CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Every now and then there are athletes who comes into our lives who is more than just "ballplayers." Their accomplishments are such, and they compete with such splendor, that they become iconic. In the Kanawha Valley in the 1960s, there was such an athlete in former Charleston High School basketball player Curtis Price.If you were not around, it is hard to explain how big of a basketball shadow was cast by Price in Charleston. I remember first seeing him in 1965 when he was a ninth grader at Thomas Jefferson Junior High. He and teammate Skip Mason led their team to an undefeated season and won the City Conference championship. Even as a ninth grader, Price had a certain style, grace and elegance about him.
He then went on to Charleston High from 1966-68. He led the Mountain Lions to the Class AAA state title game in 1967, where they lost to Beckley. They then had an undefeated season in 1968 and won the state championship over Beckley 78-64. From 1967 to 1969, Charleston only lost two regular-season games and accumulated an amazing 48-game winning streak. But it wasn't just the winning that made Price and his teams so special. It was also the timing.At a time of incredible racial strife in our country, Price and his teammates had a unifying influence on our city. Their crowds were racially diverse. They brought pride to the East End neighborhoods, the Washington Manor projects, the middle class and upper-middle class in Kanawha City and other Charleston neighborhoods. Fans from other schools who just loved basketball flocked to see the Mountain Lions play. When they played, the old Civic Center was the place to be. There were large and spirited crowds looking forward to seeing fast-break, up-tempo basketball. The Mountain Lions did not disappoint.Besides Price, other CHS players included Charles Rush, Larry "Deacon" Harris, Levi Phillips, Eugune "Sonny" Burls, Skip Mason, Don Megginson, Steve Parsons and Randy Elkins.Coach Lou Romano was also a star, but it was Price who was nicknamed "The King." Prior to his senior year, he was named a Street & Smith's Magazine All-American, a rare honor for a kid from our state. He more than lived up to the billing.Like Mark Workman, Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley and others from the old Kanawha Valley Conference, Price thrilled local fans by signing with West Virginia. He suffered horrific knee issues at WVU that ended his dreams of a pro career, and should have ended his college career, but he would not disappoint the fans in his home state. He played in great pain at WVU from 1970-72, often guarded the opposing team's best player and still averaged almost eight points and five rebounds in his career. Throughout his playing career, Price was known for playing the game the right way. His high school teammate Phillips shared this story."We were playing Parkersburg and winning by about 17 points in the second half," Phillips said. "One of their guards was talking trash to Sonny Burls and Sonny kept telling him, 'Look at the scoreboard, look at the scoreboard.' "Curt came over to Sonny and reminded him that type of behavior was not necessary. Trash talking and technical fouls were not acceptable to Coach Romano or to Curt, and he refused to let us act that way." After working professionally with the Job Corps in many parts of the country, Price moved back to Charleston in 2012. It is good to have him back.
He is not only a part of our basketball history, but also our music history. He loves music as much as basketball. He played piano as a youngster and then switched to guitar. In a story with Gazette writer Sandy Wells in March of 2008, he talked about playing with the King Sound Interpreters and touring in Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach and Atlanta.In college he played with a band that toured in Boston and New Jersey. One day he played a Saturday afternoon basketball game in Morgantown and a dance that night in Fairmont. A young Stevie Wonder walked in since he happened to be playing a concert in Fairmont. He asked if he could sit in on drums. Little did Stevie know he wasn't the biggest celebrity in the Holiday Inn that night.Stevie Wonder wrote and performed "Sir Duke," but in this area, Curt Price will always be known as "The King." Reach Frank Giardina at firstname.lastname@example.org.