There is a sad reality about sports. Time moves on and things change. Fame and success are fleeting. We often forget about the names and faces of the past.
Charleston should not forget the name of Rich Meckfessel.
This past week, former Morris Harvey/University of Charleston basketball coach Rich Meckfessel died in Savannah, Georgia at the age of 81. His death did not create much notice among today’s sports fans, but from 1965 to 1982, Meckfessel was very visible in our city.
Meckfessel came to Morris Harvey in 1965 as a 27-year-old basketball and tennis coach. He would wear several different hats at the school.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, his basketball teams won three WVIAC regular-season championships and two WVIAC tournament titles. His 1966-67 team went to the semifinals of the NAIA Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. His tennis teams won eight WVIAC titles in his first 10 years.
It was a different time from today. When Meckfessel came to Morris Harvey, the Golden Eagles job was a small college job that felt like a major program. There was no ESPN showing games on television. There were no interstates. Fans did not regularly flock to Morgantown or Huntington.
Morris Harvey usually played in the old Charleston Civic Center in front of large crowds. If they played in the smaller Eddie King gym, the crowds were standing room only. Every Morris Harvey game was on the radio with Tom “Mercy Mercy” Bumgardner on the play-by-play. Frank LePage was the school’s popular public address announcer.
The opposing coaches were well known, such as Joe Retton at Fairmont State, Jess Lilly at Glenville State and Neil Baisi and Goodrich “Pete” Phillips at West Virginia Tech.
Former area teacher/coach Cindy Bailey was a student at Morris Harvey during the Meckfessel years from 1969-73. I remember listening to her tell stories of how the students on campus would line up at the Civic Center waiting for the doors to be opened for the tournament and big regular-season games. When the doors opened , the students would run to the student general admission seating to get the best seats on a first-come, first-served basis.
Among the loyal student body at the time were current Convention Center director John Robertson and University of Charleston Stadium director Doug Carte.
Meckfessel also coached many regional players in the Golden Eagles program. Among those he coached were Dale Angle (South Charleston), Roger Bartram (Chapmanville), Spike Conley (South Charleston), Henry Dickerson, Steve Lickliter and Roger Wood (Woodrow Wilson), Jim Fout (DuPont), Roger Hart (Charleston), Jim Hayes (Herbert Hoover), ”Dietz” Lilly and Clyde Childers (George Washington), Gerald Martin (Huntington) and Bobby Wesley (Stonewall Jackson).
Meckfessel also served as the school’s director of athletics. In that role, he helped to launch the careers of Mike Parsons, who served for 34 years as an athletic administrator at WVU, Bill King, who became a media relations director with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Greg McCollam, who would go on to work for the Cincinnati Reds and Indiana Pacers.