tournament like a child. I wanted to leave it better than how I found it. Obviously, I'm not. And that hurts."

Indeed, attendance has been down, more than anything because of the flood of national television hoops games since Blizzard was hired in 1987. He was powerless on that point.

Perhaps he could have done more. From time to time there's been criticism of him from this keyboard. One couldn't help, however, but feel sympathy for the man this week, as he went about his duties at Charleston's Civic Center. The Mountain East is a reality. Reid Amos will be the commissioner. Blizzard is out.

"Personally, it hurts like crazy," Blizzard said. "Both of my daughters [Aimee and Emilie] have been to every tournament since I've been hired. My two grandchildren [were there] Saturday. Both were born in January and I wanted them to be able to say they were here.

"It's been family for us."

Blizzard is a Bramwell native who went to Bluefield College before getting a master's at Radford. He started as an athletic director and sports information director at Bluefield before taking over the WVC. Under him, the conference went from an NAIA league to an NCAA Division II member. Blizzard ran his first hoops tournament in '88.

"I'm turning 62 in June," Blizzard said. "I hoped to work for the league five more years before turning it over. I never believed this would happen."

Indeed, he went from being almost rehired to on the street within a whirlwind of two weeks, when the Mountain East was put together.

And here's the salt in the wound: While Blizzard was busy working this past weekend's event, Amos was on press row handling the Internet broadcasts.

"It is what it is," Blizzard said. "Reid's my friend. My concern is the student-athletes. I just want them to have a great experience.

"But my heart's breaking. I'm being straight up with you."

If his words didn't tell you, his pained expressions did.

"I'm looking at three possibilities [for future employment]," Blizzard said. "I don't want to move [from Princeton, where the league office sits]. I can retire, but my concern is health insurance.

"The thing is, I can't just sit down. And the only thing I know is collegiate athletics. I have a new wife [Jill]. We and my girls are going to dinner Saturday night - and probably cry a little bit."

Don't confuse that, however, with weakness. Blizzard has been through life's storms. He's survived.

"I rely on my faith," Blizzard said. "I lost my [first] wife [Vicki] three years ago to cancer. I lost a 3-month old grandchild to [sudden infant death syndrome]. Now, I've lost my job.

"Faith carries me though. I know the Lord has something good in store for me."

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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