By TONY VIOLA
WHEELING - It's stated right in the Magnolia fight song. Make our school the very best one.
Mark Batton announced his retirement as head coach of the Magnolia football team.
In his 28 years of coaching the Blue Eagles football team, Mark Batton got the best out of his team.
A state championship. A 119-56 overall record. A Kennedy Award winner.
Now, he's calling it a career.
''It's time to spend time with the family,'' Batton said. ''If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been able to do it. They were the support I needed in the first place.''
Batton spent nearly the last 30 years standing on the sidelines at Alumni Field on Friday nights, the place he says he dreamed of being after graduating from the school in 1977.
''My dream job was to teach and be the head football coach at Magnolia,'' he said. ''The good lord blessed me with that.''
While football will be the sport most will remember him for, it wasn't the only one he coached. He spent three years as an assistant track coach, nine as an assistant basketball coach and the last seven as head coach for the Blue Eagles softball squad.
Though his retirement will keep him off the sidelines, Batton will still hold at key position at the school.
He was named assistant principle in October.
''I really wanted to get into the administration side of things,'' Batton said. ''(Magnolia Principal) Kathi Schmalz had a lot of confidence in me. Her support really meant a lot to me.''
Now with a normal day job, Batton will have more time to spend with his wife, Vicki, and daughters Abi, Danielle, and Brittany along with his three grandsons, the youngest being six weeks old.
''All three of them graduated from Magnolia and I'm pretty proud of that,'' Batton said of his children. ''Magnolia football, that's what my daughters knew.
''I missed them playing sports, especially fall sports. I don't get that back, but they wouldn't have it any other way.''
Neither would Vicki.
''She's my biggest supporter,'' Batton said. ''We both missed out on a lot of stuff, but neither one of us regret it. We'd never trade away that time.''
Batton graduated from West Liberty State College in 1981 and, after spending 13 years as an assistant coach, took over the Blue Eagle football program in 1999.
In his 15 years as head coach, Batton's teams advance to the playoffs 11 time and had reached the semifinals or finals five of the last six.
''The only reason we could accomplish that was because of the assistant coaches,'' Batton said. ''When I first started out someone told me, 'surround yourself with good people.' That's exactly what I did.
''We were just blessed. The athletes worked hard and believed in what we were doing. They never let anyone down.''
Neither did Batton.
Now the veteran coach will be watching his beloved Blue Eagles from the stands, cheering with the crowd that backed him for so many years.
''It's time to get some new blood in there,'' he said. ''I'll still be Magnolia's greatest football supporter.''