What started with a modest attendance of less than 30 people a decade ago has taken on a life of its own.
The 11th West Virginia Sports Legends Reunion will take place Saturday, July 6, at noon at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center. Eighty-seven state sports legends will be recognized and added to the list of hundreds who came before them.
Twenty-five people attended the inaugural event, which was held at the former Shoney’s in Beckley. It was moved to the Beckley Moose Lodge soon after, and the popularity of the dinner soared. Last year, an overflow crowd of 660 people were there, prompting the move to the more spacious convention center.
West Virginia coaching legend Tex Williams, who has served as the event director since it started in 2009, calls it a “labor of love.”
“These people worked hard all their lives and continue that in their communities,” Williams said. “There are no perimeters to honoring people. We like to call it ‘coast to coast.’ We have people coming from all over the country, from California, Florida, New Hampshire, Connecticut — coast to coast.”
Williams was part of a committee that met in June to hammer down late specifics with the event coming in less than two weeks. That includes one of the legends already honored, Pat O’Reilly, who has been instrumental in getting Kenneth Legg honored. Legg coached Pax High School to its only state basketball championship in 1954 and later became an official for 52 years.
Princeton native Rod Thorn will be the keynote speaker. Thorn played at West Virginia University before starting an eight-year career in the NBA. He later became an NBA executive, and last September he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Those being honored have been involved in athletics in myriad ways, including as players and coaches, officials, administrators, personnel and sports writers.
The list of honorees is as impressive as it is expansive.
Father-son duos will be recognized. That list includes such tandems as Jody and Joda Burgess, Jim Hamric and Jay Hamric and Alan Hatcher and Mark Hatcher.
Legendary greats of West Virginia baseball will also be honored. Local names on that list include former Independence coach and Major Leaguer Joe Goddard, West Virginia State Hall of Famer Cal Bailey, West Virginia Miners owners Linda and Doug Epling, general manager Tim Epling, director of game day operations Jim Holland and WVU Tech coach Lawrence Nesselrodt.
Among the 2019 legends group are longtime official Pat Fragile, former SSAC executive Gary Ray and Charleston attorney Tim DiPiero.
“This involves all sports people from every sport, and people in other disciplines,” Williams said.
The first-ever George Springer Sportswriter Award will also be presented. Springer was a longtime sports editor for the Beckley Post-Herald who later became commissioner of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The award will be presented to Dave Morrison, who served as sports editor of The Register-Herald from 1996 until 2012.
“Sportswriters are necessary and just as big a part of the success of the kids and connect to the community as anybody else,” Williams said.
Among those scheduled to join Thorn at the head table are Beckley native and former Marshall football coach Bob Pruett, former WVU football coach Don Nehlen, Marshall basketball coach Dan D’Antoni, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, former Woodrow Wilson and Duke basketball star Howard Hurt and basketball legend Willie Akers.
WVU basketball legends Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley have attended in the past.
Dinner tickets are sold out, but an overflow section will be available. Admission is $5.
After Thorn’s presentation, a two-hour slot has been reserved for everyone to come onto the floor and meet their favorite legends and get their autographs.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @GaryFauber