By Doug Huff
For The Register-Herald
The winningest football coach in Marshall University history and the only Mountain State native inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame are the 2014 additions to the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Bob Pruett and Fern Lee (Peachy) Kellmeyer will be inducted by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association at the 68th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 4 at the Charleston Civic Center.
From 1996-2004, Pruett guided his alma mater to unprecedented heights in football, including a school-record 94-23 record, a 15-0 record and national Division I-AA championship in 1996, five straight bowl wins, six conference titles and three Top 25 national rankings, including No. 10 in a 13-0 1999 season.
“It doesn’t get any better than to be honored by your home state,” Pruett said when notified of the award. “This means very much to me and I’m very thankful and humbled.”
The Beckley native, who was a four-sport athlete at Woodrow Wilson High School, continued competing at Marshall where he was a three-year letterman in three sports — football, wrestling and track — and a regular two-way back and tight end in football. After a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys, he played five years of semi-pro football in Virginia while coaching high school football at four schools from 1965-78.
He started a 27-year college coaching career in 1979 with a four-year stint on the Marshall staff followed by seven years at Wake Forest, and two each at Mississippi, Tulane and Florida before returning to Marshall in 1996 for his first and only head coaching position. He had served nine previous years as a defensive coordinator. After retiring from Marshall in 2004, he returned for a final year on the sidelines in 2008 as the defensive coordinator at the University of Virginia.
Pruett coached several high-profile Thundering Herd and future National Football League players, including two Heisman Trophy finalists in Randy Moss and Chad Pennington, plus Byron Leftwich.
His nine Herd teams recorded won-lost records of 15-0, 10-3, 12-1, 13-0, 8-5, 11-2, 11-2, 8-4 and 6-6. In postseason playoff, championship or bowl games, his record was 18-3.
He was the Huntington Herald-Dispatch Citizen of the Year for 1998 and inducted into the Marshall U. Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.Pruett earned several national and state honors and awards including a record four straight all-sports W.Va. College Coach of the Year awards from 1996-99 andfour national Coach of the Year honors for 1996,1997 and 1999.
He is the third Marshall coach inducted into the Hall. Others are the late Cam Henderson plus Jule Rivlin, who was honored both as an athlete and coach.
Kellmeyer, meanwhile, is the first inductee for the sport of tennis.
“What a surprise and honor,” Kellmeyer said when notified. “If I haven’t learned anything in this lifetime, it is that no one gets anywhere alone and I have been one lucky lady to have others there to help me along the way. It’s extra special, also, to be honored in my hometown.”
Kellmeyer is not only a pioneer in the sport of tennis but women’s athletics overall.
Born in Wheeling, her family relocated to Pittsburgh for two years before the family settled in Charleston when she was six years old. Her love for tennis started early and she was winning local titles at the Charleston Tennis Club at age 11. She won two state singles titles at Oglebay Park in Wheeling in 1957 and 1958 before she became, at age 15, the youngest woman at the time to compete in the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills. She also won Orange Bowl and Penn State titles at age 13.
A U.S. Wightman Cup Team member in 1963, she went on to be the No. 1 player from 1964-66 at the University of Miami where she also became the first woman to compete on a Division I men’s team. As an adult, she was ranked nationally in both singles and doubles and competed at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
In 1966, while serving as Athletic Director at Marymount College in Boca Raton, Fla., she spearheaded a lawsuit that led to the dismantling of an Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women rule that had prohibited athletic scholarships from being awarded to female athletes at colleges across the nation. The landmark case paved the way for Title IX and contributed greatly to the increase of female athletes in intercollegiate athletics.
From 1973-76, she was the Tour Director for the Virginia Slims Circuit and, in 1973, she became the first employee, and director, of the World Tennis Association and has played a critical role for four decades in the devopment of women’s tennis around the world. Currently, she serves as Executive Consultant of Tour Operations.
The WTA Player Service Award is named the “Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award” and she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2011. The Hall Museum located in Newport, R.I., also features a permanent Peachy Kellmeyer exhibit.
The 82-year-old West Virginia Sports Writers Association originated the Hall of Fame in 1950 with inductee plaques located in the upper lobby of the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.