By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Rounding the corner at the lone stoplight in Sophia, heading toward Coal City, sits a sign in the window of an auto parts store that reads simply, “This is Patriots Country.”
For Sophia, Crab Orchard, Coal City and the rest of the small communities that make up the bloodline of Independence High School, the same is true. There are navy blue and crimson red roots that run deep throughout the hills and valleys of the coalfields.
Those roots were on display Friday afternoon at the same Sophia intersection. Dozens of people, representing many different generations, crowded the corners of the streets and sidewalks, just for a glimpse of Raleigh County school bus 1469, carrying a group of determined young baseball players to Charleston, in hopes of returning as champions.
As the Sophia City and Volunteer Fire Departments ushered the Patriots’ bus down the infamously spray-painted Independence Hill, sirens roared, echoing through the hollows, alerting the masses that the Patriots were coming.
When they arrived, the roars of the sirens were joined by the joyous bellow of the Independence faithful, shaking signs and wishing luck to a group of boys, carrying the hopes of an entire community on their shoulders.
It’s a moment 37 years in the making.
When Sophia High School and Stocco High School closed their doors in 1976, giving birth to Independence in 1977, it brought together two great and proud communities and creating one big family.
Since that moment, generations have run the hallowed halls — for years on bright orange carpet — of Independence, carrying with them a love and pride of school and community, and creating memories and lasting legacies of their own.
Tonight, at Appalachian Power Park, a moment will turn into a memory for a new generation of Patriots, who will perform on the biggest stage of them all — our state’s capital in front of the largest crowd they’ve likely seen.
It’s a moment those boys have been longing for since the day they first picked up a bat and ball.
It’s an instance that they have been preparing for since they first struck a ball off a tee in Sophia Little League.
It’s the culmination of a season of hard work, practicing in the rain and cold, and putting the ghosts of last season’s disappointments to bed.
For some, it’s the payoff of four long years of hard work, and for others it’s just the beginning of what they hope will become a lasting legacy of Independence lore.
It’s seven innings of America’s Pastime, that will look to add a second baseball championship to the Independence trophy case, and put the “Small city on a big hill” back on the West Virginia high school sports map, alerting the rest of the state that Independence is just as much a baseball school as it is a wrestling one.
When nine Patriots step onto the diamond tonight against nine Indians from Bridgeport, they’ll do so with many small communities behind them. They’ll look to cement their own legacies and add their names to the list of Independence baseball heroes of the past.
One day generations will look up to names like Atkins, Sexton, McGinnis, Muovich and Huffman in the way they’ve looked up to names like Cuthbert, Justice, Treadway and Gambrell. And that’s what happens in a small community, rich with pride and family.
There are many faces and names that make up those communities, but there is one that binds them all.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.