The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 5, 2010

Elite program ended by closing of MSU Academy

Four months ago, Mountain State Academy broke new ground when it upset nationally ranked and storied Oak Hill Academy in a national tournament just outside the nation’s capital.

Today, the Academy no longer exists.

When it was announced Wednesday that the school would not reopen for the new school year, it officially ended the run of a program that went from small school Class A status to national elite.

And if it was predetermined before Tuesday, it certainly caught those inside the program as a surprise.

Several sources, including assistant coach Mike Fowlkes, said the school had interviewed for a vacant head coaching job as late as Monday.

Rodney Crawford, who coached the team last year, took an assistant coaching position at Duquesne.

Fowlkes said he believed one of the interviewees was Darnell Williams, who played at Xavier.

“I even met the guy,” Fowlkes said. “(The decision to close) had to come pretty quickly. We had discussed the position. I knew I wasn’t going to be the head coach, it wasn’t in my plans (Fowlkes does not work for the school). So, yeah, the fact that we closed came as a bit of a shock to everyone.”

Apparently, not many from the basketball team were caught in the cross-hairs of the closure.

Only two players remained from the 2010 team — 7-foot center Obig Ageet of Africa and Ahmad Ibrahim, from Israel — and both are close to finding new schools, Fowlkes said.

“They’re good,” the long-time backer of basketball in Beckley said. “I think they’d decided not to return when coach Crawford announced he was leaving. They’ve got places to go, so it’s going to turn out OK for them.

“It’s not like some of the kids who had gone to school here. Now they have three weeks to find a new school. That would be tough.”

Fowlkes, who has coached at several levels in Beckley, said the toughest thing was reaching the goal of reaching national status only to see it close down, although the rumor had been out there for the last two years.

“It’s disappointing because we worked so hard to get to national elite status,” Fowlkes said. “Even with (Crawford) leaving we were working hard to get kids to stay. And (Tuesday), it was over.”

Fowlkes, a new father, said he hopes to coach again.

“A few things have come about,” he said. “Nothing concrete. I love basketball. And last year was fun and a good experience for me and I appreciate the chance to be involved. I think, for me, coaching at the middle school level is something I love and something I enjoy.”

Athletic Director Todd Cornett could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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