Competitive and quick was Hall of Famer Ronnie Retton
An important reason West Virginia’s Golden Era basketball teams were popular was because so many of the players hailed from small towns or hamlets from all over the Mountain State.
One of those small-town heroes was diminutive, 5-foot-7 guard Ronnie Retton from Fairview and little Fairview High School.
Retton played his three varsity years from 1956-57 through 1958-59.
His statistics alone were not enough to get him into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame . . . but added to his baseball exploits as a three-year starting shortstop on Steve Harrick’s teams, Retton was enshrined in 2010, the same year one of his gymnast daughters also went into the same WVU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Retton seldom ever started a game for Coach Fred Schaus. His forte and his main value came after games had become a blur of up-and-down basketball when the Mountaineers were employing a clinging, full court pressure defense.
Schaus would insert Retton and Aurora, West Virginia native Bucky Bolyard into the already white-hot fray . . . and West Virginia’s press got even more annoying and stifling.
During the 1958-59 season the Mountaineers won 29 games and in 14 of those they trailed at some point in the last 30 minutes.
Over his three-year career, Retton played in 82 games, scored 294 points and was credited with 104 assists.
His most memorable moments came in a bruising 95-92 win over St. Joseph’s of Philadelphia in the second round of the 1959 NCAA Tournament.
In the last seconds of the win-or-be-eliminated game Retton stole an in-bounds pass the Hawks made and drove down court for a layup that sealed the victory. West Virginia later defeated Boston University and Louisville to reach the national championship game where they fell to California by one point.
As a baseball player, Retton was named a first-team all-Southern Conference shortstop in both 1957 and 1959.
He often batted lead-off for Harrick’s teams and hit between .350 and .360 in all three of his varsity seasons.
Retton was signed to a professional contract by the New York Yankees in an era before the Major League draft of free agents.
He played six seasons in New York’s minor league system, finally reaching the Class AA level in 1964 before leaving professional baseball and returning to Marion County.
It was in 2010, Retton was inducted into West Virginia University’s Hall of Fame after being introduced to those hundreds gathered by his daughter, Mary Lou, a gold medal-winning Olympic gymnast in her own right.
The basketball Mountaineers of those days had players from Fairview, Aurora, Pineville, Chelyan, Mullens, Charleston, Clarksburg, Shinnston and Beckley . . . and there was keen, statewide interest in their every move.
Retton was one year ahead of Jerry West and his final season was the 1958-59 campaign where the hard-pressing Mountaineers were defeated by California in the national championship game.