It is not easy reaching State Tournaments in any sport.
And while Ravenswood High School had enjoyed its share of success in boys basketball over the course of time, a long drought existed for a Red Devil basketball team to be involved in an event bringing the best of the best together in one setting.
Going into the season of 1979-1980, Ravenswood basketball was staring at a stretch of 30 years in which the last, and for that matter only, Red Devil team had competed in the West Virginia High School Boys State Basketball Tournament.
It was a Devil team of head coach Bill Jones which featured a starting five of Allen Short, a First Team All-Stater, Ray Ritchie, Bill Matics, Bob Tidd and Ken Rowley.
The Devils lost a heartbreaking 58-56 contest in double overtime to Kermit (now a part of Tug Valley in Mingo County) in the final four round.
When the game concluded, capping off a fabulous 21-3 season, little did anyone know years and years would vanish before another Red Devil team reached the promised land of postseason play.
Finally it happened...30 years later.
And now…it has been 40 years since the incredible achievement when Mick Price’s Cinderella Runnin’ Red Devil squad returned the school and community to the State Tournament for just the second time ever.
Ravenswood upset a highly-talented Williamstown squad, that was ranked No. 2 in the state of Class AA, in a regional final. It was indeed a David vs. Goliath matchup.
Williamstown’s team had a dynamic point guard in Jeff Burkhammer, who has moved on to a successful collegiate coaching career, and an outstanding supporting cast.
Among his teammates was a rock-solid banger down low in the late Jeff Deem, a future WVU Mountaineer linebacker. Deem, who was inducted into the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame last June, lived the biggest portion of his adult life in Ripley.
“That was my second year,” said Price, who had come to Ravenswood in the season of 1978-79 after a one-year stint as the head coach at old Sistersville High School (now a part of Tyler Consolidated). “I knew I had to make something happen in a hurry (to get people fully invested in Ravenswood basketball).”
The 1979-80 season was still part of an era of high school basketball when only four teams made it to the State Tournament for both Class AA and Class A while eight slots existed for Class AAA.
It made getting to the State Tournament a difficult journey.
Price’s team knocked off Richwood in a regional semifinal to earn the matchup with Williamstown. The Yellowjackets had beaten an outstanding Gilmer County team, guided by Kent Kennedy, who would later serve as Ripley’s head basketball coach in addition to being the principal at both Ravenswood and Ripley.
Williamstown had its way with Ravenswood during two regular season matchups.
“They nailed us twice during that season,” Price recalled.
Ravenswood made the third time the charm with a slim victory to earn that trip to the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, the site of the 1980 State Tournament.
“We got hot at the right time,” said Price. “We had some really good shooters in Jimmy Comer, Craig Easter and Ronnie Pannell. Stan McClure could shoot it and Rich Easter was a good post player.”
That was Ravenswood’s starting five.
Pannell and Craig Easter were seniors. Comer and McClure were juniors and Rich Easter was a sophomore.
Senior Ty Watson was the sixth man, who Price said “just kept getting better and better” as the season moved on.
“All of our guys could score,” Price said. “That team lost some tough games during the season, but they also won some tough games.”
The win launching them to the State Tournament was played at Parkersburg’s Memorial Fieldhouse.
“I love the Fieldhouse,” Price said. “It’s one of the top gyms in the state.”
Even though his team had been beaten soundly by Williamstown twice in the regular season, Price had confidence his the Devils could pull off the upset in the third meeting.
“I felt good about our game plan,” he said. “Little by little we kept hanging in there and hanging in there. We got the lead and held on to win.
“The only one who thought we could win was us. Our community got behind us. We had great support.”
The victory put Ravenswood into a matchup against Winfield at the State Tournament.
Pannell, the team’s point guard, fouled out early in the fourth.
The Generals hung on for a 48-40 win and then lost to powerful Northfork in the state championship game. It was part of Northfork’s national-setting run of eight consecutive state titles.
The Devils of the 1979-80 season was one that proved to all the teams who would come later that being a part of State Tournament competition could be possible.
Ravenswood has since won two Class AA state championships on two occasions (2006 and 2009) and been runner-up three other times (once in Class AA and twice in Class A).
Six more Price-coached teams have been in the State Tournament.
Price’s assistants in the 1979-80 season were Butch Varney and Randy Shuman. Varney would go on to build Ravenswood’s girls basketball program into a powerhouse with a state championship being secured in 1982.
Shuman has enjoyed state championship success in the state of Florida.
Other team members who came to work day in and day out to help Ravenswood basketball become one of four still standing at the season’s end were Mike Groves, Steve Harmon, Adam Vincent, Gary Sheppard, Mark Thompson, Ellis Booth, Bryan Bennett, Terry Johnson, Paul Travis, Jim Barnes,
The statistician extraordinaire was Ron Lewis.
Shelley Ritchie, who was Varney’s All-State point guard on the 1982 girls team, was a team manager along with Danny Hemetek and R.J. Hinde.
Cub Curry, a former Red Devil and later West Virginia State football standout, dressed up as the Red Devil mascot and brought plenty of momentum to Ravenswood's already electric fan base.
“That was just a good group of kids,” Price said of his entire squad and support staff.
Many things stand out for Price during the season. Maybe most of all was the team’s return to town following the State Tournament weekend.
Vehicles were lined all along the four-lane off Interstate 77 leading into town in addition to the streets of Ravenswood to show support of the team’s accomplishment.
“Our fans were then, and still are, some of the best. Our community was fantastic. Those are things you just never forget.”
And no one will ever forget the Runnin’ Red Devils of 1979-80.