COLUMNS

On the Mark: The treasured friendships through Ravenswood basketball: Column

Mark Martin
Special to Jackson Newspapers
Ravenswood basketball turns 100 years old this season. Pictured is the second-ever Devil squad from the 1922-23 season.

When I think of Ravenswood basketball, one word comes to mind … friendship.

I’ve gained a treasure chest full of friends through my association with the Runnin’ Red Devils dating back to the 1980-81 season.

The minute my sophomore football season was over at Marietta College, I started coming home every weekend to write for The Jackson Herald.

Mark Martin

The late Rick Simmons, publisher/editor of the paper and one of my early mentors, assigned me to many things that winter. And one of those was covering Devil basketball.

The 1980-81 campaign would be the third for head coach Mick Price.

His program was coming off the school’s first state tournament appearance in 30 years.

To say I bonded with Price that season would be a huge, huge understatement.

Without question, the man has become one of my best and closest friends.

The time we have spent together in and around sports has produced one great memory after another. I have laughed as much with Price as anyone in my life.

I first met him during my senior year at Ripley High School in November of 1978 as he was getting set to embark on his initial season with the Devils. (Yes, I do like to remind him that he is “much” older. But in all seriousness, he looks nearly the same as when we first shook hands for the first time.)

We were introduced at the Class A state football championship game inside Ripley’s Memorial Stadium by the late Bill Stewart, who would later become the WVU head football coach. The title contest featured Doddridge County and Duval. I had just met Coach Stewart earlier that week as a football recruit at old Salem College, where he was a young assistant. He convinced me to come to Salem and play. Unfortunately, Coach Stewart left before I got there and later my football journey and quest for a degree in Radio-TV landed me in Marietta.

While I didn’t get to play for Stew, we became friends for life.

And that has certainly been the case with Mick Price.

My duty for that championship game was to serve as Doddridge County’s (the Bulldogs lost a close game to Duval) team co-host. I had been selected, along with three of my senior Viking teammates, to work the championship game. It was quite an honor.

Good buddy Rob Britton, a terrific running back as a Viking, and I patrolled the sidelines of the Bulldogs.

A side note to that championship Saturday in Ripley was the fact we had been hand-picked by our new assistant principal to help the teams with whatever they needed.

That assistant principal was the late Jack Wiseman, who had been Ravenswood’s head basketball coach prior to Price.

Wiseman had not only been a successful basketball coach but also excelled guiding the Red Devil track and field program. He stepped away from coaching after the 1977-78 school year to enter administration. He is the first Red Devil head basketball coach I knew of while growing up and now here he was at Ripley for my final year of high school.

It was a blessing to have him on board. He would later become the school’s principal and took Ripley High to another level in many areas.

He was a wonderful mentor and became a friend for life.

I saw Price a few more times until getting to visit with him frequently during that season of 1980-81.

Since then, we’ve been a part of each other’s life in a big-time way.

One thing that sticks out for me is going into his team’s locker room after a Ravenswood game for the first time. I was truly blown away by how neat and orderly things were. It was truly first class.

Price had taken an old storage area and transformed it into something a small college would love to have.

It was just a small phase of his passion for the sport of basketball and in this case the Ravenswood Red Devils.

Through the years, Price never ceases to amaze me at making the nostalgic venue for Runnin’ Red Devil basketball the best it can be with cosmetic tweaks here and there.

Despite turning 75 last season, it is a showplace and one of the greatest gymnasiums around for high school basketball.

In 2006, Price was bestowed with a wonderful honor when the playing floor of the Old Gymnasium (aka "The Pit") was named Mick Price Court.

It was well-deserved for the hard-working Red Devil leader.

Later that season, Price got to enjoy something he had waited a long time for in his wonderful coaching career … a state championship.

His Runnin’ Red Devils knocked off Bluefield for the Class AA title.

The 2005-06 Ravenswood boys basketball team made program history by winning the Class AA state championship. Ravenswood defeated Bluefield for the crown.

He would lead the program to another Class AA crown in 2009.

Three more teams under Price have reached championship games and several others have been a part of the excitement of state tournament basketball.

Through the years, I’ve written countless game stories, features and columns about Runnin’ Red Devil basketball. The thrill exists just as much in writing the most recent story as it did when I penned my very first one centering around basketball for the red and black in 1980.

Price is one of the state’s all-time leaders when it comes to wins and continues to amaze me with his great zest for the game and coaching.

He’s as energetic as when we first met.

Ravenswood has been so fortunate to have someone like Price serving as a mentor for its young people.

He’s not just a basketball coach but a life coach.

Once while doing a piece about Price, I decided to interview the late Joe Retton, Fairmont State’s legendary head men’s basketball coach, and get his thoughts on the Devil leader. Price, a native of Marion County’s Mannington community, had been a part of Retton’s program while at Fairmont.

A two-time NAIA National Coach of the Year, Retton finished his career with a winning percentage of 83.6. The percentage was the highest by a men’s coach at any level.

Retton told me if he had a child still playing basketball, Price would be the choice to coach his son or daughter.

It was high praise from one of the greatest to ever coach the sport of basketball.

Another impressive trait of Price is his willingness to share knowledge and strategy with any coach, especially the younger generation.

The man has no airs, he simply wants to help everyone be their best.

My close relationship with Price and Runnin’ Red Devil basketball led to wonderful friendships with his assistants.

Life has been grand getting to know and form special bonds with the likes of Butch Varney, the late Austin Boswell, Bryan Canterbury, Don Brown, Andy Wise, Greg Varney and the late, great Jerry Bradley, who moved on from Ravenswood to become the all-time winningest coach in the history of Greenbrier East High School basketball.

During my younger days, if I wasn’t with Price and his staff at the gym we would be gathering at his house on the corner of Gibbs and Virginia Streets in Ravenswood. Years later I would be his next-door neighbor in that location.

Those get-togethers at the infamous “Coach’s Corner” (Price has lived in three places in Ravenswood and all have been on a corner) brought about more friendships over time, including ones with Jim Mahan and Gene Morris, two great athletes while attending Ravenswood High School.

Both Mahan and Morris became successful coaches during their careers in the education field.

As time marched on, I managed to coax Price, Mahan and Morris all to work in the booth with me as football analysts for radio and television broadcasts.

Those have been some of the most enjoyable times of my broadcasting career.

From coaches to players to managers to custodians of the gymnasium to statisticians to fellow writers and broadcasters to opposing coaches and players to the countless fans, the friendships have just continued to pour in from my association with the hardwood teams wearing Ravenswood’s red and black since that season some 40 years ago.

My career has taken me to many great shrines for basketball and other sports. I’ve had the chance to rub shoulders and talk with an abundance of notable names and see events on some of the grandest of stages.

But I can honestly say nothing has given me more pleasure during my career as a writer and broadcaster than to chronicle things taking place in my home base of Jackson County.

And that certainly includes Runnin’ Red Devil basketball.

It is a program that has blessed me with an array of friendships … time and time again.