Last updated: March 31. 2014 9:52AM - 1145 Views
Ron Gregory ronjgregory@gmail.com



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Although it would be difficult to detect it in the mountains of Southern West Virginia, the arrival of spring has been heralded. Sun-worshippers apparently understand that the beginninf of spring on the calendar does not always coincide with warm weather. That’s one reason the Easter season is later in the year, apparently.


Still, there remain only so many weeks in a year and softball and baseball have to played SOMETIME. So, to get in a full season of enjoyment, the small and larger round leather balls are flying intermittently with the snow and rain drops.


There is likely no apparent reason why I enjoy covering basketball inside a nice, warm gymnasium rather than standing along the baseline or sitting in the dugout trying to keep from getting soaked with rain or worse.


When I was young, I would often lay awake at night listening to my transistor radio. Often, in the wee hours of the morning, I would get the distant voice of Chicago’s WCFL-Radio, the “Voice of Labor” There, I would hear the comforting sounds of Harry Caray, Bob Elson and Milo Hamilton broadcasting Chicago White Sox games from exotic places like Kansas City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.


The late Caray, who is better known for his work with the North Side Chicago Cubs, was a baseball announcer’s baseball announcer. There never will be another like Caray, who described the action not only on the field but in the bleachers, clubhouse and front office as well. He was once fired from doing games for the St. Louis Cardinals when word got out that he was having an affair with the team owner’s daughter-in-law. Caray openly sipped on a can of the competitor’s beer while discussing his feud with August A. Busch, Jr., the Cardinal team owner and executive of Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser beer.


After leaving St. Louis, Caray called the White Sox action and made a believer out of me. I remain a South Side fan to this day. Back then, of course, I could recite all the team members by heart. Now I’d have trouble naming them with a roster in front of me because they are ever-changing due to free agency.


Elson is also deceased but Hamilton called Houston Astro home games until the end of the 2012 season. He still does some work with the team.


Anyway, my point was …. Wait a minute, what WAS my point? Did I have a point?


Oh yeah. I once really enjoyed baseball. I even played softball as an elementary school student in Gilmer County. I was the premier pitcher for the Cedarville Bulldog team, believe it or not.


Now, I tell friends I attempt to arrive at softball and baseball games in the fifth inning, hoping the game ended in a mercy victory and I meet the crowd leaving.


There is a limit to how many times someone can stay interested when a batter fouls off a pitch for the 22nd straight time in a drizzling rain.


That isn’t to say I have NEVER been interested in a high school or college softball or baseball game. I have. I really thought it was a thrill a minute when Andi Williamson took the mound for the late Harts High School, Chapmanville Regional, the University of Tennessee or Marshall. What a talent she is, which continues in professional softball here in the states and in Japan. Her high school battery mate, Poppi Ramey, was also exciting to watch. The twins at Chapmanville are difficult to top and there were individual players at all the old Lincoln County schools that played the game at the highest levels. The determined, outstanding talent of youngsters like Alyssa Adkins and Betsy Linville at the old Hamlin High was impressive indeed.


Believe me, I’d love to see Williamson and Ramey win another state championship. So, it isn’t all bad.


When CRHS made their first state tournament appearance, on one of the hottest days in history at Power Park in Charleston, excitement was in the air from start to finish. That was a Tiger team that could have dominated virtually anyone — and they did. Seeing coaching legend, Ted Ellis, reunite with his son, Eric, to coach CRHS to the Class AA title was a fantastic experience. I COULD mention that there were some who thought CRHS had been to the tournament before but that was the late Chapmanville High School. I COULD mention that, but being the non-controversial writer I am, I won’t.


Thus, I will be watching and hoping we have some outstanding baseball and softball talent this year in Boone County. Whatever happens, I will give it the old college … er, high school … try to make things as interesting as possible.


Still, even with my unquestioned talent and writing ability, I don’t know how to make 42 foul balls sound entertaining.


* * * * * *


My great friend, the legendary Coach Ted Ellis, always explains to me that baseball is “more exciting” than any other thing in his life. I have commented that Ted, obviously, leads a very unexciting existence but I know he really means that. His strategic moves and concerns about the intricacies of the sport are far beyond my comprehension. As far as I know, one coach puts his or her best pitcher on the mound and hopes he or she can strike out the other team’s best batter.


I know, however, that it goes beyond that and Chapmanville and Chapmanville Regional are blessed to have ever had this coaching genius in their midst. Not only is he an outstanding coach, Ted Ellis is a tremendous role model and mentor. As far as I can tell, everyone in the Ellis family — with the possible exception of “black sheep” brother, Danny, who went into politics — is a good and honest person.


Actually, I am joshing about Danny Ellis, the county commissioner who is also a great example of public service and compassion. To a one, members of the Ellis family have been kind to me and I see all of them as concerned about the well-being of their fellow men and women.


Every community should have a family like the Ellises of Chapmanville.


* * * * * *


It is also good to see a judicial figure as devoted to young people as Boone County Circuit Judge William Thompson. I never see Thompson, in a courtroom setting or elsewhere, when he is not telling me about some youth athletic endeavor he’s working with or promoting.


While Thompson undoubtedly has a personal interest in youth athletics, his compassion and concern for young people is still the overriding factor in his interest. The judge fully believes that by providing youth with a positive, meaningful opportunity, some crime can be eliminated. He is right-on in his position regarding that and I applaud him for his interest and concern.


Thus, Boone County, too, is fortunate to have someone like Thompson.


* * * * * *


Regular readers are now asking: does he have nothing negative to say? Can this be an all-positive column?


Well …


You have to hand it to high school coaches and athletic directors. They surely know how to circle the wagons and defend the campfire.


Since the December 13, 2013 brawl during the Logan-Scott boys basketball game at CRHS, I have been pressed to find a single coach or athletic director who will criticize Logan Coach Mark Hatcher for touching a law enforcement official while players were being separated. Not even opposing coach, Scott’s Nick Cabell, has had a negative thing to say. In fact, Cabell initially came pretty close to defending Hatcher when I asked him about it all.


Now, coaches for the second annual Consol Energy West Virginia-Kentucky All-star game have been named. And, you guessed it, Mark Hatcher will be coaching the West Virginia boys team.


Can I suggest that Hatcher give a demonstration in how to shove a police officer as a part of pre-game practices? His case is still pending in Logan County court, where the county school board has done its imitation of an ostrich and stuck its combined head in the sands. NOW, Hatcher is the best example of a first-class coach the West Virginia officials can find? For the love of Peter, Paul AND Mary, Mother of God!


The games will be played April 19 at Mingo Central High. At least that school is not in any town’s jurisdiction, so Hatcher likely won’t have to push a TOWN cop to restore order.


How ridiculous!


And folks wonder how the mountain clans gain their national reputations. A coach whose battery case against a town police officer is pending is now coaching the all-stars! My, my, my.


* * * * * *


There is no doubt that Mike D’Antoni is the preferred candidate to resurrect the Marshall mens basketball program. I am a member of the Big Green and insiders have assured me the money is in place to hire D’Antoni away from the Los Angeles Lakers, who may fire him anyway. Comments that MU “does not have the money” to offer D’Antoni at Marshall are simply untrue. He makes $4 million a year at LA; the Herd will offer him salary and deals that compare to that.


I have no earthly idea if D’Antoni can coach at the college level. I do suspect he can recruit and he does know how to handle modern-day players. Anyone in place of mediocre Coach Tom Herrion would be an improvement. Herrion resigned at the end of the last pitiful season.


University of Southern Pennsylvania at Morgantown writers, who always want to make Marshall sound like the “little brother,” insist D’Antoni would be making a huge monetary and personal sacrifice to come to Huntington. That is just not the case. MU will make this a big-time job for D’Antoni, if he wants it, and he may just want it. And it is definitely his if he does want to come home.


Meanwhile, there are those who believe West Liberty’s Coach Jim Crutchfield would be a great fit at Marshall. Crutchfield has certainly been successful at West Liberty, where he led his team to the Division II title game the past weekend. Again, it would remain to be seen whether Crutchfield can coach Division I college ball but MU might just take a chance on him.


There are also assistant coaches at some of the NCAA tournament teams that Marshall is still considering. But, as noted, money will not be a factor if the Herd finds the right man.


* * * * * *


The Rock Christian Academy Cardinals supposedly have a new coach and athletic director.


Wait … who?


Apparently the newest school you never heard of, Rock Christian Academy, is scheduled to open this fall near Salt Rock. In a Facebook posting, veteran Guyan Valley, Riverside Coach Duane Estep has announced that he is the first boys basketball coach and athletic director of the school. Estep says all the processes are in place to establish the school this fall and he will coach their basketball team. “Go Cardinals!” Estep says.


Hmmmn.


Hopefully, the school will be located in the Lincoln County edge of metropolitan Salt Rock because we have all seen that Estep cannot stand to coach outside his native county. He summarily quit jobs at Riverside and Mingo Central after just one season each because he needed to see the Guyan River on an hourly basis in order to survive.


Estep has also been a constant thorn and rival for Lincoln County High’s Rodney Plumley. By accepting the job at Rock Christian (or was it Christian Rock? No, it was Rock Christian), Estep apparently has given up on getting the LCHS job away from Plumley.


All of which leads me to observe that now Plumley’s job and that of other coaches at LCHS will be even harder. Already, no Harts athletes come to Hamlin; many Sod/Sumerco stars go to Scott in Boone County; and Alum Creek-area student/athletes go to George Washington, South Charleston or St. Albans. All that’s left for the LCHS roster are athletes from Hamlin and Guyan Valley. Even with the finest of those (and there are some good athletes at Hamlin and Pleasant View), LCHS struggles to even compete with other Triple A teams. Now, presumably, Rock Christian will provide another alternative for high school students. How many good Hamlin and West Hamlin area athletes may end up following Estep to Salt Rock. As an aside, wouldn’t that make a great country song, “I followed Estep to Salt Rock … dum, dum … dum, dum, dumb.”


This will be interesting to watch play out. Estep can definitely coach basketball. The only question will be his long-term commitment to the school. We’ll see.


* * * * * *


Rumors, story ideas, comments and game results are always welcome. Contact me at my email address or call my cell, 304-533-5185.

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