In just four years as the Greenbrier East head football coach, Ray Lee led the Spartans to a place they had not been since 1998 — the Class AAA state playoffs. Four years later, Lee led the Spartans to the 2019 postseason and the first playoff game at Spartan Stadium in over 20 years.
The progress made by Greenbrier East under the West Virginia Wesleyan graduate has not gone unnoticed around the state of West Virginia.
Lee was named head coach of the South Cardinals for the annual North-South Football Classic last week. The game is set for Saturday, June 13, at South Charleston High School.
"To have the opportunity to coach where I am and to have the kind of players that I have encountered while I have been there, I am a blessed man. It is just an honor to get selected for something like this," Lee said. "When you think about following in the footsteps of coach (Homer) Criddle and coach (Bob) Zopp, just from our school, as well as other local coaches like coach (John H.) Lilly, coach (Lewis) McClung and coach (John) Mustain, that is really a great honor."
Zopp led the South squad in 1981 and Criddle was head coach of the 1986 team.
Three key players on the 2019 Spartan squad will join Lee this year in the annual clash — Marion Lawson, Kyle King and Houston Scott. The standout athletes were members of a special senior class, according to their coach.
"We had a heckuva senior class. It was a group that stuck with us from their freshman year, all the way through," Lee said. "They hung in there during the rough seasons that were a learning experience. They remind me of the 2015 class, the first team we had make the playoffs during my time here.
"I am really proud of them. Not one senior was below a 3.5 GPA in that group and all of them are aspiring to go off to college whether they play sports or not. They have a plan and know what they want to do down the road."
Two members of the Greenbrier East coaching staff, Aaron Baker and Jake Harper, will join Lee on the sideline.
"You wish you could take your whole staff because you never want to slight anyone. I couldn't do this by myself," Lee said. "We have a great group of coaches on our staff, guys that are dedicated to everything we are doing here, and they have put their soul into it. I had some great guys on my previous staff also. Those guys were good to me. I enjoyed every one of them."
The two remaining assistant coach positions will be filled by Liberty head coach Mark Workman and Riverside's Alex Daugherty.
"I think this is a great experience for anyone, either as a head coach or as an assistant," Lee said.
After winning just one game over his first two years as head coach of a young and inexperienced Raiders team, Workman kept his team believing. Last season, Liberty improved to four wins and many believe Workman's crew will make a serious run at the postseason this fall.
"We had a couple of conversations about JV games and I could hear his spirit in the tone in his voice," Lee said about Workman. "That is what you look for. Wins and losses — everybody wants to win, but there is more to it than that."
Daugherty was chosen for similar reasons after a casual conversation at last year's state playoff meeting.
Spirit is important to Lee, who sees coaching as a calling and a platform to help prepare players for life, on and off the gridiron.
"You take advantage of it to make kids better," Lee said. "It is a great platform for me to represent my Lord and Savior. Every chance I get, I try to impart something about Jesus Christ to these young men. We want to make sure when the young men leave our program, they are not just an athlete, they are full person."
It is Lee's sincere hope that the players get the opportunity to play, but he is also well aware of the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My blessings to everyone. We are dealing with something we have not dealt with before as a country and a community," Lee said. "Let's just keep praying for one another and stick together. We can beat this thing."
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