Billy Karbonit calls it the “Game of the Century.”
Few would put up an argument about his take on the 1962 championship tilt, a photofinish that handed Woodrow Wilson High of Beckley the crown in a hot-and-heavy clash with Weirton.
If Karbonit’s assessment is on target, then his was the Layup of the Century.
As the clock telescoped into single digits, Karbonit wheeled untouched to the basket, put the ball up for the deciding goal, and, after a desperation shot by the Red Riders, Beckley did what no other team in school history could boast — a perfect season.
Beckley’s hopes had dimmed only seconds earlier when Ron “Fritz” Williams barreled downcourt with less than a minute to play.
Then suddenly, the unbelievable happened. He dribbled the ball off a foot, setting the stage for Karbonit’s heroics.
“I remember he was going for the baseline,” Karbonit said in a recent interview.
“I knew what he was going to do — try to take the ball to the basket. He started down on the baseline. I just stuck my right foot on the baseline, so he didn’t have anywhere to go. He stuck his foot almost out of bounds. Then he dribbled the ball off his foot.”
In the closing seconds, nearly everyone in the packed Mountaineer Field House assumed the ball would go to center Bane Sarrett for the last shot, but he was entangled by a sea of long arms in a Red Rider zone. Then Karbonit saw his opportunity and seized on it.
“I knew I was going to have to do something, so I just started down through the lane,” he said.
“It almost parted like the Red Sea. There was nobody in front of me to the basket. I said, ‘Shoot, fire, this is going to be easy.’”
Karbonit’s shot heard ’round the state touched off a wild celebration that night. And it’s one that will be relived Saturday when homeside Beckley collides with Wyoming East. As part of that outing, the Flying Eagles will induct the 1962 version of the team into the school’s Hall of Fame.
Considered by many as Woodrow Wilson’s most gifted, natural athlete, one who starred not only on the hardwood court but on the gridiron and diamond as well, Karbonit endeared himself to the Beckley faithful not only for his athletic prowess but his humility as well.
In the modern era of choreographed dances in the end zone, taunting after routine plays, and trash talk, Karbonit remains a refreshing throwback to an era long forgotten, when athletes made the big plays and modestly returned to the lineup to gear up for another.
His reputation as a fierce competitor spread across the state. A Huntington newspaper headlined a pre-game story, warning the fans there that “Billy the Kid” was headed to town. The moniker stuck, although he never gunned down anything but an opponent in a game, and his weapons were the talents of a skilled athlete.
“It was just a fun tournament,” he said, reflecting on the 71-69 triumph over Weirton, also undefeated when it met Beckley in the tipoff.
“The team we beat the night before — South Charleston — was probably as tough, if not tougher.”
The margin of victory in that one was a scant five points.
Earlier in the championship tilt, Karbonit sped downcourt on one of Beckley’s patented fast breaks.
“I was probably running as hard as I could run,” he said.
“Whoever it was in the middle flipped me the ball. I was going so hard I knew I couldn’t make the basket. I just banked it right off the backboard. It hit that backboard so hard. I think it was Pack Hindsley, or maybe Ron Cimala, on the other side, coming down on the fast break. He got the ball and put it in. I just made it look like I passed him the ball, banking it off the backboard.”
Even today, that memory brings a chuckle to the man who might have been on national television, playing baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Except for a career change in a football game at East Bank High.
In a play that still evokes resentment from some of his old basketball teammates in Beckley, five East Bank defenders gang-tackled him, leaving the speedy tailback with a serious knee injury. Even so, the Pirates assigned him to a minor league team in Salem, Va., right after he left the old Greenbrier Military Academy.
“I already had signed a scholarship to go to Marshall to play football,” he said.
“And I really didn’t want to. I had my knee operated on and I just didn’t think it would take the wear and tear. That’s when Pittsburgh approached me, after I had such a good season down there in baseball at Greenbrier Military.”
Then came a hand injury in spring training that snuffed out any remaining hopes for a professional career in baseball.
Beckley’s comeback in the clash with Weirton was nothing short of spectacular. Even with just over four minutes left, the Flying Eagles were looking at a 13-point deficit, but head coach Lawrence “Preach” Wiseman delivered the same sermon he had given them all season long — “Keep sawin’ wood.”
No one on the team tightened up. There was no case of nerves.
“We were pretty much about the same,” Karbonit said.
“Crowd noise? I never heard crowd noise. I guess you concentrate so hard you just don’t hear that stuff.”
Even with such a large deficit and little time left to overcome it, Karbonit says he and his teammates just stuck to their brand of basketball. No one hit the panic button.
“I just figured, ‘Shoot, they thought they had us beat; now is a good time to do something about it,’” he said.
Which is exactly what they proceeded to do.
On occasion, a flood of happy memories came back to Karbonit on that memorable season.
“Basically, the reason why I thought about it was the teammates we had,” he said. “Our starting lineup was such a cohesive group. That doesn’t say our subs weren’t. They were just as tough as any other teams we played.”
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