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Frank Giardina: Remembering old high school football rivalries

By By Frank Giardina
For the Gazette-Mail
File photo

I am not, and have never been, a fan of school consolidation. I realize that our state has lost population in staggering numbers, but I have also seen that when you go from a community or neighborhood school to an “area” school, you rip a piece of the heart out of the community.

In our state, prior to the days of consolidation, we had many great high school football rivalries that are no longer around. Here are a few of those.

Charleston-Stonewall Jackson: Both schools are now a part of Capital High, and the Cougars are a consistent state power. Prior to consolidation, Stonewall Jackson and Charleston were successful Class AAA teams with a resume of state titles and great players. When the two teams used to play for the Elk Bucket at old Laidley Field, the stadium was packed and the atmosphere was electric. Future NFL players such as Dennis Harrah, Walt Easley and Ron McCartney played in this game, as did statewide stars such as Mike Tyson, Melvin Riggins, Harry “Sugar Bear” Lyles, Clifford Harris, Rickie Hurt, William King and Hoppy Shores.

Huntington-Huntington East: This was also a trophy game as the Highlanders and Pony Express used to play for The Flying Helmet. It was a game that divided the city of Huntington and packed old Fairfield Stadium. For many years, the two head coaches were Claude Miller of Huntington and Bob Sang of East. The game produced such stars as East alums Johnny Frye (the 1956 Kennedy Award winner) and Ohio State signee Steve Morrison, as well as past Huntington High stars Donnie Wade, Arthur “Buttons” Speaks, John Hale, Zach Qualls, Steve Williams and Marc and Alan Wild. Williams is now mayor of Huntington

Gary-Welch: At one time, McDowell County had nine high schools. Now there are two. All the schools, such as Big Creek and Northfork, were rivals, but no rivalry was bigger than Gary vs. Welch. The schools played for “The Barrel” and it was a source of pride in both communities. When the two schools played, parking spaces and seats in the stands were tough to come by.

Hamlin-Guyan Valley: In Lincoln County, it was the ”Battle of the Cats,” Bobcats vs. Wildcats. It was always special for both schools, communities and fan bases. Whenever these schools played each other or Duval, it made for some exciting Friday Nights in Lincoln County.

Pineville-Mullens: These two schools are now merged into Wyoming East. Several years ago, Gazette writer Mitch Vingle called this the best rivalry in the state. We think of it more for basketball, but whenever Pineville and Mullens played in anything, it was a big deal. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Oceana also had powerful teams in football and basketball, making Wyoming County one of the better athletic counties in our state.

DuPont-East Bank: These two old rivals are now joined to form Riverside. Due to bad feelings from a bench-clearing brawl in the late 1950s, this series was put on hiatus from 1960-75. Coaches like Tom Bossie, Don Arthur, Corky Griffith, Joe Craffey, Ralph Hensley and Dick Whitman won a lot of football games at these two schools. When you think of these schools, you think of blue-collar players. However, DuPont did produce a quarterback in Danny Williams who went on to WVU and became a Rhodes Scholar, while East Bank had a quarterback in Kris Hopkins who went on to Harvard. Not many schools can say that.

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