Last call for Ansted?
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If it's indeed the last call for Ansted High School's state record, most everyone involved has enjoyed the ride.
The Fayette County school no longer exists - having been discontinued in 1976 when it consolidated with Nuttall to form Midland Trail - but still lives in the minds of its former students and teachers, not to mention the West Virginia high school record book.
When Wayne won its 36th straight game last weekend in the Class AA playoff semifinals, it matched the run by Class A Ansted from 1970-73, a mark that's held up now for 40 years against all sorts of challenges, several of them recent.
But the Highlanders (Ansted's former nickname) are poised to suffer their final and perhaps most disappointing defeat as Wayne lines up against Bridgeport Friday night during the AA state finals at Wheeling Island Stadium.
A victory by the unbeaten and two-time defending champion Pioneers (13-0) would erase Ansted from the top line of the record book it currently shares with Wayne.
"It looks like it's going to happen, too,'' said Paula Eades, wife of former Ansted coach Roger Eades.
Paula Eades works in the office at Midland Trail High School in Hico. She and her husband still reside in nearby Ansted, which is known mostly for Hawks Nest State Park and Tom Pridemore, the former West Virginia University standout who later played in the NFL.
Pridemore, who played on Ansted's back-to-back state titles teams in 1971-72, is celebrated by a road sign on U.S. 60 marking Ansted as his hometown.
Ansted started its winning streak in 1970 (including two early ties), but didn't make the then-two-team state playoffs, and followed with back-to-back unbeaten records and state crowns before losing in the 1973 semifinals to Monongah.
Those 36 wins in a row have been accosted from all parts of the state in recent years - Morgantown had a 28-game streak that ended in 2006, Wheeling Central's run was halted at 35 in 2008 and Martinsburg's victory ride stopped at 32 last season.
Through it all, the tiny community of Ansted maintained its perch at the top of one of the state's most hallowed records, but already the Highlanders have company that might not leave until they're completely out of the door themselves.
"I knew they were good,'' Roger Eades said of the Pioneers. "They were predicted to beat that [record] at the beginning of the year.''
Eades, who turns 75 on Jan. 2, has become the keeper of the flame in some respects with regard to the record, as has former assistant coach Bill White, who lives across the county in Boomer.
Former students and players at Ansted, as well as townspeople in the area, call Roger Eades to chat about the program's past accomplishments.
It's not a role he exactly covets and, in a way, won't be disappointed if all the publicity comes to an end this weekend.
"I'll be kind of glad to pass the torch,'' he said, "and that's the truth. I'm just glad somebody is ready to get it over with. I can relax.
"General [Douglas] MacArthur said, 'Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.' I can just fade away.''
Dan Cameron, who quarterbacked the unbeaten 1971-72 teams to a pair of state titles, also has mixed feelings about the streak's possible demise.
"I'd kind of like to see it stick around,'' Cameron said. "It's about the only thing left of Ansted High School. But it ain't going to break my heart or nothing like that.
"I don't get excited about the games like I used to. Like they say, everything's made to be broken. But it sure lasted a long time.''
Paula Eades, for one, won't mind giving up the record to the fine folks from Wayne.
"I've heard a lot of good things about Wayne County from our friends,'' she said. "I've said all along it's kind of bittersweet, but exciting. It's been a good run.
"If they do pass that streak, it's a good feeling. I wish them all the luck in the world. It will be real exciting for them. [But] I really thought it would have been beaten sooner than what it has been.''
Paula Eades pointed out a little-known fact about her husband and the Class of '72 he guided on the football field decades ago.
"What's so unique about that team,'' she said, "and nobody knows this except us, is that he coached those boys in the seventh and eighth grade in junior high, and then when they went on to high school, he went to the high school, too, to start coaching.
"They only had one football coach from seventh to 12th grade, and no losses through junior high and high school. They were 84-0-2 - never lost a football game. Roger had a real special relationship with those boys.''
Eades moved on to coach at Midland Trail when that school opened in the fall of 1976, and stayed through 1984. He quit coaching for a while, but then went back to Ansted Middle School and coached five more years.
After all those glorious seasons in the sun, you'd think that the one lasting memory for Eades would be the titles or the win streak. Not exactly.
"The thing I remember most about the entire thing,'' he said, "is how bad it hurts when you finally get beat. To me, that was the worst thing. It hits you hard when it finally happens.''
At the very least, Ansted gets to hold on to another, lesser-regarded record - a 42-game unbeaten streak (40-0-2 from 1970-73). Unless, that is, Wayne's run keeps revving after this season.
As for this weekend, Roger Eades doesn't plan on making the long trek to Wheeling for the state finals, and probably won't even listen to the game on radio.
"I'll probably [find out] when I wake up the next day,'' he said. "Usually, I go hunting on Saturday. But my wife said she'll be watching and listening.''
"He just takes one day at a time,'' Paula Eades said. "That's the way he lives his life.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The state's top all-time winning streaks in prep football:
36 - Ansted (1970-73)
36 - Wayne (2011-active)
35 - Wheeling Central (2005-08)
32 - Mannington (1975-78)
32 - Martinsburg (2010-12)
32 - Bluefield (1967-69)