Let’s start with a trivia question:
In the three-classification era (1959-present), how many public schools that have won the Class A boys’ basketball state championship are still in existence?
(I’ll give you a second to think about it.)
(If you just throw out a number I bet it will be high.)
(If you actually try to name them, you’ll realize how low it is.)
(If you went to the WVSSAC website, you cheated.)
Ok. Time for the answer: 5. Yep, just 5 public schools that have ever won a Class A boys’ state title are still in existence. Those 5, starting with the most recent:
Tug Valley (2013)
Doddridge County (1994)
Paden City (1987, 1973, 1960)
(If we want to add public school teams still in existence that have made it to a final but did not win, we can only add 6 more.)
Let’s take a closer look at those five schools. I’d like to begin by throwing Hedgesville out for our purposes. Yes, Hedgesville is still a school, but that school does not exist in any similar way to how it existed in 1970. It had grown to at least five times the size it was then before some of the students were taken from it to start Spring Mills.
(I’m getting somewhere with this, I promise.)
That leaves us with 4. Let’s look at Tug Valley next. This school was AA for most of its existence (opened in 1987), dropped down to A for a few years in the mid-2000s, jumped back up to AA, and then dropped back down to A for the 2012-13 season in which they won the title. (If I had to guess, I’d say they will be in Class A to stay now.) After winning the AA title in 2012, the Panthers dropped down and snap an 11-season private school run of titles. They will be in the mix for more titles in the coming years.
Before Tug, we have to go all the way back to Doddridge County knocking off Burch to claim the 1994 title to find a Class A championship school that is still in existence. Before that, Paden City won one title each in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, and Williamstown picked up a title in 1962. Outside of Hedgesville in 1970, that’s it.
So this all leads to my ultimate point and question in writing this: Why do private schools win so many Class A state championships? As is usually the case, you can’t narrow it down to just one factor. I do think that private schools do have an advantage over the public A schools, not that they necessarily “recruit” like many charge them of doing, but that they are in much larger population areas. Schools will have a better chance of drawing good athletes from areas like Charleston and Beckley than they do from places like Van and Montcalm.
But of course that’s not the only reason. These private schools that have been successful have some really good coaches. I saw more evidence of this firsthand each of the last two years when I watched Coach McClanahan take Charleston Catholic teams that looked pretty average early in the season all the way to the title game. I’ve also always thought the private school championship teams were usually really, really good on defense, which is always an underrated reason why teams win titles.
But could there be another reason? Is it possible that most of the public school teams that would win Class A titles are just no longer in existence? Sure, there are teams that can and do compete on a regular basis. Tucker County, who is a bounce or two away from having at least one title, is the clearest example of this. I expect Tug Valley and Magnolia to join this group now that they have moved down (and also win some championships.) Others, like St. Marys in 2012, make runs from time to time and are certainly capable of winning the title, but for some reason always seem to come up a little short.
Let’s think of some schools that are no longer around to test this. Mullens was one of the major powers in the classification and won the 1998 title in the final year of the school. Who had a great run in the mid- to late-2000s? Wyoming East, of course. Is it possible that Mullens or Pineville (I’m not sure where the majority of those kids came from) could have claimed a title or two in that stretch? It’s certainly possible.
A much more current example is Oceana. The school was a regular basketball power for years until it closed in the early 2000s. Do you think Oceana might have won the Class A title last season with Corey Bowles, Justin Cogar, and Will Fox if the school was open? Westside was right in contention for the AA title. You would have to love their chances to win the A title last year.
So many more great Class A basketball traditions are gone: Harts, Burch, Huntington Vinson, Williamson, etc. Some shriveled up to where there wouldn’t be much left at the school, but others are still producing that same talent, but it’s now consolidated into a AA or AAA school. Even though Charleston Catholic, Wheeling Central, and Parkersburg Catholic have had some really good teams, I can’t help but think some of these schools would have won some of the state championships over that time period.
No disrespect is intended to the current Class A public schools, many of which are perfectly capable of winning titles but have just been unable to break through for one reason or the other. There are many factors as to why private schools have dominated the classification in boys’ basketball in the last 15 years, but I believe a big part of it is that many of the schools that might knock them off simply no longer exist.