100 Years Of Boys’ High School Basketball Celebrated In Charleston
The West Virginia State Boys’ Basketball Championship, which celebrated its 100th birthday this month, had its beginning at West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1913 and featured the state’s top two teams: Elkins and Wheeling.
The event remained in Buckhannon and grew in size to include several teams in the Wetzel County area. Over the years that would follow, Wetzel County schools would become prominent in the legacy of the state tournament.
In 1930, the Hundred Centurians came to the event with only one loss in its season record. They defeated two-time champion Elkins and brought home the trophy with a 30-24 win over Clarksburg’s Washington-Irving. Hundred’s Tom Hunt was selected the tournament’s top player and Robert “Slim” Wassum was named to the all-tournament team.
When the team returned to Hundred, a large crowd greeted players at the train station. Hundred Head Coach Edgar Ray Roberts never coached again and didn’t see the end of the team’s record-setting streak. He died Nov. 11, 1930, and his assistant coach Frank Bedine took over.
Hundred started the 1931 season with a 21-game winning streak and won two games in the state tournament before the team was stopped in the semifinals by a loss to Huntington. Hundred would then beat Washington Irving for third place, with Si Church earning all-tournament honors.
Hundred, now called the Hornets, still competes in the Class-A division, but has not had another state championship in any sport in 85 years. However, the two-year run in 1930-31 remains one of the Mountains State’s “Cinderella” high school sports stories.
By 1938, the tournament had outgrown Buchanon and moved to the old fieldhouse at West Virginia University, then on to the Civic Center in Charleston.
The first state tournament champion to record an unbeaten season was Wheeling High School in 1929 (then called Wildcats) and the last unbeaten team was the Paden City Wildcats, coached by the legendary Bob Burton in 1987.
Burton was one of guests to speak at the 100-year reunion dinner held March 12 and recalled the Wildcats’ visit to the state championship tournament.
In 1972, the Wildcat booster club chartered a bus and left for Charleston about two in the afternoon. About 30 minutes outside Charleston, the bus broke down. Although the driver worked to repair the disabled carrier, Burton called the Civic Center and a tournament official sent two city buses to transport the team, cheerleaders, and coaches.
The team made it in time for the game, which they won, and advanced to meet Oakdale, who prevailed over the Wildcats to win the state championship.
The Wildcats returned to Charleston the following year – this time in school busses – but the trip was not without its trying moments. A glitch in the team’s lodging reservations ultimately forced the team, coaches, and cheerleaders to bed down in separate homes in St. Albans, which was arranged through a Wildcat family relative who lived in the Charleston suburb.
The next day, the ‘Cats defeated a team from Harts in a pre-championship playoff game. Harts had not lost a game since Paden City beat them at state the year prior.
The ‘Cats ended up playing Oakville once again for the championship. Down 13 points with three minutes remaining, Burton called his last time out and told his young men, “If you have anything in the tank, you need to lay it out there on the court.”
It must have worked. With 59 seconds remaining to go in the game, Paden City took a one-point lead. Oakville decided to hold the ball for one last shot but missed it and Paden City went home with the belt.
The Wildcats’ next trip to Charleston came in 1982, when they won their first game and ended up playing Mullens in the finals. Mullens proved to be too strong for the Wildcats, who came home as runnerup.
Paden City returned to Charleston again in 1986 and lost at the buzzer in the first round. The following year was special to Burton: his eldest daughter was a cheerleader, a senior, and he was extremely close to his team that year. The ‘Cats won their first 20 games.
Heading into the sectionals and regional, they were playing very good basketball and qualified again for the state tournament. There was another undefeated team there, Bramwell, and fans were saying how great it would be if the two teams hooked up in the finals. And that’s what happened.
In that game, Bramwell had the lead at the break. But in the second half, the Wildcats made a run, took the lead, spread it out, and prevailed over Bramwell. “It was an awesome feeling to be state champs and undefeated,” said Burton. But what he didn’t say was that he was so caught up in the moment he passed out with emotion.
A sports writer ask him after the game how it feels to win them all. He said “It’s those 12 young men out there you need to talk to.” Under Burton, Paden City made it to the dance in 1988, 1991, and 1992, but lost each time in the opening round.
In closing his remarks, Burton told the crowd: “I have taught for 40 years and never made a million dollars. But I made a million friends, I rode a million miles on buses, I have a million memories, and I wouldn’t trade my life for all the money in the world.”
It was a wonderful 100-year tribute to the legacy of the boys’ state basketball tournament. Other area teams that have won state titles in the event, including Hundred in 1930 under Odgar Roberts; Paden City under Henry Healy in 1960; Magnolia in 1961, under Bob Sullivan; Paden City, under Bob Burton in 1973 and 1986; Magnolia under Dave Tallman in 2000 and in 2003.