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History followed Northfork to national records

By Staff | Jan 26, 2018

The basketball home court at Northfork High in coal-cultured McDowell County was called the “Demon Den”.

Northfork High claimed the nickname “Blue Demons” for its athletic teams. And from the years 1971 to 1984, Northfork High demonized its basketball opponents.

Like many small towns in West Virginia, Northfork clung precariously to the sides of two creeks and between tall hills that had the black diamonds of coal under their tree-covered expanses.

The gym held about 900 people, according to fire marshal regulations. But during the winters of ’71 to ’84, that gym on game nights bubbled with Blue Demon fans easily numbering near 1,000.

Standing room was always taken.

Northfork was a Class AA team, but it usually played Welch, Bluefield, Princeton, Beckley Woodrow Wilson and Bluefield (Virginia) from the Class AAA ranks when at home.

Why were so many people jamming into the Demon Den?

Northfork and Coach Jennings Boyd set a national record with eight consecutive state championships. Eight metal and wood trophies, each with a carving of West Virginia and a basketball player figurine lofting a shot toward an imaginary hoop, decorated the bulging trophy case at Northfork High.

No other public high school in the United States ever won eight consecutive state championships.

The gold-crested streak of winning began in 1974 and lasted through the 1981 season. The Blue Demons also had a state championship in 1971 and another in 1984.

Some of the town’s businesspeople had signs posted on either end of town that gave all the glittering facts of success, saving the largest letters for the words “Basketball Capital of the United States.”

Coach Boyd scheduled only an average of seven home games per year during the streak. He played games at much larger arenas, such as the Brushfork Armory (17 miles away on Rt. 52), the Welch Armory (12 miles away) and at the Raleigh County Armory in Beckley.

If the Blue Demons could win their way through Sectional and Regional play against the Gary High Coaldiggers, Pineville, Mullens and Oceana, they’d proved enough to stagger the rest of the state at eight straight state tournaments.

Every time the Blue Demons won another state title, a large framed photo of the team was added to the walls of the Demon Den. Those walls of fame became as well-known as the lanes painted a bright red and the polished maple floor where the champions performed.

Boyd had talented players, but not great athletes who traipsed off to WVU or Marshall or Virginia Tech or Virginia Commonwealth. In his long tenure at the school, Boyd had only Russel Todd, who went on to play at WVU.

Boyd had his players sign a pledge speaking to their behavior, citizenship, loyalty and academics before they could play. The school’s boosters bought team members blue sportcoats and neckties to wear to all games.

In the 1981 state championship game, the Blue Demons trimmed Dunbar, 53-50, for Boyd’s 100th straight win against a Class AA school.

Boyd stepped down after the 1981 season, entered county politics and was elected every time he ran in McDowell County.

With consolidation moving like an all-encompassing tidal wave through the state, Northfork High was closed in 2001 and its students were sent 12 miles away to Mount View High.

A treacherous flood struck the town in 2001.

Boyd passed away in 2002. And a second flood roared through the valley holding the Northfork and Elkhorn Creeks in 2002.

The school was damaged by the floods. By 2013, the town’s population had dwindled to 406 people. The mines were mostly closed and gone.

A trip to the Demon Den found the roof with gaping holes. The maple floor was buckled by incoming rain, and litter and debris filled the once-populated stands and took the place of the basketball-game standees along the sidelines. A glass backboard still had a rim but no net. The team photos had been saved and packed away for safekeeping.

No other high school team in America has ever won eight consecutive state championships.

Northfork High names like David “Duck” Riley, Anthony “String” Harris, Greg Gilliam, Mark Page, Joe Holland and Eddie Ivy have their legacy preserved in the large, color photos that are in safe in storage.

The Demon Den and Northfork basketball won’t be forgotten in West Virginia’s basketball history.