1955: Golden Age of West Virginia High School Basketball

I’ve been contacted by many who have shared great insights on the sports and athletes mentioned here at StubbyCurrence.com. I was lucky to hear from Josh Hall, whose dad is Don Hall, a 1955 Logan Wildcats center named to that year’s West Virginia High School Basketball All-State Team by a selection board overseen by Stubby Currence.

Hall found the 1955 All-State selections “fascinating” and points out “Jerry West was relegated to the Honorable Mentions in spite of averaging 24.5 points per game and being named Player of the Year in the powerful Kanawha Valley Conference as a junior for East Bank.”

Oh, I would have loved to ask Stubby why!

Hall has since been in contact with 16 of the 18 living members of the 1955 First, Second, and Third Team West Virginia All-Staters and has complied a book. Here is the intro:


1955 West Virginia High School Basketball: Introduction

By Josh Hall

If a basketball enthusiast was to select one year to chronicle out of nearly a century of West Virginia High School basketball, they could find few more interesting and historic than the 1954-1955 season.

The basketball world in 1955 looked somewhat different than it does today partially due to slow integration. Major League Baseball was integrated in 1947. The NBA (which consisted of only eight teams) was integrated in 1950. In the West Virginia High School ranks, there would be two more seasons after 1955 before complete integration. Bill Lewis of Grafton High School, however, became the first black player in the history of the West Virginia High School Basketball State Tournament in 1955.

The way the game was being played was changing too. This was the era of crew cuts, Chuck Taylor All-Stars, narrow foul lanes, and players who were still referred to as “cagers”, but the mid-50’s marked a transition to the modern game. Two hand set shots were becoming modern jump shots. The fast break was the weapon of choice for many teams. Games were often played at a frenzied pace before packed and in many cases, rowdy gymnasiums. Three of the state’s top teams; Mullens, Wheeling, and Huntington High Schools, averaged nearly 90 points per game. In 1955, single game team scoring records were set three times in a one-month span.

One constant, however, has been the source of pride that high school sports teams have been to communities throughout West Virginia and in the 1950’s, the toughness of their basketball teams often reflected a town’s identity. “Coal Camp” towns produced lean, hard-nosed, gritty players. One such team, the 1955 Logan Wildcats, went 22-3 with wins over both 1955 state finalists.

The following is a compilation of games, scores, teams, and players from the remarkable 1954-1955 West Virginia High School basketball season. Some of the highlights include:

  • The season included most of the players that would make up the roster of West Virginia University’s 1959 NCAA Finals team.
  • A 146 to 110 contest between Wheeling and Weirton…still the highest scoring game in West Virginia High School basketball history.
  • At least seven different players had 50 points in a game.
  • The undefeated regular seasons of Class “A” schools, Gauley Bridge and Clarksburg-Washington Irving and the Class “B” school, Gassaway.
  • Charleston-Garnet defeated Beckley-Stratton to win the W.Va. Athletic Union Championship.
  • Fairview beat Chattaroy to win the Class “B” state championship.
  • Mullens defeated Huntington to win the Class “A” state championship.
  • The 1955 West Virginia All-Stars would be called the states’ best ever to battle Kentucky.
  • A player with a record 40 points per game scoring average and five others who averaged over 30.
  • A player who overcame a childhood bout with polio would lead his team on an amazing run in the state tournament with an historic scoring spree.
  • And a junior from East Bank High School would show his first signs of greatness in 1955 and would eventually become one of the greatest in basketball history.

The 19th All-State Team (1955) included First Team: Forwards Leo Byrd of Huntington, Wille Akers of Mullens; Centers Theryl Willis of Big Creek and Nick Humley of Wheeling, and Guards Alex Hawkins of South Charleston, Robert Smith of Stonewall Jackson, Robert Hart of Clarksburg Washington Irving.

The 19th All-State Team (1955) included First Team: Forwards Leo Byrd of Huntington, Wille Akers of Mullens; Centers Theryl Willis of Big Creek and Nick Humley of Wheeling, and Guards Alex Hawkins of South Charleston, Robert Smith of Stonewall Jackson, Robert Hart of Clarksburg Washington Irving.

Special thanks to Josh Hall! If you have a question for Josh or are interested in a copy of the book, email me at stubbycurrence@gmail.com and I’ll make sure to connect you.

~Melissa

Vic Sorrell: World Series Pitcher, Bluefield Blue-Grays Player and Manager

Vic Sorrell’s 1932 Goudey Gum Company Baseball Card.

We are celebrating Major League Baseball’s Opening Day! Stubby Currence added so much to the legacy of baseball, especially in Four Seasons Country.

I found this article talking about Stubby’s connection to 1935 World Series Winner and Detriot Tiger pitcher Vic Sorrell, who played for the Bluefield Blue-Grays in the 1920s and 1930s.
“Sorrell was lured back to Bluefield, West Virginia, one year after his big-league career ended. According to his son, Sorrell and sportswriter Stubby Currence had maintained a close friendship since the pitcher’s coalfield league days in 1924. Currence persuaded Sorrell to pitch for the Bluefield Blue-Grays, recently admitted to the Class D Mountain State League. Down-to-earth and level-headed, Sorrell was a popular, beloved figure in the town of 25,000 residents. He took the mound for the Blue-Grays in his final three years of professional baseball (1938-40), went 26-11, and managed the club in in 1939 and ’40. He announced his retirement after the 1940 season, and 15 years in Organized Ball. In his ten years with the Tigers he was 92-101, logging 1,671⅔ innings with a 4.43 ERA.” -Gregory H. Wolf
Read the Sorrell’s biography by Gregory H. Wolf  on the Society For American Baseball Research. Sorrell went on to become the head baseball coach at North Carolina State University from 1946 to 1966.
Here is a column Stubby wrote about Sorrell in 1935.

March 14, 1935 Press Box column by Stubby Currence. Story references Victor Sorrell, baseball player, pitcher for Detroit Tigers and former player for Bluefield Blue-Grays and Wake Forest University. Click to zoom.

~Melissa

Legacy of Naming School Sports Teams

I’ve seen it mentioned that V.L. “Stubby” Currence provided the nicknames for at least two Southwest Virginia High School sports teams.

Graham G-Men

Graham G-Men

Graham High School, Bluefield VA – nicknamed the G-Men

While the Town of Graham was renamed Bluefield in a ceremony with its “sister-city” Bluefield, West Virginia, the school retained its name and adopted the moniker of “Graham Men” or “G-Men.”  The origin of the moniker dates back to ca. 1936 and Bluefield Daily Telegraph reporter Stubby Currence.  He often said in reference to the football team, “just as the FBI ‘G’overnment Men always get their man,” so do the “Graham Men” or “G-Men” get their man.  Athletes were also referred to as “G-Men” when they received a letter in sports.
Graham High School website

Richlands Blue Tornado

Richlands Blue Tornado

Richlands High School, Richlands, VA – nicknamed the Blue Tornado

The story I’ve always heard about Richlands is that the nickname originated with Stubby Currence in his description of a game played back in the 1930s or thereabouts. RHS wore blue jerseys and in this particular game generated a lot of offense. In his description of it for the Daily Telegraph, Currence supposedly described the Richlands team as moving down the field like a “blue tornado.” – By RichlandsAlum on How our schools got their nicknames, SWVASports.com Forums

I haven’t be able to personally verify if these stories are true. But was a cool legacy, if so. I’ll post if there are more teams Stubby may have helped name.

Comment how your favorite high school sports team got its name. I’d love to hear them.

~Melissa

Stubby in the New York Times

newyorktimesSo good ole Stubby Currence was mentioned in the New York Times a little while back in an opinion piece by Erin McKean titled “The Wise Words of Maya Angelou. Or Someone, Anyway.”

The author, the chief executive and founder of the online dictionary Wordnik.com, was writing about a new Maya Angelou postage stamp which attributes this quote to Angelou:

A bird doesn’t sing because he has an answer, it sings because he has a song.

But it was in fact written by children’s book writer Joan Walsh Anglund. 

McKean goes to to use Stubby as another example of possible misattribution for the master Mark Twain:

A favorite Twainism-that-isn’t is “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work,” which might be the work of a 1930s newspaper columnist named Stubby Currence, but is more likely a variation of an older, anonymous joke.

Quite the mystery! I guess only Stubby would know for sure. And keeping company with the New York Times, Mark Twain and Maya Angelou sounds about right for Stubby.

Wishing all dads a very Happy Father’s Day. I’m missing The Dad a lot today, but he’s always in my heart.

~Melissa

 

Christmas has come and gone

Forty years ago today, Stubby published this column in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Maybe the copy editor was off that day? Nonetheless, a favorite for the family…

Christmas Now and Then Column Stubby Currence

December 30, 1973. Click to zoom in.

Christmastime is a great reminder that family is what’s important in life. We’re feeling that more than ever with The Dad‘s passing this year.

So remember: Hug ’em all tight! And cheers to “booze and whoopee” for 2014!

~Melissa

Never yesterday’s news

The Dad once told me about a cold day in April when he was leaving Bluefield. It was 1981 – the day after his father Stubby’s funeral. He pulled the car into a gas station to fill up before driving his family back 400 miles back to Cincinnati, and he came face-to-face with his pop. Stubby’s photo glanced up at him from the trash can. It was his obituary on the front page of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

He said grief came over him in that moment. It brought it home that Stubby was literally and figuratively yesterday’s news. A family lost its patriarch. A town lost a significant champion.  But sons lost their father. A wife lost her partner. Co-workers lost a friend.

Unfortunately, the grief is back. We recently lost The Dad. Like many deaths, it was a long time coming but too sudden, too soon. The Dad loved to tell stories about the sports scene he grew up in. He loved reminiscing about the neighborhood baseball games in which he played while living on Pen Mar. He was devoted to the 1959 Bluefield Beavers Football State Champs until the very end. He put West Virginia Mountaineers stickers on anything that wouldn’t move.

Even though we don’t have The Dad anymore doesn’t mean his stories are done being told, or our stories here are over. Even though the newsprint has long been recycled, the memories are old and dusty, and those we have loved may have gone on, we still have their stories to tell.

And Dad, I’ll miss you.

Love, Melissa