RAVENSWOOD - Without question, Bob Staats took sports writing to another level in Jackson County once he got going in 1970.
The fun-loving Staats, who passed away over the weekend from a stroke, hammered out sports copy by the truckload for The Ravenswood News and later The Jackson Star-News during his 30 years of newspaper work.
To read those pages down through the years, one would have thought Staats, who was 84 at the time of his passing, worked full-time for Star Printing, which owned the papers during most of his writing career.
But that wasn’t the case.
His countless hours spent out and about covering sports, taking pictures and then pounding a typewriter and later computer keyboard were all a part of what he called “my hobby.”
After graduating from Ravenswood High, where he was a football standout, Staats served in the United States Army. He was a veteran of the Korean Conflict.
After the service, like so many of his generation Staats became a shift worker at Kaiser/Ravenswood Aluminum. He was a proud member of the Steelworkers Local Union 5668.
His “hobby” provided a treasure chest of memories for the countless athletes who performed at both Ravenswood High School and Ripley High School during that 30-year span as a writer. But it also included those who competed for the grade, junior and middle schools in the county as well as the ones who played on teams in the various youth and adult league sports programs.
There absolutely wasn’t a sport he shied away from providing coverage for during his years as a writer. He covered it all with a passion from championship-level high school events to T-Ball games.
His efforts and attention to detail in writing those sports stories were certainly appreciated by the coaches of the many teams at the county’s two high schools.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better person to cover high school sports than Bob Staats,” said Ravenswood High football coaching legend Fred Taylor.
Staats chronicled the glory days of Devil football during the bulk of Taylor’s historic 32-season run as head coach, which included Class AA state championship wins in 1972 and 1976.
“He was always fair. He wasn’t the type of person to put any blame on the coach or individual players. I respected him for that,” Taylor said. “I coached his brother Jim and Sherry (Cole) in an LKC (Little Kanawha Conference) football (all-star) game in Parkersburg when I was at Walton (as head coach). I've known the family a long time. It's a great family.”
During his football playing days, Bob Staats was a Second Team All-State selection in 1949. He was inducted into the school’s Football Hall of Fame last fall for not only his time spent playing but all of his years devoted to covering the sport for the paper.
His athletic prowess continued long after those playing days.
“I played golf with Bob. He was a good golfer. He would make comments in the paper about my (high) scores,” Taylor said laughing.
From the time he ventured into Ravenswood as a young head coach in 1978, Staats was there covering many of the seasons as Mick Price built one of the state of West Virginia’s most successful and respected boys basketball programs.
Price was saddened to hear of Staats’ passing.
“He was here for the kids and promoting the teams,” said Price, whose program has enjoyed a pair of Class AA state titles (and a AA runner-up finish) and played for the Class A championship this past season. “He allowed me to write a ‘Coach’s Corner’ (column) for the paper. He thought it would be a great idea.”
Besides basketball, Price also spent three years as Ravenswood’s head football coach. Though Staats had since retired from the newspapers, he worked closely with Price on the celebration of Ravenswood football’s 100th anniversary season in 2014.
“He was the historical landmark. He was the one who knew all the information,” Price said. “The stuff he would tell me about when he played, oh my gosh. He was a Red Devil through and through.”
While he did bleed red and black, Staats took great pride in giving Ripley teams excellent write-ups during his career at the newspaper.
“He gave us as much coverage as anybody in the state,” said Ray Swisher, who guided Ripley to not one, but two state baseball titles during his outstanding career which spanned from 1974-2010. “He gave me his (phone) number and I could call him and call in games late and he would get it in the paper. He was a super guy.”
One of Staats’ favorite things to do as Sports Editor for the papers was to keep tabs of area athletes who moved on to play at the next level in their particular sport.
He followed the great career of former Red Devil Frank Nester as West Virginia University’s record-setting kicker.
“The one thing I remember in the game I kicked six field goals (in 1972 for Bobby Bowden’s Mountaineers against Villanova), there was a picture of all six on the top of the page of that week’s paper,” said Nester, who grew silent for a few seconds fighting back the emotion in recalling Staats’ kindness during that memorable time in his young life. “Later on, he gave me the negatives of all six of those kicks (he had taken pictures of that day in Morgantown).”
Nester, who later spent time in the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, summed up Staats by saying, “Bob was a great press agent for a lot of athletes to go through Ripley and Ravenswood.”
Nester is one of many former athletes who would later return to Ravenswood and work in the coaching business and associate with Staats from that angle.
Bryan Canterbury is one who indeed had that luxury in forming a long-time relationship with Staats.
Canterbury enjoyed a stellar athletic career at Ravenswood in football and track and field. He was another of those athletes who moved on to the next level (at West Virginia State excelling in football and track and field) and continued reaping the benefits of press clippings from Bob Staats.
“When you were growing up, the goal for all of us was to get mentioned in his ‘Sports Scope’ column. It meant you did something good,” said Canterbury, who also worked closely with Staats as a coach in a wide-range of sports and in producing the school’s top-notch boys basketball game program.
The "Sports Scope" column Canterbury spoke of was a must-read each week (and then it became two times a week when the late Phil Fourney created The Weekender edition of The Ravenswood News).
Canterbury, a Ravenswood Football Hall of Famer, has won nine state titles as Ravenswood’s cross country head coach, worked with Jim Mahan (another Hall of Famer) to win five girls track and field titles in six seasons and has been an assistant for both the boys and girls state championship basketball teams.
“When I think of Bob, I just think of my whole generation and all of those scrapbooks he helped fill.”
Mahan was the first player in Ravenswood High football history to be named First Team All-State twice (Class AA in 1977 and 1978).
“He was just a good guy, he really was” said Mahan, who now serves Jackson County schools as the Director of Secondary/Vocational Education. “He had his heart in all the kids he wrote about.
“When Bryan and I were working on the programs, we would be down there (at the newspaper office on Race Street) rifling through all of those pictures Bob had. One time we went down there and he had put together a bunch of pictures of me from football, wrestling and baseball and gave them to me.”
It was as if Staats had handed one of Ravenswood’s all-time finest athletes a pot of gold.
Staats’ humorous side came out during football season when he predicted high school and college games under the alias “Offsides Harry.” He also picked NFL games each week under the name “Rhonda-Voo.”
He had a deep passion for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. And he loved following the Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles.
When Staats started working for the paper, there weren’t that many sports at the two county high schools. But through the years the number would grow significantly.
While more sports were added for the boys, programs for female athletes started to emerge.
Staats, who was honored numerous times for his work by the West Virginia Press Association, made sure the coverage for girls teams was equal to the boys.
One girls coach who received rock star treatment from Staats' professionalism was Butch Varney.
“He (Staats) was the most iconic sports figure in Ravenswood. His sports pages were second to none. He covered everything,” said Varney, who helped put girls sports on the map by guiding Ravenswood to the Class AA state championship in 1982. Varney had several other State Tournament teams and also enjoyed plenty of success coaching tennis at Ravenswood.
As a coach and athlete, Varney enjoyed reading the royal treatment Staats gave to those in the circles of sports.
“He was a person you put on a pedestal. He knew everyone and everyone knew him and knew his job. He gave us recognition. He was the guy who blew our trumpet and that there were special kids in Ravenswood and Ripley and he recognized us for that.”
Roush Funeral Home is handling the arrangements for Staats, who was 84. Visitation at the funeral home will be 5-8 p.m. Thursday evening with his service the following day at 1 p.m.
His complete obituary can be found elsewhere in this issue of Jackson Newspapers.