One of the great things about this job, here in West Virginia, is to be a part of the yearly Victory Awards Dinner.
A bulk of the kudos for last Sunday's event in Charleston- the longest running statewide program of its kind in the nation (68 years and counting) - lies right here in Wheeling with long-time Intelligencer scribe Doug Huff.
The secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, Huff is the one who works so hard, so diligently, to make it an annual success.
Each year on the first Sunday in May, the state's major award winners and first team all-staters are feted, as are state champion coaches and other honorees.
As president of the West Virginia Sports Writer's Association, one of my duties is to do the welcome. There is a reason I write and don't speak.
As fate would have it, or, more likely Doug Huff, I had the opportunity to sit at the dais next to two of the best football players in the state: Morgantown's Chazzy Thomas and Wheeling Park's Geremy Paige.
Thomas was picking up the Kennedy Award as the state's top player and Paige was there receiving the Huff Award as the state's top defensive player.
Given my position at the table, I was able to hear two of the top players in the state discuss their craft, players they had competed against in the crowd, teammates and college decisions.
Thomas will attend Fairmont, and Paige Gannon, Pa.
It's probably not the first time this has happened, but it was interesting to hear them ruminate the past like fast friends.
I didn't interject much, but I knew the two had met long before, on the field. In the world of social media, I was sure they knew each other quite well. It sure seemed that way. Of note in that regard, both had prepared their acceptance speeches on cell phones, which very well might have been a VAD first.
It just so happened I was at their last meeting prior to the VAD, Oct. 11 in Morgantown.
In what was easily the best game I saw last season, Morgantown stormed from 16 down in the fourth quarter to pull out a 41-38 overtime victory against the Patriots.
Thomas did his thing in that game, rushing for a county-record 396 yards and six touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.
Paige did his thing too, with 17 tackles, and he scored a touchdown on offense.
When I saw the seating arrangements, I thought I might sit between them.
Nope. On this day, the one-time adversaries were like old friends.
It was one of those tackles, or at least half of one, that I thought I recalled. So I had to ask them about it.
Early in the game, as Thomas was starting to get going, Paige's teammate Chalmer Moffett, broke through and caught Thomas low. He went into the air and as he was flipping, was caught by Paige.
A collective "ohhhhh!" went up through the crowd.
Then there was silence.
In the stands and on the field.
"I was just laying there and wasn't sure where I was for a minute," Thomas said, now able to laugh at what looked like a vicious, but quite legal, blow. "It was a pretty good stick right there, too."
"I remember him going in the air and I got him pretty good," Paige said. "He is a hard guy to get on the ground anyway. I was in the right place at the right time."
Thomas returned a couple plays later, showing some real toughness and went on to lead the comeback. I asked him after that game how tired he thought he would be, after carrying the load for the Mohigans.
"I'm sure I will feel it in the morning," he said then.
So I asked him again.
"I probably didn't get out of bed until after noon," he said.
They talked more about the game. They laughed like old friends. Talked of how they were certain, after that overtime thriller, they would meet again in the postseason.
Thomas was injured late in the season (but still surpassed 2,000 yards rushing) and the Mohigans postseason run frizzled out early. Wheeling Park advanced to the semifinals before falling to Huntington, one game short of returning to the island for the Class AAA state title game.
The point is, every time you hear about the seedy side of sports, and Lord knows there is enough of that, there are 100 stories like last Sunday in Charleston that never get told.
On this day, two of the state's best football players, bound by the common denominator of the gridiron, reminded me why sports is important in the first place.
There is the competition, but then there are the friendships made and the memories that will last a lifetime.
Sometimes you need a reminder, and Thomas and Paige provided just that.
Dave Morrison can be reached via email at:?email@example.com