By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
A centennial celebration only comes along once, and organizers of the West Virginia State Boys Basketball Tournament have spent months preparing to do it right.
It all begins to unfold with a banquet tonight in the Charleston Civic Center. The tournament itself starts Wednesday.
“The whole week is going to be special,” said Gary Ray, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, by phone Monday afternoon. “The tournament is like going to a reunion. It’s a special reunion this year.”
He said that from his office on the edge of Parkersburg, he can sometimes hear conversations between his staff and people involved in West Virginia high school basketball for decades.
“We sit here in the office and say, we just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Ray said in his exclusive interview with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “Many people over the years have made the state basketball tournaments a part of the state’s history.”
“The players, coaches, officials and cheerleaders have special memories. ... As a staff, we’re looking forward to going down memory lane a little bit. We’re planning to enjoy a whole week of reminiscing. I feel like the whole week is going to be special.”
“I’m excited about the whole process. ... We feel we’ve done some things that are really unique and neat.”
He also noted, “We made one commitment, and that was to the schools participating in this year’s tournament. We made sure it’s their tournament, that it’s built around the games. That was our focus. We wanted to make sure we did not detract from the administration of their tournament.”
Asked about the 2013 tournament field, he said, “We’ve had great teams there before, and great players there before. I think we’re going to have an outstanding tournament. I think we’ve got some great matchups.”
“We just had a great girls tournament,” he added.
Ray, who has been a WVSSAC official for 12 years, said he and his assistant C.W. “Butch” Powell began preparations for the boys centennial about three years ago by traveling to Indiana to observe their basketball tournament anniversary event.
“We picked up a few ideas,” he said, “some things we wanted to do and some things we didn’t want to do.”
In addition to four WVSSAC staff members, 13 other people joined what Ray called “a great committee” that went to work last year tackling the organizational details.
He commended Powell and the other two assistant executive directors, Kelly Geddis and Ray Londeree, for their work with the group and its subcommittees.
Speakers at tonight’s banquet have been asked to focus on a memory of their tournament participation years ago.
Those speakers include Bob Burton, coach of the 1987 undefeated team from Paden City; Dave Barksdale, a player on the undefeated 1962 Woodrow Wilson team and later the Beckley school’s head coach; Warren Baker, who led Greenbrier East to the 1972 title; Jeff Schneider, a Clarksburg four-year first-team all-state player in the 1970s; and Pat C. Fragile, a 32-year veteran basketball official.
Also, legendary McDowell County coach and official Ergie Smith will speak. Smith coached Gary District High School and Gary High School to state championships in 1965 and 1973, respectively. Ray said, “We think the world of Ergie.”
Ray said that Mullens native Lewis D’Antoni, at age 99, hopes to be present for a ceremonial first toss of the basketball at midcourt before the first game on Wednesday morning at about 9:30.
Ray spent a moment recalling his time as athletic director and then principal at Oak Hill High School, before being hired as assistant director at the WVSSAC. He briefly chronicled the experience of his current assistants in coaching and athletics administration. Then he turned philosophical.
“Time is flying,” he said, “but it’s good. It’s very good.”
Activities planned for the 100th annual West Virginia Boys Basketball Tournament at the Charleston Civic Center:
Banquet in Grand Hall, 6:30 p.m.
Action video of past tournament highlights displayed on Civic Center screens
Display items from Class A schools, past and present
Pre-1940 tourney returnees recognized, 11:10 a.m.
Lewis D’Antoni appearance (tentative), 11:15 a.m.
1940-1949 tourney returnees recognized, 7:10 p.m.
Display items from Class AA schools, past and present
1950-1959 tourney returnees recognized, 11:10 a.m.
1960-1969 tourney returnees recognized, 7:10 p.m.
Display items from Class AAA schools, past and present
1970-1979 tourney returnees recognized, 11:10 a.m.
1980-1989 tourney returnees recognized, 7:10 p.m.
1990-1999 tourney returnees recognized, 11:50 a.m.
2000-2012 tourney returnees recognized, 2:20 p.m.