Small school players were the state’s most prolific scorers
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Back when the normal winters in West Virginia found only the narrow, two-lane roads clogged with snow and the coal mines operating at full blast, sporting events were actually played . . . and played on schedule.
In Preston County, there were 10 high schools and they had a basketball league all their own. In tiny Paw Paw, there was a quick-silver guard whose ball handling and dribbling allowed him to get jump shots and driving layups against the other schools lean in attendance that the Pirates saw.
Aurora, Tunnelton, Rowlesburg, Terra Alta and Fellowsville often moved along the top of the Preston County standings. Those smallish Class A schools often could beat Bruceton Mills, Newburg, Arthurdale, Masontown and Kingwood.
Each school was celebrated in its own attendance area. High schools could often be the gathering spots for communities, whether it be for watching sports, holding dances, fundraisers or hosting clubs for meetings.
Rivalries were toasted. Important games had much historical value. Sellout crowds were the norm, if the winding roads permitted games to be held on snowy nights.
Aurora’s Bucky Bolyard was praised in all the other county schools, and his every move closely watched county-wide, when he went to WVU to play for the Mountaineers in the late 1950s.
Fellowsville’s Paul Popovich came along just after Bolyard’s tour de force senior year at WVU, when the Fred Schaus-coached Mountaineers reached the NCAA tournament’s national championship game.
Popovich had more offensive wizardry than any of his peers in Preston County. The 6-foot, 170-pound guard actually scored a jaw-dropping 2,660 points in a career that was played out from 1955 through March of 1958. In his senior season with the Wolves he averaged 41.8 points a game.
Earning a scholarship to WVU the same as Bolyard had, Popovich played both basketball and baseball in Morgantown. Bolyard had done the same. So effective as a baseball infielder, Popovich set a Mountaineer single-season record with his .427 batting average as a sophomore. He signed a bonus baseball contract with the Chicago Cubs, after one varsity season in both baseball and basketball. His decision to forego the remainder of his college eligibility was fortuitous, because he spent 12 years in the major leagues.
Popovich’s career scoring record in basketball lasted for 42 years, before being bested by a player from a school even smaller in attendance than Fellowsville.
Josh Delawder from Paw Paw High School in Morgan County also became a four-year starter, and the 6-foot-2 guard posted 2,965 career points with the red-and-white clad Pirates.
Delawder attended Potomac State, a two-year school in Keyser, before coming to Shepherd to play only baseball for two seasons.
An outfielder, Delawder was surrounded at Shepherd by other timely hitters in Coach Wayne Riser’s lineup and as a two-year starter he usually batted second and had both his years see him finish with batting averages well over the .300 mark. Shepherd profited enough from Delawder’s bat to win WVIAC Northern Division and conference championships and joining the Regional NCAA tournament.
In today’s West Virginia high school sports scene, nothing much resembles the seasons when Popovich, Delawder and Bolyard were busy winning games and inching upward in state statistical annals. Over 300 high schools, junior highs and elementary schools have been closed since the 1950s. Preston County’s public high schools dwindled in number from 10 to only one (Preston County High) today.
Paw Paw is still around with its nine to 18 graduates per year. But there hasn’t been anybody like Popovich or Delawder to call attention to their scoring outbursts or be involved with the community-wide devotion to this day.