By Jim Workman
Assistant Managing Editor
The man is affectionately known as Huggs.
The lasting image of West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins kneeling, consoling an injured Da’Sean Butler on the floor at the Final Four in 2010 is one Mountaineers fans won’t soon forget.
The Mountaineers were playing Duke in Indianapolis in the Final Four — the first such appearance since 1959.
That happened on Saturday, April 3, 2010.
On Monday, April 5, the Upper Big Branch mine exploded in Raleigh County.
On Wednesday, April 7, a helicopter landed in Montcoal, near UBB.
Huggins exited the aircraft, delivering homemade pasta, water and Mountaineer T-shirts to the families of miners who were awaiting word on their loved ones inside the mine.
Just hours after his own team’s time in the national spotlight on a basketball court, something shifted.
Huggins’ priorities were clearly in consoling West Virginians in their time of need.
He delivered much more than food and clothing.
He gave them a virtual Hugg.
That gesture has proven to be much more than a publicity stunt.
On Tuesday, Huggins came to Beckley, this time as honorary chairman of Remember the Miners charity.
In a press conference, Little General Stores president Greg Darby pledged a $50,000 yearly commitment to Remember the Miners for a “non-profit public awareness campaign dedicated to telling the story of coal mining.”
“Little General became a partner with coach Huggins and Remember The Miners,” said Darby, who also serves as a chairman of the Remember The Miners advisory board. “We are a West Virginia company headquartered in Beckley and a lot of our stores are located in coalfields with a lot of our customers in the coal industry. It’s a great thing for us to be involved with.”
Huggins recalled his visit with the Upper Big Branch families.
“Everybody wanted to do something,” he said. “I didn’t know what the right thing to do was. I thought about going down, but I didn’t want to be in the way. And I didn’t want to take away from the tragedy. So I called (then) Gov. (Joe) Manchin, and I asked him if it would be out of line for me to come down and see the people. He said ‘That’d be terrific.’ So I called Coca-Cola and told them we needed some water. I called Greg and told him we needed food and we took it down there.
“We were there to tell people how much we really care. We passed out about 125 West Virginia basketball T-shirts.
The response was overwhelming.
“They wanted to know how Da’Sean was,” Huggins said. “It was an incredible experience. Through that and because of that, we wanted to do something more. Jason (Parsons, president of Remember the Miners) came up with this idea and I said, ‘I’m in.’ We kind of ran with it from there.”
“Being there first-hand and experiencing the things that I saw, naturally you want to be more involved,” Huggins added. “The other thing that I’m involved in is an endowment in my mother’s name for cancer research (the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fund at WVU’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center). Those are two things very dear to my heart. The wonderful thing about these two charities is that it stays here and helps people in West Virginia.
“We’re off to a great start. Awareness is being created. We’ve given scholarships to sons and daughters of miners. We’re trying to get the word out more, that there are great people in our state and how important they are to this country.
“I love West Virginia and I love its people. They’re the greatest resource in this state. The more you get involved with causes like this and meet people around the state, you realize that’s 100 percent true.”
“Coach Huggins will go down as one of the winningest basketball coaches ever,” said Parsons. “But he will also be known as one of the greatest people. That’s a real testament to his legacy. We’re very grateful of him.”
For more information, visit www.RememberTheMiners.org
The Mountaineers are 6-2 on the young season, coming off a successful stretch that saw WVU defeat Kansas State on the road Thursday night and Miami at home Saturday.
“We’re getting better,” Huggins said. “We weren’t ready for what was thrown at us early in the year. But the only way you get ready is to go do it. We took our lumps but I think in the last week, we’ve taken tremendous strides. I think going on the road and winning an overtime game in front of 15,000 plus purple-clad fans (in Kansas) was great for our young guys. It is great for their confidence. I think that experience of playing in that atmosphere is going to bode well for us later in the year.”
WVU defeated future Big 12 foe Kansas State 85-80 in two overtimes before coming home to beat ACC-member Miami at the Coliseum less than 48 hours later.
“That was a huge win for us because you’re concerned coming off that (Kansas State) trip,” said Huggins. “We’re coming in to Morgantown at 4:30 a.m. our time the next day. We were obviously very tired, but that’s the great thing about being young. They bounce back pretty quick.
“We play so many Saturday-Monday games. We actually open up a big, Big East season playing a Wednesday-Friday (schedule). I think the more you do those things, the more we’re exposed to, the better off we’ll be.”
WVU hosts Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at 2 p.m. Saturday and Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m. Monday.
A trip to Las Vegas on Dec. 22 and 23 sees the Mountaineers take on Missouri State and Baylor on consecutive days before Big East conference action begins Dec. 28 with a 7 p.m. home date with Villanova.
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