The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Sports

May 3, 2010

Alumni, Huggins honor Oak Hill squad

OAK HILL — Bob Huggins didn’t get the opportunity to visit Smithers on a hoped-for bus victory tour following the NCAA Final Four.

But, on the heels of a magical WVU season which featured a school-record 31 wins and culminated with a 78-57 national semifinal loss to eventual champion Duke, the Mountaineer men’s coach did manage to squeeze in a visit to Fayette County Thursday. His purpose? To help the community celebrate the Class AA state champion Oak Hill Red Devils, who defeated nemesis Wyoming East 55-45 on March 20 to claim the school’s third boys state basketball title.

Huggins made an appearance at a banquet hosted by the Oak Hill High/Collins High Alumni Association, which was attended by about 250 people at the Lewis Community Foundation’s Christian Community Center. The proceeds from the banquet will help the association provide a scholarship on behalf of the 2010 Red Devils, according to association president Merry Hanning.

Prior to making his remarks, Huggins said he feels it’s important to make such appearances.

“I’ve done as many of these things as I can,” he said. “I love the people of West Virginia and what they stand for.”

On the heels of a “good” recruiting season, Huggins said, “We’ll probably see the fruits of what happened (the Big East championship and the Final Four appearance) a year from now.”

Once he took the speaker’s podium, Huggins regaled the crowd with anecdotes — some amusing and some serious — from the regular season, the Big East tournament and the NCAA tourney.

“It’s great to be among champions,” he said. “I have great respect for what you all (in Oak Hill) have done over the years. ... People say, ‘Don’t talk about championships. Why wouldn’t we?”

“To you guys (players), I congratulate you,” he added.

Huggins said people urge him to give pep talks and outline for young players specifically what they should and shouldn’t do to be successful. His advice is pretty simple, he counters.

“Do what you do and be the best at whatever it is you do,” he said. “Be committed.”

To the audience in general, Huggins — mentioning his past health problems — urged, “Don’t waste a day.”

Steven Garris, one of three seniors on the 2010 Red Devil squad, said the evening was the continuation of a whirlwind time the team has experienced since cutting down the nets in the Charleston Civic Center last month.

“It’s very nice to know Oak Hill alumni support us, and the town supports us,” he said. “And us having Bob Huggins here doesn’t hurt.

“We just got our championship rings ordered. I thought the hype would die down, but it still hasn’t.”

The event also featured remarks from, among others, Oak Hill head coach Fred Ferri, Sam Jasper, a member of the 1969 team that advanced to the state tournament, and Gant Montgomery, a junior on the 1989 state champion squad.

And, the alumni group unveiled plans for a memorial scholarship honoring William Roosevelt “Coach” Lynch, an Oak Hill native who was one of the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion earlier this month. Lynch was a former standout athlete and later a coach at Oak Hill High and Collins Middle. His wife, Geneva, and daughter, Miki, were in attendance Thursday.

“It’s hard during a celebration to talk about something very, very sad,” said D.L. Hamilton, a member of the Class of 1971. “(Lynch) was such a good man.

“It’s a bigger loss than I even imagined.”

While discussing basketball and other topics, Huggins also talked of meeting with families of the miners in the aftermath of the explosion. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more moving moment,” he said.

Huggins praised Gov. Joe Manchin for the way he feels about his state. “He cares. I love him to death because I experienced how much he cares.”

The Lynch scholarship will help an OHHS 10th-grader attend WVU basketball camp. Plans are also under way to create something at Glenville State College, from which Lynch graduated.

For more on either scholarship fund, contact ohhsalumni@yahoo.com, visit www.oakhillreddevilalumni.org or call Hanning at 304-469-6017.

— E-mail: skeenan@

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