August 7, 2013

While the feel of fall may not yet be in the air, local high school football fans know the clock is definitely ticking on the 2013 season.

Believe it or not, practices are underway this week in preparation for the kick-offs at the end of the month. Wow. Time flies when you’re having fun! And when you aren’t.

In a throwback to earlier days when teams like the late Duval High opened their practices with a “midnight madness” special edition, Chapmanville Regional High’s George Barker did the same thing this year. Barker and his Tiger charges took to the Tiger Stadium field at midnight, Monday morning – or what might have seemed like Sunday night.

Barker said he was instituting the midnight practice to bring a little spark to his squad. He wants to get the Tigers upbeat after what was definitely a “downbeat” season for the team last year. After their previous high levels of success under the veteran coach, there was even talk that Barker might resign his position.

Fortunately for local fans, Barker is still on board – and is arguably one of the best coaches in the state. Tiger fans who turned out Monday morning undoubtedly found a team that will be well-coached and prepared for the ups and downs of the 2013 season. Barker is quite a motivator and he will have CRHS playing as well as possible.

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While Boone County’s three teams are practicing as well this week, attention is focused on the Friday, August 23, Boone County Grid Classic. Details of that event appear elsewhere in this sports section, but suffice it to say all high school football eyes will be on Madison that evening as Scott, Sherman and Van high schools debut their teams for all to see.

It will undoubtedly be an exciting time as the three local squads prepare for their regular season openers a week later. As I noted earlier, Scott is looking to make a lot of noise in Class AA this year with Sherman and Van determined to return to prominence at the Single A level. Like other sports, Sherman should have some advantage in Class A, being one of the largest schools in the class. Traditionally, a Double A power, the Tide is poised for a great season of excitement.

Frankly, there’s nothing like placing the pigskin on the gridiron to bring a high level of interest to high school sports. I, for one, am just as excited as everyone else. It has been awhile since I covered three teams in a football season and I greatly look forward to it.

Although I have often explained that I will never be a hopeless and hapless cheerleader for the local squads, I do always want them to win every time they take the field. Pointing out any errors or omissions does not indicate that I am against the local teams. I just tell the truth as I see it.

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Published reports say Delegate Rupie Phillips has taken the lead in challenging state Division of Natural Resources personnel concerning the reintroduction of elk into West Virginia’s Southern forests. Goodness knows Phillips is always ready for a fight (see public records relative to domestic violence and handling machine guns in the hallways of the state capitol), so this is an interesting battle.

Buffalo Creek Watershed Association’s Arthur Brunty led off the sparring at a recent verbal boxing match by saying, “I can hear the elk bugling now.”

Brunty, apparently ducking to miss a Phillips punch (thrown verbally this time), was responding to the comments of Southern politicians who wondered aloud whether Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s campaign promise to stock elk in Southern West Virginia would be honored by the DNR.

The feisty Phillips, prancing at the center of the ring – or meeting room, was reported to have taken “the lead” in pummeling the DNR commitment, both at the meeting and in an I-phone query to the DNR Web site. Phillips and his fellow political boxers argue that elk should be restored to the entire Logan, Mingo, Wyoming, McDowell, Boone, Lincoln and Wayne county hunting areas. Working in his corner were State Senator Ron Stollings of Boone and Delegate Teddy Tomblin. Senator Art Kirkendoll, who was supposed to be in charge as the Phillips cut-man during the altercation, could not attend but Stollings said his fellow legislator agreed with the Phillips’ position.

Precipitating the fight (something Phillips is intimately familiar with) DNR Director Frank Jezioro had been quoted throughout the state as advocating that elk be restocked in Northern West Virginia. Later, in his defense, Jezioro said he was referring to a 2002 study and was not advocating stocking elk in the North rather than the South.

That did not deter Phillips from pressing the fight, as is apparently his habit (see official records; oh, I already mentioned that). It was noted that the DNR has never approached the Hatfield-McCoy Trail system about stocking elk on their land. Since the idea of restocking originated in 2002, Phillips and his corner men wondered why nothing had moved forward on Southern stocking in over a decade. Jezioro noted that about 40,000 acres is needed to make certain restocking takes place in the South.

The fighting delegate (not Tomblin; Phillips) said he was familiar with various land companies and believed they would cooperate on the project. It was a blow that took Jezioro to his knees, figuratively speaking. One reporter noted after the meeting that Phillips and his corner men were “frustrated.” Perhaps because the blow was, in fact, figurative.

I’ll keep readers posted about elk and about where Phillips’ next fighting appearance will be, if there is pre-fight publicity. Sometimes, he just starts swinging without warning, I’ve heard.

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The Associated Press carried a neat story focusing on Cody Clay and his contributions to the West Virginia University football team. Mike Casazza’s article discussed third-year Head Coach Dana Holgorsen’s make-or-break season and his need to identify the five best skill players on the squad.

Immediately, Holgorsen mentioned Clay, the former George Washington High standout I mentioned last week as yet another Alum Creeker who preferred not to go to Hamlin’s Lincoln County High.

“I think the future of offense is more personnel related,” the coach said. “It’s getting guys like Cody Clay, who can play slot, tight end and backfield stuff, to try to do something different and try to gain an advantage on the defense from a matchup or tempo standpoint.”

Casazza then wrote, “Holgorsen has suggested Clay is the team’s best player, and it’s not because he runs the fastest, jumps the highest or has the best statistics. Clay stays on the field because he can play three positions.”

This begs the point, “wonder how well Clay would have done and if he would have improved the Lincoln County chances of winning?” While Clay would be a credit on any team, it is not likely his presence in Hamlin would have turned the Panthers around. As I noted last week, former Head Coach Cory Beck and his staff had an uncommon ability to misuse athletes and make them less productive on the field. The same would have likely happened to Clay.

It is great that he and his family had the foresight to get into Coach Stevie Edwards’ program at GW, where he matured and improved game-by-game. It is a pleasure to watch this local talent show his abilities on the field.

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As always, contact me with your story ideas, rumors and tips. Use the email listed or call my cell at 304-533-5185.