Change Could Be Coming To State Basketball Tournaments

Josh Strope Sports Editor

CHARLESTON — As the action picks up at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center this week with the boys’ basketball state tournament, there is as much chatter about what could possibly be happening off the court as what is happening on it.

That is because a vote will be held April 2 by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletics Commission Board of Control concerning separating basketball into four classifications.

If passed, it will then move on to the state’s Board of Education.

SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan commented last week, saying it had a “good chance” to pass.

If the new proposal was accepted, a fourth class would be added for the 2020-21 season and only in basketball. It would also not be permanent and, instead, a two-year trial run.

From there, SSAC officials would decide whether to keep that system, come up with something different or return to the current three-class format.

While the current format is based on enrollment, the new proposal will take in a number of different factors.

According to Dolan, 70 percent would come from enrollment, 20 percent on location, and 10 percent based on economics of that county, as well as other factors.

The committee will be made up of five principals or athletics directors from each of the three classes, three members of the WVSSAC board and Wheeling Central as a representative of the private schools.

With another class would also add another day to the state basketball tournaments, with the events likely starting on Tuesday. All four championship games will be held on Saturday.

The Ohio Valley is one of the more interesting areas this proposal could affect.

I’ve often said these proposals are a “witch hunt” against Wheeling Central. The Maroon Knights’ history of success has always been contentious among many of the smaller schools.

Talk of “recruiting” always ramps up this time of year. In fact, following Williamstown’s loss to Wheeling Central in Wednesday’s quarterfinal, Yellowjackets coach Scott Sauro was asked in a subtle way about his “small town” team’s chance to win against a team from Wheeling that can “pull in so many players from different places.”

Sauro, to his credit, wouldn’t take the bait and gave all the credit to Wheeling Central, its players and how Maroon Knights coach Mel Stephens has them prepared.

I personally am not a fan of a four-class system. I just don’t think the population in this state is big enough for four classes. I think we are getting into the “everybody gets a trophy” mindset.

On the other hand, I do understand the plight of many of the smaller schools. Locally Cameron comes to mind as for all the success it has had in its sports recently, can’t get past a Wheeling Central that has a larger pool to choose from.

Plus, the facts are the facts. Since 2002, private schools have won all but two of the state championships in boys’ basketball. The public schools, Tug Valley in 2013 and Magnolia in 2015, beat private schools in those state title games. Three of the final four this season are private schools.

As much backlash as Wheeling Central gets, this proposal is probably brought upon most by the St. Joseph Central girls’ basketball team.

Last week, the Irish won the Class A title for the ninth time in the last 11 years. Gilmer County in 2016 is the only public school to win a state title since Williamstown in 2003. Before that, the last one came in 1990. Basically one every 13 years.

The argument does have legs and I applaud the WVSSAC for looking into the matter and seeing what can be done to balance things out. My worry, though, is it is going to just cause another argument among new schools.

There will be four classes, but that fourth class won’t all be private schools.

In fact, Wheeling Central (257 students based on WVSSAC website), St. Joe (152), Charleston Catholic (210), and Notre Dame (145) will likely be in the same class, while Madonna (179), Trinity (103), Parkersburg Catholic (106) and Greater Beckley Christian (94) will be in another.

Some teams currently in Class A will likely be bunched with teams that are currently in Class AA, meaning not only will they not escape the private schools, but will be together with schools that have more enrollment. Locally, I think Magnolia and Tyler Consolidated could be hurt the most.

What this will do to other sports down the line won’t be that easy, either. Soccer and tennis are already bunched together as two classes, while wrestling, even though it has three champions, the teams in Class AA and A already compete with each other.

Swimming only has one class, period.

Football would be hard to go to four classes as there are many smaller schools which already don’t play the sport, including private schools Charleston Catholic, Trinity, Greater Beckley Christian and St. Joe.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but I am willing to go along with the four-class system on a trial basis to see how it works.

OVAC is 3-2

Wheeling Central may be the only local team competing at the state tournament, but the OVAC has a strong representation in Charleston.

Along with the Maroon Knights, Class A champion Trinity and Class 5A champion University have advanced to the second round.

Wednesday night, the Warriors rallied from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to knock off Greenbrier West behind 29 points from Briston Bennett. Trinity will play top-seeded Webster County at 1 p.m. today with the winner advancing to take on either Wheeling Central or Parkersburg Catholic in Saturday’s title game.

In Class AAA, the Hawks got off to a strong start and outlasted Musselman, 65-51, to reach the semifinal round for the second year in a row.

Things didn’t work out for Parkersburg South and Morgantown in their respective openers. The Patriots, the lone Class AAA team with a losing record at 8-16, led top-seeded Martinsburg at the end of the first quarter, but ultimately fell to the Bulldogs, 69-48.

In one of the most exciting games of the tournament, Morgantown, led by Magnolia grad Dave Tallman, had a chance to win it at the end, but a 3-pointer was just off the mark in a 50-47 loss to Capital.

During his postgame press conference, Tallman said he would like to see change in the way teams are seeded and not just based on record. The No. 5 Mohigans played a brutal schedule and didn’t feel they should be ones “wearing the dark-colored jerseys all the time because teams won’t play us,” according to Tallman.

Best Officials in the Business

I may be biased, but I think we have the best officials in the state. And I might not be too far off on that assessment as six of our local officials were selected to the state tournament.

Last week, Doug Patterson was selected to the state tournament for the first time, joining Don Cash and Jerry Adkins for the girls’ tournament.

This week, Mike Clyde, T.J. Brancazio and Glenn Purdue are calling games at the boys’ tournament.

Congrats, fellas!

Roll Red Roll

Steubenville may have been ousted last night, but a former Big Red boss has his team clicking on all cylinders.

Fairmont Senior’s Dave Retton is a former coach at Steubenville, spending one year there, going 16-6 in 1996-97.

The Polar Bears, one of the favorites in Class AA, dominated Lewis County, 92-35, in their opener.

Josh Strope can be reached at


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