One of the most famous works of poetry is “To an Athlete Dying Young,” written in 1896 by British poet A.E. Housman.
Society has always admired athletic ability. Houseman’s poem emphasizes that fact. The poem reads “the time you won your town the race, we chaired you through the market place. Men and boy stood cheering by and home we brought you shoulder high.”
Historically, communities in West Virginia also take pride in their sports heroes. We love our athletes. When tragedy strikes, and an athlete dies young, the town and school never forgets.
Here are a few thoughts on area athletes that we lost at a young age.
ROGER CHILDERS — Childers was an overachieving, multi-sport athlete at St. Albans in the mid-1960s. He was known for toughness and unselfish play. His basketball coach, Tex Williams, still gets emotional when he talks about Childers.
Tragically, we lost him in the 1970 Marshall football plane crash. The small towns of Ravenswood, Pt. Pleasant, Bluefield and Culloden all still mourn native sons lost in the 1970 crash.
RALPH JEAN — In the spring of 1970, Lou Romano coached a great baseball team at Charleston High. One of its brightest stars was Ralph Jean from Kanawha City. In the spring of 1970, as sectional tournament play was about to begin, Jean tragically drowned in an accident on the Elk River. Jean is still missed by all who knew him.
THAD SNODGRASS — Just before Christmas of 1978, the DuPont City/Belle community felt as it was living a nightmare when DuPont star athlete Thad Snodgrass was tragically killed by a drunk driver while walking on old Rt. 60 in West Belle. This accident and death devastated the DuPont community.
The Snodgrass family was the “royal family” of the area. Father Joe had been the basketball and baseball coach and would later be a principal. Mother Johnna, helped run the Charleston Civic Center. Sister Shannon would eventually be Miss Kanawha Majorette. Sister Suzanne looked like a princess. Thad Snodgrass seemed destined to play professional baseball or college football. I think he would have been governor. His death in 1978 is still mourned by his community.
WILL WASHBURN — I live near Hurricane. I did not know this young man, but I can tell that he was greatly loved. The community and school were shocked over the sudden April 27 passing of eighth grade basketball player Will Washburn.
Sadly, this is the second time the Hurricane community has experienced such a tragedy. On January 19, 1996, Hurricane Middle School lost basketball player Matt Higginbotham, who collapsed at practice. His former middle school coach, Skip Cremeans, thinks about him daily.
MINOR WOODS — Shock waves of disbelief went through the upper Kanawha Valley in the spring of 1971 when East Bank multi-sport star Minor Woods was killed in a car wreck near the Chelyan Bridge.
Woods had just finished basketball season for the Pioneers playing with names such as Lanny Steed, Ron Calloway and Lester Weems.
As news of Wood’s passing spread, hundreds of mourners crammed into Cabin Creek churches looking for comfort. Woods has never been forgotten by his classmates.