CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Our state's basketball history is woven tightly through the towns in the southern coalfields. Area gyms used to be packed on Tuesday and Friday nights during basketball season.
Here are some thoughts on some of the great basketball cathedrals in southern West Virginia.
Brushfork Armory - By day it's a National Guard Armory, but by night it's a basketball cathedral. It even looks and feels like a small arena as you drive up to it. Good to see the Bluefield Beavers playing there again this winter. I remember seeing a Northfork-Bluefield game there in the winter of 1977 and seeing, for the first time, an incredible young sophomore at Northfork, future WVU star Russell Todd.
East Bank gym - The first time I walked into the East Bank gym to watch a game in 1965, I was mesmerized by the jersey of Jerry West that hung over the doors of the main entrance. The gym itself wasn't the nicest in the world, but who cared? Jerry West played here! That's all you needed to know to make it special. The building is no longer there, but there is a sign commemorating this "historic" spot.
Logan Field House - This was the Madison Square Garden of high school venues in our state. If you were a great player in West Virginia, you wanted to play at least one game on this big stage in front of a packed crowd.
Huntington Memorial Field House - The former home of Marshall basketball was the crown jewel for hoops in our state in the 1950s. Melvin Walker and Jim Woodall of Dunbar won a state title there in 1966. So did Willie Akers and Mullens in 1955 and Greg Hawkins and Huntington in 1969. Many great teams won regionals there to advance to the state tournament, including the 1967 Charleston High Mountain Lions.
Mullens High gym - How special were home basketball games in Mullens? I remember Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni saying that putting on the Rebels uniform and running up the steps from the basement locker room into the packed, brightly lit Mullens gym was the most special feeling he ever had in basketball.
Northfork High gym - It was the most intimidating gym in the coalfields. It was located behind the old school and near the railroad tracks. Many visiting teams tried to beat Jennings Boyd's teams there, but very few did.
Raleigh County Armory - The first time I walked into the Raleigh County Armory in Beckley at a regional tournament in 1967, I thought I walked into Heaven. It felt like a big-time arena. I saw a regional doubleheader that night with names such as Roger Wood and John Wooton from Beckley, Bubby Walker of Scott and Jim Fout and James Chambers of DuPont.
Vinson Gymnatorium - Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood on the west end of Huntington was the noisy and packed home of the Vinson Tigers. For over 20 years they were one of the best-coached teams in the state under Donnie Smith and won multiple state titles. Former Tiger Sean Jackson went to Princeton and was the Ivy League Player of the Year. Besides, isn't Gymnatorium an incredible name?
Welch National Guard Armory - I grew up in McDowell County and loved this place. Every Friday night was a doubleheader, usually featuring Gary in one game and Welch in the other. It was an incredible social scene.
Williamson Field House - If the Logan Field House was Madison Square Garden, the Williamson Field House was Boston Garden. It had history, tradition and a rabid fan base. Under George Ritchie, Allan Hatcher and David Hatfield, the Wolfpack rosters were always full of great players.
Reach Frank Giardina atfl...@hotmail.com.