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West Virginia sports history, from A to Z

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- OK, so let's get something straight right off the bat here: When West Virginia was born, so to speak, 150 years ago today, sports weren't that big a deal.Yes, they were playing some golf over in Scotland, where the British Open was about to have its fourth run. Still a few years away from actual organized baseball, Eckford of Brooklyn finished its long, grueling season unbeaten at 10-0 and was considered the best of the lot. Joe Coburn beat Mike McCoole for what passed as the heavyweight boxing title of the day. It took him only 67 rounds.To my knowledge, no one from what was formerly the western part of Virginia ever distinguished himself athletically at the time, perhaps because they were too busy shooting muskets and such at each other during the Civil War.In the ensuing 150 years, though, one of the smallest and poorest states has managed to produce quite the litany of athletes and coaches born on our soil. They range from logos (Cabin Creek's Jerry West) to icons (Fairmont's Mary Lou Retton) to lightning rods (Rand's Randy Moss), from iconic (Farmington's Sam Huff) to all-but-forgotten (Shinnston's Joe Stydahar) to how-could-you-forget-him (Charleston's Hot Rod Hundley). They include great athletes (Huntington's Hal Greer), great coaches (Grafton's Clair Bee) and neither (Keyser's John "I'm not an athlete, I'm a baseball player'' Kruk).And then there are the simply memorable, even if you've forgotten many of them. So alphabetically and in no way complete, we present the ABCs of West Virginia sports lore (remember, this is still a small state, so often first names are as good as last ones):A is for Anne White. The George Washington grad was a pretty good tennis player, but will long be remembered for her white body suit at Wimbledon.B is for St. Albans' Randy Barnes, who put the shot further than anyone in the state, then anyone in the world.C is for Pineville's Curt Warner. Only saw him once in high school and unfortunately it was in, literally, six inches of mud at a playoff game in Fairmont. He only had about 220 yards.D is for Fairmont's Dave Tork. How can you not include a world-record pole vaulter.E is for Morgantown's Ed Etzel. He could have handled those Civil War muskets.F is for Farmington's Frank (Gunner) Gatski, who could have made the list as a G except that ... G is for Parkersburg's Earle (Greasy) Neale, who played pro baseball, coached two NFL title teams and just had a great nickname.H is for Burnsville's Danny Heater, whose 135 points in one basketball game against Widen in 1960 gets him onto any list.I is for Bethany's Ira Errett "Rat" Rodgers, who has the shortest street I know of named for him, in front of WVU's Puskar Center. Oh, he also might have been the best athlete this state ever produced. Look it up.J is for Jefferson's James Jett. He's actually from Charles Town, but the alliteration is just too good to pass up.
K is for Monongah's Kerry Marbury, who in high school was Randy Moss before Randy Moss.
L is for Follansbee's Lou Holtz, who was coaching William & Mary when WVU beat him 43-7 in Bobby Bowden's debut in 1970. "I complained that he was running up the score,'' Holtz said. "He said, 'Lou, the last time I checked it was your job to keep the score down, not mine.' "M is for Everettville's John McKay, who while coaching the Tampa Bay Bucs was asked about his team's execution and said, "I'm all for it.''N is for Peterstown's Steve Newberry, whose 20 interceptions while playing for WVU would have made him a prime candidate for a job in last year's secondary, even in his 50s.O is for Parkersburg's Mary Ostrowski. Not the original Big O, of course, legendary in West Virginia.P is for Huntington's Pete Thackston. In 1976, Thackston was 18-0 with 18 complete games for Huntington High. He did the same in American Legion ball that summer until he blew his arm out. The rule limiting a pitcher's work in high school now is the Thackston Rule.
Q is for Fritzie Stifel Quarrier, a golfer who was the first person named the state's amateur athlete of the year, in 1934. Really. A woman.R is for Rich Rodriguez. Just had to throw that in there to get a reaction.S is for Parkersburg's Nick Swisher because don't we need someone current on this list?T is for Mount Hope's Ed Tutwiler, the best West Virginia golfer you've never heard of.U is for Wayne Underwood, who was a great high school football coach at Calhoun County, but almost as significantly has a name that starts with a U.V is for Vernell Eufaye Coles, who starred in basketball at Greenbrier East but was actually born in Virginia, but he still makes the list because you have to get a Vernell Eufaye Coles in there. Right, Bimbo?W is for Martinsburg's Hack Wilson, who had 56 home runs and 190 RBIs for the Cubs in 1930. PED numbers, huh?X is for nothing at all. Sorry, can't come up with a thing.Y is for Fairview's Fielding (Hurry Up) Yost, who blazed the trail for Rodriguez as Michigan's coach, except that he won.Z is for Seth's John Zontini, who at Sherman High School in 1929 rushed for 2,135 yards. That's pretty good by any measure, but not really worthy of this list. Except that he carried the ball just 79 times. That's an average of 27 yards per carry.And that's good even by these lofty West Virginia standards.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or or follow him at
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