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Curtis Price remembered as versatile leader

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "King" Curtis Price was a lot of things to a lot of people.

He was a civic leader.

He was a multi-talented musician.

He was one of Kanawha County's most celebrated athletes.

Today, after losing a battle to cancer on Thursday in Charleston at age 63, the "King" is gone.

He certainly, though, won't soon be forgotten.

"They called him the King," said lifelong friend Levi Phillips, "because he was the most respected person I've ever known."

Of late, Price had been the Charleston Job Corps Center director after serving many years as a top-level executive in the organization.

But it was his ability to play basketball that caught the attention of the nation.

Price was a standout on Charleston High teams, including the 1968 state championship team, and was a preseason Street & Smith's first-team All-America selection for coach Lou Romano. He was recruited by Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Kansas and others and received a letter from UCLA's John Wooden, but chose to sign with West Virginia University and coach Bucky Waters, who then left for Duke.

Price was the leader of a CHS team considered one of the state's best units ever. Price, Phillips, Larry "Deacon" Harris, Skip Mason and Sonny Burls formed the nucleus of the Mountain Lions team, which compiled a 72-3 record over three years and once had a 48-game winning streak.

Romano, who also died of cancer, had a special place in his heart for Price, according to Romano's son, Anthony.

"He was like a son to my dad," Anthony Romano said. "He was just an A-1 fellow, a leader. He was a coach on the floor before that term came out. He was a coach.

"[That CHS team] was what basketball is all about. And as a person, Curt was the best. You won't find one person who will say anything bad about him. My father was very close to him. Curt was very special to him."

As a basketball player, Price stood out from the Donnelly Street playground to Thomas Jefferson Junior High to CHS. According to close friend Andy Richardson, he also stood out in other ways.

"This was the 1960s, right after integration," Richardson said. "Charleston had an all-black starting lineup. It was rough at times for them, but Curt made sure everyone stayed calm. There were never technical fouls.

"They played with dignity and class, and Curt was the one who made sure of it."

Known as an incredible leaper, Price suffered a severe knee injury as a senior that hindered the rest of his basketball career. In his three seasons at WVU (freshmen weren't eligible then), playing for Sonny Moran, Price averaged 7.7 points, including a 10-point average his senior season. Phillips and Harris also went to WVU, but the latter was killed in an auto accident.

Gary McPherson, current WVU senior director of development for the Mountaineer Athletic Club, was an assistant coach for Moran.

"I have great feelings for Curt," McPherson said. "As everyone knows, he was a great human being who did a great job for us.

"I'll always remember him running the length of the court after we won one at Virginia Tech we shouldn't have. He pulled himself up by the rim, straddled it and sat on the backboard. No one in Cassell Coliseum moved or said anything."

McPherson said Price wasn't a great shooter, but "banked one in from the corner - which is hard to do," to pull the Mountaineers within one in that 83-82 WVU victory in 1972.

At WVU, Price was more of a defensive specialist after suffering the knee problems.

"He never complained," McPherson said. "I remember him having to put ice on those knees. He was just a consummate team player and very mature. That's why he was successful in life. He kept the proper perspective.

"I thought the world of him. He was a great human."

After WVU, Price became the nation's youngest college coach (at age 21) by taking the basketball job at West Virginia State. He was named West Virginia Conference coach of the year before going back to school.

Within a year, though, then-Gov. Jay Rockefeller asked Price to become the state's first equal opportunity/affirmative action officer.

"His influence transcended generations," Richardson said.

After leaving state government, Price joined the Job Corps, which took him to stops like Cincinnati, Salt Lake City and New York before he returned to Charleston.

In regard to music, Price played with the group the King Sound Interpreters with Kai Haynes and Ivor Sheff and the Production Company with Sheff. While at WVU, he played with the Upsetters.

"I can remember playing a game for WVU and going to the Holiday Inn and playing a dance," Price told the Gazette in 2008. "In walks Stevie Wonder and his entourage. He asked if it was OK to sit in and play drums."

Price was well rounded - and very well respected.

"He was one of the best people I ever met in life," Phillips said. "I'm not just saying that. He was just selfless. He was the reason I got a college degree. He stayed on my back. In my community, he helped everyone, whether financially or with his expertise."

"He was my childhood hero and my adult friend," Richardson said. "Just a very, very special person."

Price is survived by wife Judy and daughters Michelle and Tia.

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


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