A Football Fellowship
The day was November 25, 1978. The venue was Ripley's Memorial Stadium. The event was the Class A state championship football game. It was a showdown featuring the Doddridge County Bulldogs and the Duval Yellowjackets (now a part of Lincoln County High School).
Ripley head football coach Frank Marino and vice principal Jack Wiseman chose four senior football players to chaperone the teams. I had the pleasure of joining Rob Britton to be with the Bulldogs on that cool Saturday afternoon.
I was excited about being with Doddridge. For whatever reason I had always been intrigued with the small high school that's home base is West Union. The head coach – Cline Stansberry – had been at the helm since 1954. I was looking forward to meeting him.
It's still quite vivid in my mind the moment Stansberry stepped off the bus. He was old school and you could tell his players respected him. One of the first things he asked us to do was make sure that a parking spot could be saved near the fence on the visiting side of the stadium where the Bulldogs would be that day. Stansberry wanted to make sure his aging father could be stationed there to see the game.
After that, once inside the locker room one of his first orders of business was to get his game attire on, which included gum boots. He said the boots made it much easier to move about on the muddy sidelines.
I had been reading area football stories in The Parkersburg News for years and felt as they I knew Stansberry. Here was a man getting set to coach his first-ever state championship game and he couldn't have been nicer. He seemed to enjoy knowing about us and Ripley.
Stansberry's Doddridge team was coming off likely the biggest win in school history. In the semifinals the week before when they sidelined Kennedy Award winner Curt Warner and the Pineville Minutemen, a program that had played at Ripley the year before and lost the Class A title to Mannington (the home of Ravenswood coach Mick Price, who happened to be at Ripley that day. Price was with his great friend, the late Bill Stewart, who I had visited with earlier in the week during a recruiting trip to Salem College).
After topping Pineville and Warner, who went on to enjoy an illustrious career as a running back at Penn State and then the NFL, it was time to see if Doddridge could now take down the late Mike Linsky's orange and black clad Yellowjackets (yes, there wasn't one speck of yellow in their uniforms).
This was actually Stansberry's second trip to Ripley for a postseason game. His Bulldogs had been dogged by the Sherman Tide (Linsky's alma mater, not to mention Jackson Newspapers' very own Phil Perry), 40-0, in a Class AA semifinal in 1975.
Duval jumped out in front of the Bulldogs that afternoon. And despite a gallant comeback effort, in the end it was Duval winning the state championship, 27-14. It would be the first of three for Linsky, who won another in '83 at Duval and the AAA title of '95 as the head coach for John Marshall. (It should be noted Linsky became a good friend of mine and was a true class act. He also won another playoff game at Ripley in 1991 against Parkersburg South while coaching JM).
Stansberry would coach two more years at Doddridge before calling it a career. He continued to work several more years as principal, dean of boys, athletic director and just general fundraiser for the school.
He's helped raise thousands upon thousands of dollars for the school to help improve facilities. In addition, he spearheads projects for scholarships.
One such fundraising mission is a monthly breakfast at the West End Cafe in West Union. It is there where former players, and anyone who wants to come, can gather for a great breakfast, prayer and wonderful fellowship.
I had the chance to attend the May breakfast. While I did get to meet and spend a few minutes with Coach Stansberry that November day of 1978, we became more familiar with each other the following year when I attended Salem. His son, Rod, who was on the sidelines for that Class A game in Ripley, went to Salem and we became close friends. Rod, a 1977 graduate, was one of Doddridge's all-time greatest athletes. He was on the field for that '75 loss to Sherman.
Mike Wilt, a fellow member at Ripley's Calvary United Methodist Church, played for Stansberry in the late '60s and had been urging me to make the trip to West Union for the past few years. I accompanied Mike and another Doddridge grad, Lee Corder of Ravenswood, to the monthly breakfast.
Coach Stansberry looked like the man who had coached on the sidelines at Ripley in 1978. He is now 85 years young. He is fit as a fiddle and his mind is as sharp as ever. He proudly showed me the ledger and the money his breakfast club had raised for kids in the area to help send them on to college.
He still golfs and works at a local funeral home. He has a great sense of humor.
The players on hand for this particular breakfast exhibit a tremendous love and respect for Coach Stansberry. In fact, at age 52, I was the youngest one among a group of 30 that was in attendance that day.
It was a neat experience and took me back to a different time.
While football is what ultimately brought these different walks of life together, you could tell this monthly gathering is so much more. It's about good food. It's about laughs. It's about helping others less fortunate. It's about prayer for those in need.
It is without question the highest degree of fellowship.
COLUMN: A Football Fellowship
A Football Fellowship