CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're a Class A football team in the southern part of West Virginia and you want to fill your schedule with state teams, you basically have two choices.
1. Play well above your class. 2. Fill the bus with lots of gas.
With consolidations swallowing up more and more smaller schools in the southern half of the state, the ones that remain are getting farther and farther apart.
That has prompted most of those schools to hit the road more than Willie Nelson ever dreamed of. Take a look at the schedule of just about any Class A school in the southern half of West Virginia, and you'll probably see a couple of long trips.
"That's just the way it is,'' said Man coach Harvey Arms. "You have to find somebody to play, and if you want to play in our class, it's something you just about have to do.
"Down this way, when all the Mingo County teams consolidated [into Mingo Central], that cut out Burch, Williamson and Gilbert - all those single-As. When Lincoln County consolidated, we lost Duval, Hamlin and Guyan Valley. Really, I guess, in the southern end of the state, there's us, Sherman, Van, Montcalm and the Fayette County schools. We're the only single-A schools left.''
Man is involved in one of those whoppers of a road trip, but this time is on the receiving end as Pocahontas County winds its way 170 miles and nearly 4 hours to the Logan County town on Oct. 25. The Hillbillies have already made the trip to Dunmore twice since 2010.
"By the time you stop and rest and take time to eat,'' Arms said, "it's probably a five-hour trip.''
The traveling pigskin show exists more in the southern half of West Virginia simply because of consolidations and geography. In the northern half of the state, 24 Class A schools are bunched into little pockets (see graphic), mainly in the greater Parkersburg, Clarksburg and Wheeling areas.
Pendleton County and Pocahontas County remain remote outposts for any other state team to visit, as they're tucked away at or near the bottom of the Eastern Panhandle. That leaves just 13 other single-A teams in the southern portion of West Virginia out of the 39 schools in the division that play football.
That number could dwindle ever more in some spots, like Fayette County, which still has four Class A schools even after Mount Hope was absorbed into Oak Hill two years ago.
"There's so much consolidation going on,'' said Fayetteville coach Frank Spangler, "it's hard to get a good schedule now. We can get a schedule with double-A schools in there, but it wouldn't be fair for our kids to play out of class so much.''
That's left Spangler with some extended bus rides in years past, including games at Man and Moorefield, a 200-mile jaunt which the Yellowjackets are scheduled to make to Fayetteville this season.