I grew up in the 1960s during the heyday of the WVIAC tournament in Charleston. It was a great time to be a young sports fan in Charleston.
In the days before ESPN, cable television and constant coverage of college basketball, that event was special in Charleston. It made our city feel like an “alive” major-league city, with legions of out-of-town fans and teams staying at the Daniel Boone Hotel and packing restaurants such as The Sterling, Vesuvio’s and Joe Fazio’s.
In those days, tickets were tough to come by in the 6,500-seat Charleston Civic Center. The semifinals, championship game and consolation sessions were usually sold out.
The first day of the tournament featured seven games on Wednesday starting at 10:15 a.m., and most high school teams were allowed to miss school that day to enjoy the event.
In 1972, I was at the Wheeling-Davis & Elkins game at 10:15 a.m. Former WVU head coach John Beilein probably played in that game, which went to double overtime. When the teams were tied at the end of the first overtime, many fans in the stands booed. The fans were ready for the next game.
n In the late 1960s there was no interstate system to Morgantown. If you wanted college basketball in this region, the WVIAC tournament was the place to be. There were many local and regional players on the rosters. For example, Morris Harvey had local names such as Roger Hart (Charleston), Roger Bartram (Chapmanville), Henry Dickerson (Beckley), Dietz Lilly (George Washington), Bobby Wesley (Stonewall Jackson), Spike Conley (South Charleston), Jim Hayes (Herbert Hoover), Tom Neal (St. Albans), Dale Angle (South Charleston) and Jim Fout (DuPont).
West Virginia Tech had area stars such as Mike Barrett (Richwood), Onas Aliff (East Bank), Bubby Walker (Scott) and Tom Chaney (Hurricane).
West Virginia State had in-state talent such as Dave and Alan Hamilton (Gary), Charles Rush (Charleston), James Chambers (DuPont) and Gary Bush (Nitro).
In those days, all the local teams had radio broadcasts. The “Voice of the Golden Eagles,” Tom “Mercy Mercy” Bumgardner was a local celebrity on WTIP Radio.
n It has been a strange college basketball season of battling COVID. In a strange way, the virus has evened out the playing field in college hoops. Many teams with great traditions and large home fan bases seemed to have suffered and lost motivation playing in front of no fans this winter.
On the home front, our in-state Division I teams have handled pandemic well. WVU has Mountaineer fans dreaming of a Final Four or national championship. Marshall fans have hopes of making the NCAA Tournament or NIT.
n One final note. On Thursday, you may have seen in the news that Lisa Johnston was named the acting U. S. Attorney for Southern West Virginia. You may not know that she was an incredible athlete.
When she was Lisa Grimes, she was a basketball and tennis star at John Marshall High School in Moundsville. She was the first scholarship women’s tennis athlete at WVU.