SNOWSHOE — Twenty years later, the schools no longer exist, having been swallowed up in consolidations, but the memories do.

Gary Williams, for one, remembers those days — Pineville vs. Mullens, Pineville vs. Oceana, Pineville vs. Bramwell.

For Williams, now a PGA golf pro and director of golf at The Raven at Snowshoe Mountain, it goes back a little farther.

“I started getting interested in sports when my father (Bruce Williams) became principal of Pineville High School in 1978,” he recalled. “That was Curt Warner’s senior year at Pineville.”

While Warner went on to star at Penn State and with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Williams began to show his skills on the basketball court.

“I started playing basketball and made the sixth-grade team when I was in the fourth grade, Scott Belcher and I,” he said.

As an eighth-grader, Williams didn’t taste defeat in basketball or football as the teams went 24-0 and 8-0, respectively.

“We were good in junior high,” he said. “We knew we had a lot of talent. Doc Warner was our coach in both sports.

“We knew our class may have some opportunities to overtake those Mullens Rebels.”

In 1984-85, Mullens was coming off three straight state Class A championships. Although the Rebels had lost Herbie Brooks to graduation and WVU, they still had Chris Caldwell and a couple of new players, including Bo Justice.

Williams and Belcher both started for the Pineville varsity as freshmen, along with sophomore Hurley Mullins.

“We finished 12-9 and lost to Mullens in the sectional by five points,” Williams recalled. “The first time we played them, they beat us by 35 points at Pineville. The second time at Mullens, they beat us 15 or 16 points. We almost got them in the sectional.”

The following year, sophomore James Jacobs joined Williams, Belcher and Mullins in the lineup, and Pineville began a run of three straight trips to the state tournament. After losing to Mullens twice in the regular season, the Minutemen defeated the Rebels in the sectional before losing to East Preston in the state tourney.

“My junior year, we were solid,” Williams said. “We lost only two regular-season games and one was to (Class AAA) Woodrow Wilson at the (Raleigh County) Armory. Jay McKinney was a sophomore that year and he started. We were No. 1 in the state most of the year. Bramwell beat us in the state semifinals.”

The Minutemen were primed to make a serious run at a state title in 1987-88, but then they lost Belcher when his family moved after his father’s job was relocated. Jon McKinney, Jay’s twin brother, moved into the lineup.

“We were still good,” Williams said. “We lost five or six games, but we lost twice to Williamson, which won the state (Class AA) championship that year, and we lost twice to (Class AAA) Oak Hill when they had P.G. Greene.

“Bramwell beat us in the (state) quarterfinals after we beat them both times in the regular season.”

So how intense was the rivalry with Mullens?

“It was intense,” Williams said. “It was always a packed house. It wasn’t violent. I remember as a kid it used to be pretty wild. There was some trash talking and the crowds were really into it.

“Mullens wasn’t as talented as us the last two years, but the rivalry was so intense they always gave us a good game.

“The Oceana rivalry became more intense. That one year, they had Todd Lusk and Larry Cook and went to the state tournament (in Class AA). We beat them two out of three that year.”

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By the time Williams arrived at Bluefield State in the fall of 1988, he had started getting into golf. He thought about resuming his basketball career after transferring to Concord in 1990, but decided against it.

He graduated from Concord with a degree in business administration.

“When I finished at Concord in 1992, I was not sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “I was able to get a job at The Greenbrier for the remainder of that season, but I really didn’t have a solid plan. Then I had the opportunity to go back to The Greenbrier as an entry-level assistant, and it seemed things then fell into place.”

After two seasons at The Greenbrier, Williams went to Amelia Island Plantation in Florida as an assistant and then was promoted to head pro. He became a PGA member in 1996.

“I really enjoyed it and felt I could be good at it,” he said.

Williams then went to the Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana in New Jersey before returning to Florida and the TPC at Sawgrass, both stops as an assistant pro.

He came to Snowshoe as director of golf in 2001.

“I was looking at the Lakeview job (in Morgantown) at one time, then Larry Martin of Parkersburg called me up the week of the Players Championship at Sawgrass and told me the job at Snowshoe was open,” he said. “That’s how I found out about it. I contacted them, and that was right about the time they were making the transition from Hawthorne Valley to The Raven. We did a phone interview, then I flew up and interviewed with the general manager at Snowshoe at the time.”

The move back to West Virginia was a natural for Williams.

“I had played the golf course five or six times,” he said. “It was my favorite course.”

And he would be much closer to his family in Pineville.

“They were excited,” he added.

The Raven, designed by Gary Player, has been ranked as West Virginia’s No. 1 public access course by Golf Week magazine for five years in a row and has enjoyed a national top 100 ranking among modern courses built after 1960.

It hosted the 2005 West Virginia Open.

“We want to maintain it as one of the top golf courses in the United States and focus on guest services,” Williams said. “The design and scenery are going to bring you back. West Virginia is so beautiful, and Pocahontas County is the prettiest county in the state.

“If you want to take a ride in the park, you’re not going to find a prettier place than what we have here at Snowshoe. It’s fun to ride around the course even if you’re not playing golf.”

During the peak summer period, The Raven employs 36 people.

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So what is the process to become a PGA member?

“First, you have to pass a playing test — a pair of 78s or 79s at a championship caliber course,” Williams said. “I did mine at Pipestem in 1994. Then there are three week-long PGA schools that cover retail, carts, turf grass, teaching, club repair, tournament operations, all facets of the business. Then there is an apprenticeship where you work under a PGA member for x-amount of time. It was 2 1/2 years for me. The last step, you meet with a committee of PGA members in an interview process. If you pass that, you’re in.

“The golf business is a tough business, but it’s been great for me. I’ve been to a lot of places and met a lot of people. I’ve been very fortunate to see and do a lot of things.

“I got to go to Pebble Beach for four days in December. At The Greenbrier, my third or fourth day there, I got to meet Neil Armstrong, who was the first man on the moon. I was 23 at the time.

“I got to work the Solheim Cup at The Greenbrier. I worked two Tournament Players Championships at Sawgrass. I worked Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf at Jasna Polana — Tom Watson vs. Hale Irwin, hosted by Gary Player.

“I met Sam Snead. I’ve seen Watson a couple of times. I’ve spoken to Player a couple of different times. Dan Marino. One of the coolest things I did was play 18 holes with (WVU football coach) Rich Rodriguez. I love the Mountaineers.”

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The move to Snowshoe also allowed Williams to meet his wife of three years, Melissa, a former Monroe County resident who is now director of human resources for the eastern region for Intrawest, Snowshoe’s parent company. They have two sons, Timothy and Jackson.

“She’s a beautiful wife and a wonderful mother,” Williams said. “It was all golf when I was single. Family is No. 1 now.”

The move also brought him closer to his parents, Bruce and Shirley Williams. Both were educators in Wyoming County; Bruce Williams also served as a state senator.

“I don’t get down as much as I should, but they come up here when they can,” Williams said.

“I couldn’t have had better parents, or more loving, caring and proud parents. They’ve been great. I always felt like I had a good head on my shoulders. That’s because of them. They raised me right. I knew right from wrong at an early age.”

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Photos for this story were taken by Pat Hanna and his wife, Beth.

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