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Fall sports memories

By Frank Giardina

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's early October and the temperatures will soon be turning and the leaves will soon be falling. Here are some individuals and football memories I think about at this time of the year. 

  • Bob Bowen - For almost 30 years, our region learned the high school football scores on a Friday night from WSAZ-TV, Channel 3. Video was hard to come by and highlights were not plentiful like today, but Bowen made every score seem important. And every score was important to that school and that town. 
  • Charleston High vs. Stonewall Jackson - Indiana and Purdue battle for the Old Oaken Bucket. Charleston and Stonewall used to play for the Elk Bucket. I had the opportunity to attend three of the Bucket games and all three were packed houses. Former Mountain Lion Melvin Riggins returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in one of those games in 1966. The next year, Harry "Sugar Bear" Lyles and the Generals upset Riggins and the Mountain Lions. Lyles entered the stadium with an ominous hood over his head as the Stonewall fans chanted "Sock it to 'em Sugar Bear, ooh aah." 
  • Budd Dailey - I have been to arenas all over the country, and the late Marshall public address announcer is still the best basketball PA guy I ever heard. We lost him too early.
  • East Bank, Cedar Grove, DuPont, Milton, Barboursville, Ceredo-Kenova, Dunbar, Montgomery, Mount Hope and others - I hate school consolidation and what it has done to the towns and communities in our state. When the lights came on in the old neighborhood schools, Friday nights became magical in those communities. 
  • Jack Fleming - Who doesn't remember and miss Jack Fleming? In his era, the radio broadcasts were much more important than they are today. Today, everything is on television. In Fleming's era, you had to rely solely on the radio. If you were a butcher in Clarksburg, a mechanic in Parkersburg or a housewife in Bluefield, Welch or Coalwood with the radio on above your sink while washing dishes, you listened to Jack.  He painted the picture while capturing the feelings of every WVU fan. Fans now love Tony Caridi, but when TC replaced Fleming, he classily said, "I will be doing the West Virginia broadcasts, but Jack Fleming will always be the Voice of the Mountaineers."  
  • A. L. "Shorty" Hardman - Every sports fan read Shorty's column in the Gazette every day. He covered everything and was beloved by the city. I heard him speak at a junior high event and I was nervous to meet him. 
  • John McKinney - Most of you have no idea who John McKinney was, but the WVU broadcast team knows. He was the longtime engineer for Mountaineer radio broadcasts on MSN. He was simply the best. He was a loveable curmudgeon that you enjoyed seeing every time he came into the press box. 
  • Ernie Saunders - The incredible baritone of Ernie Saunders was one of the most distinctive voices in our state's radio history. If he was doing a high school football game on Friday night then you knew it was a big game. He was usually accompanied by longtime broadcasters Joe Faris and John Dickensheets. 
  • Dick Whitman - The world today is so caught up in winning championships that most coaches are really not in it for the kids. Not Dick Whitman. Oh, the former St. Albans baseball and DuPont football coach won lots of games and championships, but that is not what drove him. He was always about the kids. He wanted every kid to have a positive experience, and not just the kids on his team. One of his longtime assistants told me that "Dick Whitman would never beat teams 70-7 the way many teams are doing out there today. He just would not let that happen." 
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