Why not a Bi-State Valley League?
To squeeze this all into football parlance, former state Sen. (and Star sports editor) Russ Potts took the snap and, during an informal conversation over the weekend, local gridiron coaching legend Walter Barr ran with it.
The subject(s): renewal of a long-gone cross-border rivalry (Mr. Potts), and the extension of that and similar rivalries into something resembling a league (Mr. Barr).
On at least two occasions this past month, or ever since Sherando High’s efforts to remain a Group AA school attained critical mass in the public eye, Mr. Potts said it may be time, in these days of economic hardship and pinched travel budgets, to revive the old Handley-Martinsburg rivalry. In days of yore, these two schools would regularly meet on Thanksgiving Day. It was a huge, as in HUGE, game.
So what does this have to do with Sherando’s plight? Well, nothing and, yet, everything.
If Sherando were to be forced into AAA status, it would not only translate to extended travel times for district games, but also could signal the end of the wholesome local competition symbolized by the Star-sponsored Barr-Lindon Crimson Apple trophy.
The travel component inherent in all this got Mr. Potts to thinking: Why shouldn’t two historic foes separated by less than 25 miles — i.e., Handley and Martinsburg — not consider playing again? A good question.
During that other recent conversation, Mr. Barr and The Star almost simultaneously came to a similar conclusion about Northern Valley and Eastern Panhandle schools in general. Our wishful proposal: Keep the current Northwestern District alignment — Handley, James Wood, Millbrook, Skyline, and Sherando (hopefully) — intact. Then, mainly for football purposes but for other sports as well, have these schools schedule all five Eastern Panhandle bellwethers — Martinsburg, Musselman, Hedgesville, Jefferson, and newcomer Washington. As it is, some of these schools cross the border to play each other now.
For football, that would be nine games already built-in. The Virginia schools could round out their schedules with traditional foe Warren County, now in the Evergreen District. The West Virginia entries could maintain their rivalries with Hampshire.
A name for this so-old-it’s-new inspired set-up: the Bi-State Valley League. Or maybe the Pan-Valley Conference.
By any name, the idea has merit — and promise — if only for this reason: The longest trip on anyone’s itinerary would be Hedgesville-Skyline, roughly an hour in length.
New league in works
Jus' Bekoz/By Rick Kozlowski
THE JOURNAL - Martinsburg, WV
POSTED: February 15, 2009
There's been a Tri-State, a Bi-State, a CVAL - all dead.
All that's ever been needed to keep any of those leagues of a past life alive was an MD.
But when all of the Maryland schools decided eventually to stay on their side of the Potomac River as far as league affiliations go, be it 30 years ago, 20 years ago or just a couple of years ago, those leagues went away.
Most of those schools, once hooked up in different associations with schools from the Eastern Panhandle, are pretty much aligned now in the Monocacy Valley Athletic League, schools like Frederick, Thomas Johnson, North Hagerstown, South Hagerstown and Williamsport, among others. Those schools were in any of the previously mentioned "State" leagues and the Hagerstown schools in both the Tri-State and Cumberland Valley Athletic League, which lasted until Fort Hill joined two-time departee Allegany in dropping out a couple of years ago.
And playing for league championships for Eastern Panhandle schools pretty much evaporated as far anyone really cares, even though there are such associations like the Apple Valley League and the Potomac Valley Conference.
Beside day-long league championship competitions, like swimming, wrestling or track, for example, let's face it, who really ever mentions anything about the leagues?
Oh, sure, Woody Higginbotham, the legend from Tygarts Valley, keeps track of the PVC statistics and e-mails them weekly. But really, little to nothing is ever said about that "huge PVC or AVL game."
OK, so up in the Potomac Highlands, the Single-A schools treat the PVC like life and death in its class division.
Around here no one ever mentions first place being on the line in the league. Talk basketball, and the coaches say "we have an important sectional game this week." The teams in the top-schools division of the PVC make up Class AAA, Region II, Section 2 anyway, except for Hampshire.
The section - the sectional tournament, actually - is what matters, which is essentially the league, too. In a strange twist, though, what happens in the regular season may not actually matter as far as actual wins and losses because the coaches get to seed the teams in this section and the section in the middle of the state that's part of the region. It's all about perception, how the teams are ranked on each ballot (which will be compiled before the regular-season ends, incidentally) all added up will determine positions for the sectional tournament.
League talk could be back in vogue.
No, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission isn't going to position the postseason pairings based on regular-season, head-to-head meetings. That would make too much sense.
Rather, I-81 will have meaning in sports.
A league formed this week, unformed and could be reforming again in the future.
"It's a slow process," Hedgesville athletic director Ron Allen said.
The process is trying to put together an all-sports league between the five schools in Jefferson and Berkeley counties and four schools in Frederick County, Va., and one in Warren County, Va.
Allen said a couple of schools from the quintet of Handley, James Wood, Sherando, Millbrook and Skyline backed out just before the ink dried on the signatures.
The association - the I-81 Conference maybe? - would be for all sports, should it come to pass.
"We're just trying to get something together and recognize the kids," Allen said, then later adding that part of the formula is to help reduce travel costs and increase gate receipts between more familiar teams.
In these tough economic times, it's hard to argue with any of that reasoning.
At face value, a 10-team league among the Virginia schools and Hedgesville, Jefferson, Martinsburg, Musselman and Washington would be terrific.
The competition in the Border Classic for basketball and the cheers from the fans really getting into the game showed us the interest is there. (The Border Classic, by the way, won't be played this year. Call the Winchester Star.)
And schedules for athletic directors would be a piece of cake, particularly in football for the West Virginia schools.
The Eastern Panhandle teams struggle to fill out their schedules and sometimes are sent off on distant trips to play games. In a 10-team league, there would be nine guaranteed games each season, meaning each school would have to find just one more opponent.
The alignment also means 18 required meetings in sports like basketball and baseball if the schools are playing a home-and-home series, typical of a league.
That would limit the number of "non-league" games teams could play given the state-issued ceilings on how many may be played.
Eastern Panhandle boys basketball coaches have said they don't like it, how it would even make having tournaments very difficult.
Maybe trying a unbalanced scheduling system might alleviate that, giving coaches the leeway they've often enjoyed. Let's say, for instance, all the West Virginia schools play each other twice during a season, the Virginia schools do the same with their brethren in the Old Dominion, and then each state plays the other one just once. The Big East plays 18 games in its basketball leagues, with teams playing 15 one time and playing three twice. If that's not unbalanced...
"We'll see what we can do," Allen said.
What Allen and his colleagues can do is add excitement.
Those old enough will never forget the boys basketball battles between Thomas Johnson and Martinsburg in the Tri-State League.
Always close and sometimes lasting past the final regulation buzzer, the Patriots and the Bulldogs simply captivated. The coaches, Dave Rogers at Martinsburg and Tom Dickman at Thomas Johnson, were college teammates at Shepherd, which was a story unto itself. Then you throw in the fact each team was usually battling for first place, the displays were incredible.
Over time, the I-81 Conference - a good name - could provide some of that same excitement and meaning.
It's worth a shot.
- Rick Kozlowski can be reached at (304) 263-3381, ext. 116 or firstname.lastname@example.org