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In rural WV, land of volunteer coaches and radio play-by-play announcers, Pocahontas County HS Girls have fans (and title hopes)

March 1, 2011 – 4:04 PM

By Rachel Tompkins

Signs of Spring have appeared atop the Allegheny Front between the two Virginias. Here in Pocahontas County in West (By God) Virginia that includes shoots of green, the sound of robins — and cheering from the gym at Pocahontas County High School as the Lady Warriors begin their quest for the state Class A girl’s basketball championship.

Last week, they easily dispatched the Midland Trail and Richwood teams. On Thursday and Friday this week, they play in the regional tournament. A win sends them to the state championship in Charleston next week.

This team has a lot of talent and promise. My morning coffee group of retirees who gather at the Dirt Bean dissect the games and the girls over coffee. (The Dirt Bean by the way is a combo bicycle shop, gym, and coffee shop run by Kristy Lanier who is a downhill mountain bike racer.)

Against Midland Trail and Richwood, Pocahontas senior guard Shelby Snead topped 1,000 points and junior Chloe Bland made double doubles as the Lady Warriors won their 20th game. They play a fast-paced game, driving and kicking out for threes. They employ a pressing defense — often full court — and average nearly 70 points a game.

I have the best seat in the house as I do the play-by-play for the games on Allegheny Mountain Radio WVMR FM 91.9. Long ago — before Title IX — I played high school basketball for the Hinton (WV) High School Bobcats. We played half court and could only dribble twice. Now retired, back on my family farm, I have become the volunteer play-by-play announcer for this terrific team.

The sports reporter for the station, a recent UVA grad, learned that I knew something about basketball when I started morning call-in chats on sports with my friend Caroline Sharp who does the morning show on the station. She and I always talk sports and she suggested we do it on the radio. That part was easy but play-by-play? I wasn’t sure my almost 67-year-old synapses could keep up. (Remember, I said the team is fast).

So far I am hanging in. In this part of the country, volunteering is important. And it’s a big part of this basketball story. The volunteer coach, Tim McClung, manages a local branch bank and my side-kick in broadcasting is Ruth Bland, principal of Greenbank K-8 School and Chloe’s proud Mom. All sports teams at Pocahontas High are coached by volunteers. Maybe the most famous volunteer coach is just south of here: Jim Justice, who owns the Greenbrier Resort, coaches the Greenbrier East High School girls.

Crowds at our games are good—maybe 300 for the sectional final. For the biggest game of the season against Tucker County, the stands were full, probably 500 people. Sure, it’s winter and there’s not much to do outside in this largely agricultural community. But community support is about more than boredom.

Pocahontas County High School, which combined schools in three communities over strenuous objections, is built by the side of a highway near the center of an 800 square mile county and is, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. It has taken 30 years for county residents to embrace this school and its students but now that they have, they show up whether or not they have children involved.

Last June, I had to park a half-mile away to go to graduation. It was standing room only with the gym floor and the stands filled for the 70 graduates.

If the Lady Warriors make it to Charleston, you can bet a regular Hoosiers caravan will travel to the games–about 3 hours away. Another batch will stay with relatives and friends. And this year, others will be able to tune in on the radio.

Rachel Tompkins (R) does radio play-by-play with Ruth Bland (L)

Senior #50 Karen Wilfong takes a free throw

Rachel Tompkins, an aging jock, received a doctorate in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1975. She was the founding President of the Rural School and Community Trust, has served as Associate Provost for Extension and Public Service at West Virginia University, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund, and founding chair of the West Virginia Commission for National and Community Service. She now spends time gardening and biking on the Greenbrier River Trail.

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