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On the Mark

Mark Martin
Sportswriter
Mark Martin

Mike Scarberry, a three-sport standout during his days at Ripley High School in the early 1970s, turned 65 years old last Tuesday (August 4).

This past spring, a milestone in his outstanding athletic career reached age 47.

In his senior track and field season of 1973, Scarberry heaved the discus 146-feet, 11 ½ inches to set a new Ripley High record. He had already knocked off his previous school marks several times.

This throw, which took place in the Gazette Relays at old Laidley Field, has stood the test of time.

It remains the oldest track and field record in the annals of Ripley High School.

The second-oldest happens to be in the other throwing event. Tim Merritt set the shot put record in 1978 and his name has been on the best of the track and field chart ever since.

“In the preliminaries that day I had tied for seventh,” recalled Scarberry, who has resided in Mineral Wells for the past several years. “Usually six moved on to the finals, but they let seven us go.”

It was in the finals that Scarberry achieved his new Ripley High discus record. He first set the school mark when he was a sophomore.

Not only is it impressive that his throw still holds up as the school’s best-ever but considering the era in which he did so makes it more remarkable.

Ripley High had no track and field facilities during his high school years and the sport was still very much in its infancy.

“I finished third that day,” said Scarberry of his throw at Laidley.

It illustrates just how competitive the field was for Scarberry in the invitational, which at the time was as big as the season-ending State Meet.

It also exemplifies the work Scarberry put in to make himself one of the state’s better discus throwers.

“I spent a lot of time with (long-time Ripley coach) Mike Deem back then,” Scarberry said. “We would compete for a milkshake all the time. He helped me out a lot.”

He also placed at the Gazette Relays as a junior. He won the Little Kanawha Conference Meet his senior year and twice qualified for the State Meet.

While Scarberry’s name still resonates with track and field aficionados, the sport drew very little fanfare back in that time frame due to there not being any home meets.

He is best remembered as a quarterback, who had a cannon for an arm, competing on Friday nights for the Viking football program.

He was the signal-caller for an undefeated freshman team in the fall of 1969. The squad didn’t yield a point until its season-finale victory over Ravenswood.

Scarberry moved to the varsity level in the fall of 1970 and then head coach Ernie Moore, who passed away earlier this year, turned to many of those from that outstanding ninth-grade team to carry the load.

As a quarterback, Scarberry saw plenty of game action. He shared the QB duties that season with his Third Avenue neighbor Jim Stike.

“That season (1970) was tough,” said Scarberry of the move to the varsity level. The young Vikings finished 2-8.

In the seasons of 1971 and 1972, Scarberry took over the Viking offense full-time and his name made its way around the state for his big arm.

He fired several touchdown passes during his Viking career.

Scarberry was in a unique and sometimes a bit of a tough situation playing for the late Marcus McPhail during his final two seasons.

McPhail was a Viking legend as an athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball before moving on to become Glenville’s starting quarterback as a freshman.

At the time he was coaching Ripley football, McPhail just happened to be Scarberry’s brother-in-law.

“It was different, but Marcus and I always got along great. We were really close,” Scarberry said. “I would go up and watch a lot of their games when he started coaching at Calhoun County (where McPhail brought the Red Devil program back to its glory days folks there had remembered when the great Wayne Underwood was leading the way).

“Matt (Marcus’ son) has been almost a little brother to me, instead of a nephew. Going to Grantsville for those (Calhoun) games became a regular thing. Marcus was a great coach and we were good friends.”

In his high school days, very few teams aired it out like we see today.

Like any good quarterback, especially one with a big arm like Scarberry, it is always the hope the ball will be flying through the air.

“We had some really good receivers back then. Guys like Rod Hudson, Rick Armstead and Terry Fisher,” said Scarberry, who stood 6-4 ½ and weighed 225 when he graduated from Ripley.

The Vikings won four games in both his junior and senior years. They had two close calls with Ravenswood, 14-12 and 21-12, during the period of time when the Devil program won eight straight Hatchet battles (1969-76).

In the 14-12 game, Scarberry tossed a couple of TD passes to Hudson and Wayne Shaffer. His strong arm almost helped the Vikings knock the Red Devils from the ranks of the unbeaten in the 1972 game.

Another close call came his senior year against Winfield. The Generals defeated the Vikings at Memorial Stadium, 21-20, in a controversial contest in which Ripley had a pair of touchdowns called back. Winfield was in the midst of an incredible winning streak under the great, late Leon McCoy, who later in life became close to former Viking head coach Eddie Smolder. Smolder is married to McCoy’s granddaughter, Brooke.

The Winfield stretch of wins reached 41 before being broken.

Scarberry’s recollection of games is uncanny.

One that stands out was a tough loss to the DuPont Panthers his senior year at Ripley. DuPont featured a great quarterback in Danny Williams, who became the first two-time winner of the Kennedy Award as the state’s top football player.

“We had a lead on them early and we also led Ravenswood that year,” said Scarberry, who had a one-game of three TD passes during his Viking career.

Ravenswood went on to win the Class AA state championship that year while DuPont fell to Bridgeport for the Class AAA title. Both games were played at the historic Stadium Field in Parkersburg, close to where Scarberry now lives.

The final game of his career was a 0-0 tie with old Montgomery High.

Besides track and football, Scarberry excelled on the basketball court as a Viking for then-head coach Jim Scherr.

He utilized his nice frame to average double figures for three straight years. He and Hudson were typically the scoring leaders for the Vikings during that time.

Not only does Scarberry still own the discus record, but he is believed to have made the longest shot in the school’s basketball history. At the end of the half in a home game at the Ripley Health Center against Sissonville, Scarberry launched the ball toward the basket just shy of the free-throw area on the opposite end.

“I threw it at the basket toward the lobby and it went in,” he said laughing.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much of a difference-maker as the Vikings fell to Sissonville that night.

After high school, Scarberry attended Marshall University.

Being away from athletics for the first time in his life was too much to take, so in the spring of 1974, he decided to walk on the Thundering Herd football team.

He managed to move from fifth to third on the depth chart that spring. One of the quarterbacks he was competing against was Ravenswood great Joe Fox.

The talented Bud Nelson arrived at Marshall and became the QB of the future.

Scarberry stepped away from athletics for good to focus on his academics. By 1977, he had earned a degree in business.

His hard work as a student proved beneficial. In his professional life he has served in a variety of management positions for several aluminum and metal plants.

He got his start at Kaiser Aluminum in Jackson County.

His work has taken him all around the United States.

Recently he retired and is now making plans for a move to Pensacola, Florida, where his son, Nick, resides. His daughter, Lyndsey, lives in Norfolk, Virginia. Scarberry’s oldest son, Joe, is deceased.

Scarberry and his wife, Pamela, have been married 31 years.

The memories of growing up in Ripley and later becoming a star athlete for the Vikings is something Scarberry has always treasured.

“We were so lucky,” he said of spending the days of youth in the county seat of Jackson.

His Third Avenue home was just a stone’s throw from Ripley High, the ballfields, and City Park.

The son of Russ and Ernie Scarberry, he grew up idolizing his neighbors like Stike and Jay Chambers, who was the quarterback of an 8-2 Viking team in 1969 – the same year he was leading that freshman team to its perfect record.

With his rifle arm, one wonders why Scarberry wasn’t a baseball player.

He was on the all-star teams growing up but felt getting involved in track and field would increase his speed.

He was a hurdler and high jumper in addition to his discus-throwing prowess.

It was a decision that worked out nicely for Mike Scarberry.

Though he turned 65 just the other day, the fountain of youth is still very much a part of his life. That’s because the oldest record in Ripley High School track and field history allows him to feel young all over again.