CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- What West Virginia needs more of is excellence.
I think we'd all agree on that, right?
We need excellence in leadership, governance, schools and businesses.
And what we don't need is to discourage excellence.
Yet that's what's happening in regard to one of the nation's premier basketball programs, which is situated right here in the Mountain State.
According to the latest USA Today Super 25 rankings, Huntington St. Joseph Prep is No. 7 nationally. Last year, it produced the highest-profile recruit in the nation in Andrew Wiggins, now a star at Kansas.
That's quite a big deal for our small state. It should be a point of pride. Coaches from all over are swarming to Huntington to see the nation's best players.
Yet the Secondary School Activities Commission refuses to recognize the program, leading to legislative action.
As you might have read in Thursday's Gazette, Senate Bill No. 540 overwhelmingly passed - by a 31-3 vote - dealing with "college preparatory teams" in general and Prep specifically.
The bill states the SSAC would set forth reasonable rules to allow a prep team to be recognized by the body. It states such prep teams must have students that attend the base school. It states such teams cannot compete for league, regional or state championships. There can't be fifth-year seniors or post-high school graduates involved. Such a prep team can, however, according to the bill, play a "limited schedule in each sanctioned sport against schools" also under the SSAC.
"We're not asking to play in the state tournament," said Prep coach Rob Fulford. "We'd just like to be recognized by the SSAC so we'd be eligible for some of the national tournaments that require that."
Fulford said Prep doesn't even have to be a full-fledged member of the SSAC. All he's asking is for is the organization to check out his program and certify it is legitimate.
"It would help us and not hurt one person in West Virginia or the people at the SSAC," Fulford said. "Not one."
One could hear the frustration in the coach's voice, and it's frustration that's understandable. Again, West Virginia is struggling with change. Once again, West Virginia is struggling with something - even excellence - outside the norm.
It's sad. It's sad the issue even has to hit legislative desks. It's sad the SSAC couldn't have handled this.
"[The SSAC] has said we're not a school," Fulford said. "We are. We're Huntington St. Joseph Prep. A lot has changed since we started. A few years ago, I could understand that. But now we're five years into this. I'm sitting in my office in St. Joe's. We are St. Joe's. We're the prep team of St. Joe's."
If SSAC executive director Gary Ray or his staff don't wish to visit Huntington, they can simply check the school's website. In its upcoming athletic events tab you see swimming, girls basketball, boys basketball and prep basketball.
"Our St. Joseph Prep basketball players," says the website, "compete on a national level and are valued students of St. Joseph Central Catholic High School."
Those players not only compete on a national level, but on a very high national level.