Thanks for the memories
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A crowd of several hundred took a trip down memory lane in the Grand Hall at the Charleston Civic Center as the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission hosted a banquet to celebrate the start of the 100th boys basketball high school state tournament.
Former and current players, coaches, managers, cheerleaders, referees, fans and officials mingled in the lobby where memorabilia from the first 100 state tournaments was on display. They then made their way into the Grand Hall, where master of ceremonies Fred Persinger greeted them and recognized all of the former players, coaches, cheerleaders and managers in attendance that had previously participated in the state tournament.
Charleston Deputy Mayor Rod Blackstone spoke briefly (although no toast was thrown into the crowd) and Poca boys coach Allen Osborne led the group in a prayer prior to dinner being served.
After the meal, Persinger was back at the podium to introduce the event's guest speakers, but not before reading a letter from Los Angeles Lakers coach and former Mullens and Marshall star Mike D'Antoni and setting the stage for a video message from Jerry West.
The first speaker was Bob Burton, who led Paden City to 10 state tournament appearances with titles in 1973 and 1987. His 1987 team was the last undefeated state champion boys team.
Burton spoke of the obstacles his team faced in simply getting to Charleston for the state tournament. In 1972 his team bus broke down just outside Charleston and officials from the Civic Center had to scramble to get the team to the arena in time for their game. In 1973 the rooms in which his team was supposed to stay for the tournament were booked. With few options available, Paden City's players and cheerleaders were "adopted," as Burton put it, by fans and boosters in St. Albans.
Warren Baker was next at the podium and he spoke of his time as a player at Greenbrier East and how hard it was for the team to come together after five schools consolidated to create one. Baker helped lead the Spartans to the 1972 Class AAA state championship before a collegiate career at West Virginia. Baker, now an analyst for WVU women's basketball games and teacher at Fairmont State, also was a coach at West Virginia Wesleyan and North Marion prior to his work with the Mountaineer women's team.
Baker said in his travels he has seen state basketball tournaments in many states, but that no matter where he goes, the week at the Charleston Civic Center in March holds a special place with him.
"There is no question in my mind at all that this is the best-run state tournament I've been to," he said.
Jeff Schneider, West Virginia's first two-time state player of the year during his playing days at Clarksburg Washington Irving, spoke next and shared stories of his experience in the state tournament. Schneider, who went on to play for Virginia Tech, led WI to consecutive tournaments in 1977 and 1978, falling to Logan and current South Charleston coach Vic Herbert in the championship game the first year and bowing out to the Wildcats again, this time in the quarterfinals, in its second trip.
Longtime referee Pat Fragile, a veteran of 12 state title games and a 2003 inductee into the National Federation of High Schools Hall of Fame, spoke of the importance of officials.
"Do me this favor," Fragile said to the crowd. "Enjoy the tournament and promise me you won't boo the referees."
Ergie Smith, who coached Gary District High to the 1965 Class A championship and Gary High to the 1973 Class AA crown, spoke of the importance of moving the tournament to Charleston and how it helped change the attitudes of some and in a way legitimized the tournament.
The final speaker of the evening was Dave Barksdale, who won a title as a player for Woodrow Wilson in 1962 and led the Flying Eagles to Class AAA championships in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1997 and 1998. Barksdale spoke of the tradition of basketball in Beckley and how it shaped numerous lives, including his own. Currently a volunteer assistant at Greater Beckley Christian, Barksdale told stories of how the Woodrow Wilson players and coaches were idolized by the young boys in town and that his dream was to grow up to be a Flying Eagle.
The state tournament beings today when Buffalo plays Charleston Catholic in a Class A quarterfinal contest at 9:30 a.m.
Reach Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.