‘Go blue and gold’ allegiance notable throughout state’s history
SHEPHERDSTOWN — What was the depth of the influence of radio broadcaster Jack Fleming?
Was their a pervasive “underdog” or “us against them” mentality that permeated the entire state of West Virginia?
What part of the equation was influenced by the fact many of the Mountaineer football, basketball and baseball players came from high schools within the state?
Was there a sort of a mystique associated with West Virginia teams because many of the school’s followers could never see them play in person and had to glean their information from radio accounts or newspapers?
Were people influenced by the Mountaineers being members of the Southern Conference and had long-time rivalries with neighboring schools like Virginia Tech, Richmond, Washington & Lee, George Washington, Virginia Military Institute and William & Mary?
Even Southern Conference opponents from distant locales such as Davidson, Furman and The Citadel were faced nearly every year and were well known.
Whatever the reasons or the influences that prevailed, there is no doubt the teams from WVU had the emotions of the state’s sporting public squarely in its corner.
Both the storied and the famous, as well as the athletes from smaller towns, had the sometimes frenzied allegiance of those fans from every pocket of the state.
When television was moving through its infancy, WVU and the information about its athletes flowed in the main from Jack Fleming and his radio broadcasts that could be heard even in the most sheltered areas of coal mining or other hard scrabble occupational sectors. The state had sports writers who lasted for 25 to 45 years on the job at the same newspapers.
Names like Mickey Furfari, Stubby Currence, Shorty Hardman, Tony Constantine, Bill Evans and Dan Hose were often trusted writers on your sports pages.
Little places with unknown zip codes such as Lookout, Red Jacket, Edna Gas, Fairview, Green Bank, War, Pineville, Follansbee and Boomer had familiar faces on one of West Virginia’s basketball, football or baseball teams.
Not to be shrouded in the low-lying clouds of the hollows were those already-revered players from Charleston, Wheeling, Princeton, Parkersburg or Beckley.
Once the athlete was a contributor of any kind on a Mountaineer team, his high school past was committed to mind and memory by the WVU faithful.
The solid images of gritty, love-the-university, hustle-until-you-drop players further endeared them to the public.
“These are our boys.” “They are sometimes our neighbors or from the same county.” “They sometimes even give us credit when the games are over.” Those sentiments were on the minds of workers who filed out of the company houses to meet their shift at the mines or traipsed into downtown Mullens to get a morning’s cup of coffee after an overtime win against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Many of the athletes had actually been seen scoring bunches of points at a basketball regional or the state tournament. Football Mountaineers had also made themselves known on all-state teams that had the seal of approval of Furfari or Hardman.
By their actions, the athletes “made us proud to be West Virginians because they were proud to be West Virginians themselves.”
Expanded media coverage, whether it be cable television, nationwide coverage of any sport’s best teams or the wide spread influence of the internet, has brought many more colleges and athletes from the entire country itself into view. It has altered the state’s complete devotion to everything WVU. But the deep vein of caring about WVU sports still runs through the state in wide ribbons of “go blue and gold” allegiance.