Wheeling Island Stadium will again be the host to West Virginia's three state championship football games – known as the Super Six – this Friday and Saturday.
The Island has been the home to all three games since 1994. Before that, Charleston's Laidley Field had been the home venue from 1979-87 and again from 1989-1993 (Morgantown's Mountaineer Field was the site in 1988).
Perhaps it's what Ripley did at the end of the football season in 1977 that sparked the idea to have all of the title games at one site. Ripley's Memorial Stadium was the host for both the Class AAA state title game and Class A championship in that 1977 season.
While the two games weren't played on the same weekend, maybe the amount of work and hospitality the City of Ripley, the Ripley High boosters, school administration, coaches and volunteers put into the effort, got the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission thinking about the possibility of three championship games all at one location.
When Memorial Stadium got its current set of concrete bleachers in 1969, Ripley immediately became an attractive venue for postseason football. Seating was a big deal back in the day and Ripley's revamped stadium certainly supplied that need. Charleston High and Buckhannon-Upshur met in the Class AAA championship at Memorial in 1969, which started a run of several playoff affairs in Ripley (including a national semifinal NAIA game in 1973).
In 1977, Ripley was tabbed as the home site for the Class AAA showdown between the Beckley Woodrow Wilson Flying Eagles and the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears.
The day – Saturday, November 26 – was certainly fit for a Polar Bear. It was a brutally cold and miserable afternoon. Beckley took advantage of five Fairmont Senior turnovers to win the game, 6-0. The initial Fairmont miscue came in the first quarter at their own 18. Beckley's Randy Glenn would score six plays later from short yardage at the 2:00 mark of the opening period. It turned out to be the only points of the day for either team.
Fairmont Senior had a shot to tie and possibly go ahead with 1:17 left in the game, but quarterback Steve Smith (who was a teammate of mine at old Salem College) fumbled at the one-yard line and Glenn recovered. Pete Culicerto's Flying Eagles emerged as champs over the late Bob DeLorenzo's Polar Bears before a near-capacity crowd.
That same weekend, Pineville and Mannington were set to play for the Class A title in Summersville. Four inches of snow, though, postponed the game.
The SSAC decided to also bring that game to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, December 3. The facility was certainly one reason why along with the reputation Ripley was getting for hosting postseason games.
Pineville, guided by Ray Woolsey, featured the great Curt Warner, who was then a junior. He scored the game's first touchdown on a 54-yard gallop. The teams went back and forth the entire day before
Mannington, coached by Roy Michael, got a 3-yard touchdown run by Billy Martin with 2:21 remaining in the contest to break a 20-20 tie and give the Big Green Gators their second straight state title, 26-20. The win was Mannington's 41st in its last 44 games.
Mannington, the alma mater of Ravenswood head football and basketball coach Mick Price, would close in 1979 to become a part of North Marion.
Pineville was shut down in the 1998 to become a part of Wyoming East.
Not only are those two schools no longer in existence, but also most of the teams they defeated during the course of their respective seasons. Schools Mannington beat in 1977 that are no are no longer around include Fairview, Monongah, Morgantown St. Francis, Barrackville and Shinnston. Pineville topped former schools such as Iaeger, Marsh Fork, Matewan, Mullens, Oceana, Herndon, Baileysville and Lenore.
Fans in the area got a chance to see two great games and two outstanding players in back-to-back weekends. Warner went on to a College Football Hall of Fame career at Penn State before playing close to 10 years in the National Football League.
Fairmont Senior had a future WVU star on its team in Calvin Turner, who also went on to play professionally. Turner, a defensive lineman, died earlier this year.
While Memorial Stadium continues to be one of the state's best football facilities, more and more schools have made an effort to improve their own home sites. With the growth of the playoffs now at its current model of 16-team fields in each class, an abundance of schools can host games.
Once upon a time, though, Ripley was often the place the SSAC looked to first for football playoff events.
And in 1977, Memorial Stadium was the site of not one, but two title games. You could say, two-thirds of what we now know as the Super Six.
So many played a part. Like the the late John Miller, then Ripley's Mayor, the late Joe Varacalli, Ripley's principal in the 1977-78 school year. Boosters like the late Howard Chancey, the late Don Ferguson, the late Paul Raines, the late Ted Lee and the late Skip McGinley. Volunteers like the late Paul Woody, who took care of public address issues prior to the AAA game.
Other die-hard supporters like Claude Ball, O.G. Britton, Rev. Ron Brooks, Mike Ruben,Mike Ranson, Hank Gibson and Rick Simmons did their part. Ripley coaches like Frank Marino, Jim Frashier and Mike Deem were there to do whatever needed to be done. Marino, in fact, served as a color analyst for a Beckley radio station that called the Class A contest.
It was a total community effort. A team effort all the way.
It was a special time, made possible by a lot of special people.