Earlier in these days of coronavirus — certainly not to be confused with the days of wine and roses — I reflected on some of the most memorable games I’ve covered in 42 years as a sports reporter.
That got me to thinking about some of the best quotes I’ve heard while on the job, and decided it was time to count down some of those, too. Here’s a dirty dozen:
12: Riverside’s Ciara Chic was a record-setting girls track sprinter, first at DuPont (1999) and then Riverside (2000) following the consolidation with East Bank. Her bubbly personality was matched only by her fleet feet, as she swept all three individual sprints in the 2000 Class AAA state meet.
She never disappointed any reporter who stopped her for a few comments. She was even savvier than some newsroom editors.
Once, she told a newspaper photographer shooting a practice picture of her for an upcoming feature: “You probably don’t want to get me coming out of the blocks. That’s the photo you ran from last week’s meet.’’
11: Madonna boys basketball coach Rich Santilli had just seen his team, ranked No. 2 in the state and toting a school-record 21 wins, fritter away an 18-point lead with 6:25 left in regulation and fall 94-86 in overtime to St. Francis in the 1984 Class A Region 1 final in Parkersburg, missing out on a chance to play in the state tournament.
As I tracked down Santilli afterward for a couple of comments, I wondered how he would handle the dire disappointment. I found him sitting by himself at the bottom of a stairwell, and he managed a faint smile when he looked up and saw me.
“I’m taking it better than I thought,’’ Santilli said.
10: Seldom has a single word carried so much substance.
Moments after Wheeling Park wrapped up its second straight Class AAA girls basketball championship in March of 1999, Patriots coach Dee Davis was fielding questions from the media in the interview room at the Charleston Civic Center along with some of her top players, and was talking about prospects for next season’s team.
Park’s lone senior was KeTara Lee, a splendid athlete who was eventually selected as the state’s player of the year after averaging 19.7 points, eight rebounds and five assists that season. Understandably, she was also quite proud of those accomplishments.
Anyway, Davis started out a response to a reporter’s question by saying: “Well, we only lose KeTara next season ...’’
Immediately, Lee’s head snapped toward Davis and with furrowed brow, she blurted out: “Only?!’’
9: The late Jim Thomas coached four championship football teams at Wheeling Central, the first coming in 1979 at Laidley Field when the Maroon Knights upset Buffalo Wayne 39-21 in the Class AA finals.
A crowd of reporters gathered in the Knights’ tumultuous locker room afterward and surrounded a slightly frazzled Thomas.
Someone leaned toward Thomas and hollered out in the postgame din: “Where are you going to be later?”
“Later?” Thomas mused. “I’m not even sure where I am now.”
8: Any time you talk to Capital football coach Jon Carpenter, you’re prepared to hear something unusual.
A few years ago, as I tracked him down on the phone when he arrived at University of Charleston Stadium for practice, he spotted the unusual-looking Google Maps Street View Car touring the neighborhood to take imagery for its website.
Carpenter interrupted the conversation about his team, excitedly barking out something like:
“Look, over there! It’s the Google Car! There it goes! Man, it looks like it has a toilet on top!’’
7: One of the most quotable athletes I ever came across was Shawntay Smith, an All-State girls basketball player for George Washington in the late 1990s.
Smith would chat you up about anything, even the time when she was hit by a minivan while crossing the street in front of the school just two weeks before GW played in the 1999 state tournament. Of course, she recovered and played that week and led the Patriots into the finals for the second time in three years.
Despite her obvious talent (she played her final two seasons in college at Division I South Alabama), Smith only averaged about 14 points as a senior at GW, but that was more by design than decline. Let her explain:
“Usually, the main focus is on who’s scoring the points,” Smith said in a 1999 interview. “Kids ask me all the time: ‘How many points did you score? What happened to your points?’ It’s not that I’m not capable of scoring 25 or 30 points. I just don’t have to. I don’t need to. I have a role on my team and my role is not always to score points.
“Sometimes, what I have to do is something else besides scoring points. It’s rare when a post player is leading the team in assists. The last two years, I’ve picked up other phases of the game more and more — rebounds, assists. I do what I’ve got to do for us to win. You don’t have to score 30 points to be a good basketball player.’’
6: One of my favorite second-hand quotes of all time. It’s 1982, one of the first seasons for the new overtime rule in West Virginia football. But, apparently, Brooke coach Bud Billiard hadn’t grilled everyone on his team about the way it worked. Like his kicker.
Early in the season, Brooke and Wheeling Central played to a 7-7 tie in regulation and headed into OT at Wheeling Island Stadium. The Maroon Knights went first and were stuffed on their possession, which started from the Brooke 10. So all the Bruins had to do was boot a short field goal to earn the victory.
That’s what their young kicker did, confidently drilling a 27-yarder on first down. But Billiard was still a bit unsettled talking to reporters after the game.
“We sent the kid out there on first down to kick it,’’ Billiard said, “even though he hadn’t tried many field goals. But just as he was running onto the field, he turned to me and said: ‘Don’t worry, coach. I know I can make one out of four.’’’
Billiard laughed, but knew the joke would have been on the Bruins had the attempt been unsuccessful. A missed kick, no matter the down, ends the possession in overtime.
5: Mike Roebuck was used to having success at the highest levels of competition — he was a two-time state track champion in the high hurdles at East Bank in 1996-97 and the leading rusher on the Pioneers’ Class AA football championship squad in 1996.
But like a lot of athletes, he wasn’t always immune from pre-game jitters, as he articulated in a colorful manner in an interview during the first day of the 1997 state track meet.
“My expectations are high,’’ Roebuck said. “I expect to crush records. But I’ve got to stay relaxed.
“Last year, I got all tense. My b---hole was this tight,’’ he said, forming a tiny circle with his index finger and thumb. “I had a big lead in the 300s and fell and got mad. It carried over into the highs and I almost blew that.’’
4: The late Dick Whitman carved out a highly successful career as football coach at DuPont and Riverside, and still holds the Kanawha County record for most career coaching wins with 181 in 24 seasons. He was also considered one of the game’s true gentlemen in the high school ranks.
Whitman, however, did have his own personal kryptonite — which came in the form of the Parkersburg Big Reds, but only at playoff time.
Witness one stretch of his career, from December of 1999 through August of 2004, when Whitman went 5-0 against Parkersburg in regular-season games, but 0-4 versus the Big Reds in the postseason. Three times in that stretch, the Warriors beat the Big Reds during the regular season, only to lose to them later that same year in the playoffs.
The final straw came in the 2003 playoffs, when No. 13 seed Parkersburg won at No. 4 Riverside 20-18 in the first round as the Warriors missed all three of their conversion tries.
“I’m pretty well convinced now that I simply can’t beat Parkersburg in a playoff game,’’ Whitman said after that loss. “It’s not going to happen. I give Parkersburg all the credit in the world.’’
3: Sissonville’s Jennifer Povick was definitely a wonder at the girls state track meet earlier this century. Call her a runner for all speeds.
As a sophomore, she swept all three individual sprint events in the Class AA 2002 state meet, and then transformed herself into a distance runner, taking all three individual events in that category the following season. So she was a state champion in everything from 100 meters to 3,200 meters. But one thing was missing in her resume — a state record.
In the final event of her senior season in 2004, fueled by a stirring stretch run in mid-80s heat, Povick set a girls Class AA meet mark of 2:13.58 in the 800, breaking the former record that had stood for 17 years.
Povick paid the price for that record. After hitting the finish line, she stumbled to the infield oval and curled up into a fetal position, her body completely spent. She was helped to a nearby trainer’s station and spent about 20 minutes flat on her back with ice bags applied.
“That came from pure heart, I’ll tell you that,” Povick said. “I don’t remember running the last half of it. It was running your guts out. It was just a buildup of everything I’ve done the last four years. I wanted to make my name in the [record] book. I wanted my name to be in there. I knew if I was going to [set a record], it would be in the 8. I just went.
“It took a toll on me, but I was ready to go. I wanted to get it done with. All I kept telling myself after I ran the mile: ‘Two laps, I’m done. Two laps, I’m done. I’m done with my high school career.’ I’m just going, because I have nothing to lose. If I die, I die.”
2: I once wrote a feature on weird superstitions held by players and coaches that I’d covered over the years, and many were hilarious, but one in particular was, shall we say, somewhat too revealing.
Again, it’s the interview room after the girls 1999 Class AAA basketball title game, and Park coach Dee Davis was talking about how her players had become very superstitious in recent seasons, such as eating pizza at the same Charleston restaurant before every game of their tournament trips.
Junior guard Toni Matkovich quickly agreed that success had become habit-forming for the Patriots.
“Sure,’’ Matkovich said. “I have to wear the same bra, the same underwear — everything — when we play here.’’
1: No one’s ever seen a quarterback like J.R. House in West Virginia. The two-time Kennedy Award winner at Nitro and former national record-holder for career passing yards is considered a legend in these parts — state records of 10 touchdown passes and 594 yards in a championship game will do that for you.
House pulled another surprise when he attended the 1999 Victory Awards Dinner at the Charleston Civic Center to accept his second Kennedy, along with the Hardman Award as the state’s top amateur athlete of the year.
When he came to the dais to give one of his acceptance speeches, House first broke out in song: “And I did it myyyyy wayyyyy.’’
Later that evening, House said his musical interlude was meant to celebrate the never-before-seen passing circus that was Nitro’s calling card on its wild journey to the 1998 Class AAA title.
“It’s like the Frank Sinatra song,’’ he said, “in a plural form. We did it our way.’’
Don’t mean to steal any of House’s thunder, but I’m calling shenanigans on that one. He never passed me a kudo for most likely providing him with the inspiration to quote Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.
About five months before, in a story wrapping up Nitro’s improbable run, I wrote the following paragraph in the Gazette:
It wasn’t enough for the Wildcats to simply go all the way. They had to do it their way. And that meant part showtime and part showing off.