By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Probably the last thing anyone expected to happen was for Bob Pruett to get choked up. The former Marshall University football coach can always be counted on for a laugh, often at the expense of a good-natured zing toward West Virginia University or one of his childhood friends.
But at the 68th annual Victory Awards Dinner, where Pruett was honored as one of two new inductees into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, the Beckley native was overcome with emotion. Yes, he was beyond flattered to be immortalized as one of the all-time greats in his home state. More than that, however, was the obvious emotion that washed over Pruett as he was about to mention his wife, Elsie.
“I’d like to thank my wife,” Pruett said through tears to the crowd at the Charleston Civic Center. “She followed me all over the country ... so I could live my dream.”
Elsie, also a Beckley native, has been battling breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She was in the audience as Bob received an honor he counts as the top of his illustrious career.
“She’s given so much to me, to chase me around all over the country,” Pruett said after the ceremony. “I got emotional. I usually don’t do that, but it was so special.”
Pruett, a Woodrow Wilson graduate who played at Marshall and was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, coached the Thundering Herd through the “We Play For Championships” days from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. He resigned just before the start of spring practice in 2005 as the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 94-23 record, including an 18-3 postseason mark.
His 1996 team went 15-0 and won the Division I-AA national championship. Pruett then guided Marshall back to the Division I level and an immediate domination of the Mid-American Conference.
Under Pruett’s leadership, Marshall won five MAC championships and five consecutive bowl games. The 1999 team, led by Heisman Trophy finalist Chad Pennington at quarterback, was Pruett’s second undefeated squad in four seasons, going 13-0 and finishing the year ranked 10th in the country.
Pruett is a four-time national coach of the year and was the first state coach to ever win four straight Furfari Awards as West Virginia’s college coach of the year. That accomplishment was matched Sunday by West Liberty basketball coach Jim Crutchfield.
“I might have been emotional regardless,” Pruett admitted. “I love the state of West Virginia. I love Beckley. Living in this state, it was a dream to come back here. To be honored with all the great people that’s in (the hall of fame), it’s a very, very special award.
“This is something that just sort of caught me (off guard). It’s fabulous. I know coach (Jerome) Van Meter is (an inductee, in 1963). To look at all the athletes and coaches who are part of this is very humbling.”
Also inducted was tennis star Fern Lee “Peachy” Kellmeyer. The former two-time state singles champion was the youngest female ever to compete in the U.S. Nationals at age 15.
She became a pioneer not only for tennis but for all of female athletics. In 1966, while the athletic director at Marymount College, she spearheaded legal action to gain college scholarships for female athletes. That paved the way for the creation of Title IX, which guarantees equality for female athletics at the college level.
Ironically, on the same day that Kellmeyer became a hall of famer, Lincoln’s Emily Knight received her all-state football certificate. A kicker, Knight is the first-ever football first-team all-stater in West Virginia history.
Meadow Bridge running back Jake Parker was unable to attend the event, but is a Harrison Kennedy Scholarship Award winner. Parker, the state’s leading rusher last fall with 2,505 yards, will walk on at Marshall.
Independence wrestling coach Cliff Warden was recognized as the state’s Class AA/A wrestling coach of the year. He led the Patriots to their first state title since 1996. Also, Westside’s Jamie Lusk was honored as Class AA girls basketball coach of the year after leading the Lady Renegades to their second state championship in three seasons.
First-team all-staters in football and boys and girls basketball were recognized. Locally, those players were:
--- Football — Jalen Jones (Oak Hill), Mike Mullens (Westside), D.J. Stewart and D.J. Edwards (Bluefield), Austin Hill (Nicholas County), Erik Lindsey (Summers County), Casey Saunders (Wyoming East), Jake Parker (Meadow Bridge), Marquis Frazier and Malik Boatwright (Greenbrier West) and Devin Rose (Pocahontas County).
--- Boys basketball — Rondale Watson (Greenbrier East), Anthony Eades and Lykel Collier (Bluefield), Corey Bowles (Westside), Austin Canada (Wyoming East), Elisha Kidd (Greater Beckley Christian) and Zac Warden (Valley).
--- Girls basketball — Hope Lester (Westside), Brandy Morrison (Summers County) and Tristen Day (Pocahontas County).
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