Abshire thrilled with MOV Hall of Fame selection

Staff Writer
Jackson Newspapers
James Abshire

With the annual Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet and enshrinement ceremony cancelled for this year and moved to next June, former Ripley High and West Virginia State football great James Abshire will have a little extra time to polish up his acceptance speech.

Abshire, who was one of 10 chosen for the Class of 2020, was looking forward to the ceremonies.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame weekend had been set for the weekend of June 13-14. The induction banquet was to again be held at the Grand Pointe Conference and Reception Center in Vienna. The enshrinement ceremony, where the plaques are unveiled in a beautiful display case, was slated for the following day at Vienna’s Grand Central Mall.

COVID-19 moved the event to the weekend of August 22-23 before a decision was made to cancel the event for this year. Class of 2020 inductees will now be honored the weekend of June 12-13, 2021.

Regardless of when it takes place, Abshire, a 1973 Ripley High School graduate, feels honored to be going into the prestigious Hall of Fame.

The Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame honors past athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, media members and others who have made significant contributions during their careers in the circles of athletics.

“It has brought back a lot of old memories,” said Abshire when he first found out he would be a part of the 2020 MOV Hall of Fame class. “It kind of got me to thinking about all the good times we had here in Jackson County (playing sports). You kind of rehash back over that stuff.”

Abshire is one of three from Jackson County who will be inducted with this Class of 2020.

His fellow Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Famers from the county are Ravenswood High football and baseball great Josh Miller, who became an All-American on the diamond at West Virginia State, and Ripley’s Chase Fisher, who was the Bill Evans Award winner as the West Virginia High School Basketball Player of the Year before heading off to enjoy an outstanding college career at Wake Forest (two seasons) and Brigham Young (two seasons).

The Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame is made up of five West Virginia counties in Jackson, Wood, Pleasants, Ritchie and Wirt along with two Noble and Washington in Ohio.

Abshire played on an undefeated team as a freshman at Ripley High in the fall of 1969. He got to come up and spend some time with the varsity late in the year.

He suffered through an injury-riddled sophomore season for the Vikings of head coach Ernie Moore, who passed away this past year, in the season of 1971. Abshire says he learned a lot in a short amount of time from Moore, who is a member of the MOV Hall of Fame, and his colorful assistant Corky Griffith.

In the seasons of 1972 and 1973 under the late Marcus McPhail, another Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Famer, Abshire excelled as a center and hard-hitting linebacker.

He became Ripley’s eighth First Team All-Stater when he was chosen as the center for the Class AAA team in 1972.

“I loved Marcus. He was a good guy. I liked all of those guys,” Abshire said while rattling off the names of (Jim) Frashier, (Mike) Deem and (Dave) Rawson.

While at Ripley, he also played basketball and was a part of the track and field program.

Abshire garnered Ripley High’s prestigious Athlete of the Year award in 1973.

He took his football talents to West Virginia State College (now University) in Institute and played for head coach Colin Cameron.

“I started (at linebacker) as a freshman down there,” he said. “I played a lot the first two games and then started the rest of the way.”

He added to his duties the following season.

“My sophomore year I started both ways,” said Abshire, who was back at his old center spot on offense.

“That was something,” he said of the demands of going both ways at the collegiate level.

Abshire was indeed a force for the Yellow Jackets in the seasons of 1973-76.

He earned All-West Virginia Conference First Team honors as a junior and senior at linebacker and was a Second Team NAIA All-American in 1976.

Having been gone from State now for more than 40 years, Abshire still holds the school single-season record for tackles with 165.

“That was a great season. I had a great time that year,” he said laughing. “I really liked it at State. Those were some good times.”

Abshire’s knack for hard hits, collecting tackles by the truckload and versatility earned him interest from a few NFL teams, including the old St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Oilers.

In the end, he chose to take his business degree and begin working for the old Heck’s chain.

But later in life he had a burning desire to become a teacher and a coach.

Abshire went back to school to earn an education degree. He worked as a substitute teacher early on in Jackson County while also spending some time helping the football program of Ripley coaching legend Frank Marino.

In 1988, he became a full-time teacher at Poca High School where he remained until his retirement in 2015.

Abshire taught for two years at Poca before taking on coaching duties by becoming the program’s defensive coordinator in 1990 under head coach Bob Lemley.

“He was great to work for,” said Abshire of Lemley.

Abshire’s prowess with the prevent unit coupled with Lemley’s “genius” label on the offensive side made for a potent coaching combination.

During Abshire’s time coaching at Poca, the Dots were involved in four Class AA state championship games.

Poca won three of those four at Wheeling Island Stadium. The 1994 title win was the first year all three championships were played at Wheeling Island Stadium, which is still the home of the Super Six.

Abshire was one of three Jackson Countians involved in the Super Six that year. Ripley’s Boob Lanham was the defensive coordinator for Sissonville, Poca’s opponent in the AA title showdown, and Bryce Casto, who led South Charleston to the Class AAA crown as head coach for the Black Eagles.

The other two titles with Abshire manning the Dot defense came in 2001 and 2002. He chose to teach only following that 2003 season. His influence, though, remained as the Dots captured a third straight state championship the following year.

Abshire is enjoying retirement these days at his home on Colonial Lane in Ripley. He only needs to take a few steps to look down through the woods and gaze at beautiful Memorial Stadium, where he once starred as a Viking.

One of his former teammates – Steve Sayre – is gearing up for his first season as Ripley’s head coach.

“Steve was a year behind me,” said Abshire. “He played guard right beside me. He’s a good guy and he’ll do a good job down there.”

In addition to his upcoming induction in the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame, Abshire is also a member of the Ripley High School Viking Football Hall of Fame.

As humble as they come, Abshire is more than happy to wait until next June for the delayed MOV Hall of Fame event.

As is tradition with the MOV Hall banquet, speeches by the inductees are done alphabetically.

Thus, James Abshire will be first out of the gates as he is the lone member in the Class of 2020 whose name begins with an A.

His performances as a football standout at Ripley High, a star on the gridiron for West Virginia State and his quality work as a championship coach at Poca has certainly garnered him Grade A status through the years.

And that is why he will become a Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Famer next June.