On the Mark

Mark Martin
Sportswriter
Mark Martin

WHEELING'S BUMPY ROAD: The Road to Wheeling has been plagued by several bumps as high school football teams in West Virginia try to win championships.

COVID-19 and the state’s color-coded map, which dictates how the state's 55 counties can operate their schools, have caused a lot of havoc for the annual four-week postseason playoff run.

Each year, 16 teams qualify for the playoffs in Class AAA, Class AA and Class A.

The weekly battles leading up to a spot in Wheeling bring plenty of excitement to the sports-minded in West Virginia.

While the regular season hit its fair share of snags with the postponement and all-out cancellation of games, the postseason has been as nightmarish as well.

Several teams who qualified were forced to cancel their playoff games due to the color-coded method of determining who can hit the field and who can’t.

Spring Valley head football coach Brad Dingess said it best when he stated more teams have been beaten by a map than an opponent this season.

Dingess’ powerful Spring Valley program, one that has played in three of the past four state championship games of Class AAA, advanced in the first weekend of the playoffs against Hurricane because the Redskins couldn't compete (Putnam County was orange) and then got eliminated last Sunday when they couldn’t play Musselman when Wayne County (where SV is located), hit orange on the map.

(The map goes green, yellow, gold, orange, and red. Orange and red keep teams from playing).

During the regular season, Spring Valley knocked off Martinsburg, which had won 57 straight games along with four straight state championships in AAA.

Martinsburg will not get to make it five in a row, losing out to the map last weekend when Berkeley County couldn’t reach gold or yellow.

Another Berkeley County school – Spring Mills – was also bumped out. The Cardinals, who played Ripley during the regular season, were slated to play Cabell Midland, whose head coach is Luke Salmons, a former Ravenswood standout athlete. One of his assistants is Eddie Smolder, who starred at Ripley and then served as the Viking head football coach for five years.

Midland is now holding its breath as Cabell County is presently orange. Midland is set to meet Bridgeport, whose defensive coordinator is former Viking Adam King. The two are scheduled for a Sunday contest.

Locally, Ripley was a victim in the first weekend. The Vikings didn’t get to meet South Charleston which brought their season to an abrupt halt.

SC, the No. 2 seed in AAA, did get to play last Friday and downed Princeton. The Black Eagles are hopeful of playing Musselman this weekend for a chance at competing for the title.

Musselman, by the way, is also from Berkeley County. The reason the Applemen are still alive is that they were the ones waiting on Spring Valley last weekend. The game couldn’t be played Friday or Saturday due to the status of Wayne County, where SV is located.

SUPER SIX DILEMNA: While teams have been gunning to be at Wheeling Island Stadium since 1994 for the right to try and bring home a title, this year there is uncertainty if that great venue can even serve as the host.

Wheeling rests in Ohio County and the COVID-19 numbers there haven’t looked good. If Ohio County is red or orange by 5 p.m. Saturday the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission will be looking for other sites to play the three championships.

If Jackson County’s numbers were better, the suggestion would be to bring a game or all of them to Ripley.

Back in the day before more and more schools were permitted to host postseason football, Ripley was a popular playoff destination.

Memorial Stadium (and this was before turf) was the host of the 1969 and 1977 Class AAA state championship games. It also hosted two Class A title showdowns in 1977 and 1978.

In 1977, Ripley hosted two-thirds of the titles with both the AAA and Class A encounters.

Starting in 1969 with that AAA game between Buckhannon-Upshur and old Charleston High (now a part of Capital), Ripley had a bevy of other playoff games in the '70s.

We’ve always felt that when Ripley hosted those two title games in 1977 it got officials to thinking maybe one site would be best for all three championships.

In 1979 when Laidley Field was renovated the Super Six was born.

It was the site of the title matchups every year except for one (Morgantown in 1988) until Wheeling took over in 1994.

REBELS WITH A CAUSE: An opponent of Ravenswood this season has made its way to the Super Six without having to play a semifinal.

After beating Greenbrier West on Saturday in a Class A quarterfinal round game, Ritchie was slated to await the winner of the East Hardy-Tolsia game on Sunday. Because of the map, that showdown didn’t take place giving Ritchie a spot in the title game on December 5.

The Rebels have certainly earned their keep in the playoffs with hard-fought wins over Wirt County (16-7) and Greenbrier West (38-29).

Here’s hoping the other five semifinals can be played this Saturday and Sunday and those championships will be decided next weekend in Wheeling.

The map’s dominance has certainly taken away a lot of the luster that comes with The Road to Wheeling.