Misty eyes and memories of highly respected players
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The numbers of West Virginia University giants are dwindling. You almost have to close your eyes and see them flatten Davidson, William and Mary and Virginia Tech to recall what the Mountaineers accomplished.
Last Saturday at the Coliseum in Morgantown, only a few of the players from 60 years ago were introduced to the crowd attending the Oklahoma game.
It was in 1959, 60 years ago, when West Virginia reached the school’s high-water mark in basketball.
That mark was placed on the wall at old Freedom Hall in Louisville, when the Mountaineers fell one point short in a 71-70 loss to California in the national championship game of the NCAA Tournament.
Brought back to Morgantown to honor that much-watched team at the halftime intermission of the WVU versus Oklahoma game, were three-letter winners on that team from West Virginia’s all-time list of letter recipients.
Coach Fred Schaus wasn’t there. His assistant, George King, was not there. Both those gentlemen have passed away.
Fearless guard Bucky Bolyard wasn’t there. Neither was starting center Bob Clousson. Both are also gone.
Joe Posch and Butch Goode — reserves on the team — have also passed away.
After all, it’s been 60 years since those Mountaineers edged their way past St. Joseph’s and Boston University in the East Regional after thumping Dartmouth, 82-68, in the first round of the tournament.
With three wins, the Mountaineers moved to the national semifinals, which by coincidence were played on Louisville’s home court (Freedom Hall).
Louisville got to play West Virginia. Nothing good happened for the Cardinals, who were beaten, 82-68.
After stopping Louisville, the Mountaineers were back the next night against California in the national championship game.
The Golden Bears of Coach Pete Newell led, 39-33, at the half. But the Mountaineers relentlessly chased after the lead and were within one point of getting back, even when they fouled in the last fading second.
California missed the free throw, but the horn sounded, ending the Blue and Gold Trail of Glory before a WVU shot could be attempted.
Only nine all-time letter winners remain alive from those golden achievers from 1959.
And only Jerry West, Willie Akers and Howie Schertzinger made it to center court last Saturday.
Bob Smith, Lee Patrone, Ronnie Retton, Jim Ritchie, Nick Visnic and Jim Warren were unable to attend.
When the names of the deceased were announced on Saturday, tears welled up in the eyes of many of the thousands in the audience. They remembered the players who had given them and their relatives and friends such happy memories. And they remembered how old they were now, when celebrating feats that happened some 60 years ago.