Our small state has a history of producing athletic stars from small communities. This past week, I learned of a couple of special honors for two more small-town heroes who played at Class AA high schools.
Former Winfield High School athlete Mike Barber was recently announced as one of the new inductees into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Barber’s story is an encouragement to many. He was an under-recruited athletic quarterback at Winfield in the early 1980s. He was recruited by Stan Parrish to Marshall, where they made him a wide receiver. When Parrish left for Kansas State in 1985, Barber played for George Chaump and flourished, hooking up with QBs Tony Petersen and John Gregory.
Barber became a Division I-AA All-American, helped raise the bar for Marshall football — leading them to the 1987 national championship game — and became a College Football Hall of Famer.
He played four seasons in the NFL with the 49ers and Bengals. He still lives in Putnam County where he and his wife, Amy, help coach the Hurricane High girls soccer team.
Winfield has a history of producing good athletes. Jim Lett played football and baseball at Kentucky, Ted Kester and John Brown played football at WVU and Steve Cooper was a quarterback at Marshall.
The Generals played for AA boys basketball state titles in 1977, 1979 and 1980 with players such as Jim Boone, Dave Sowards and Freddie Wright. In today’s era, the Generals have been a dominant state program in track and girls soccer.
Also honored this month was former Gauley Bridge High School basketball star Joey Kania. Steve Keenan of the Montgomery Herald writes that the basketball floor at Brooke Point High School in Stafford, Virginia was named after Kania earlier this month. Kania coached boys basketball at Brooke Point from 1993-2016.
Kania was a clever left-handed guard who played for Marshall Webb at Gauley Bridge and helped the Travelers make the state tournament in 1970 and 1971 at a time when only four AA teams qualified for it. Kania then went to play for Goodrich “Pete” Phillips at West Virginia Tech in Montgomery.
After playing at Tech, Kania coached at Charleston Catholic and eventually became an assistant coach at Tech under Tom Sutherland for 12 seasons. In 1986, Sutherland, Kania and the Golden Bears upset the University of Charleston in the finals of the WVIAC Tournament.
It may not look like it now, but at one time Gauley Bridge had a rich tradition in high school basketball. Besides Kania, the Travelers produced such star players as Bobby Ayersman, John Vencill, Jerry Montgomery, Mark Grimmett and others.
Ayersman went on to start at Virginia Tech and Montgomery was a two-time captain at Wake Forest. Grimmett helped Gauley Bridge reach the 1979 Class A state title game, where the Travelers lost to Glen Rogers from Wyoming County.