Jackson County schools have enjoyed great moments at state meet

Mark Martin

The season for track and field on the West Virginia high school scene wrapped up in early June at University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field.

This marked the 40th straight year the season-ending state meet was staged at the venue.

The 1978 and 1979 state meets took place at the old Marshall University complex in Huntington due to the renovation of what was then simply Laidley Field.

Since 1980, Charleston has been the home for the prestigious state championship event.

The state meet returned this year after getting wiped out last spring due to COVID-19.

The cancellation a year ago likely prevented the Ripley Lady Viking track and field program from winning a third consecutive Class AAA title.

A bevy of talented individuals, including Tori Starcher and Allison Fields, were returning for another season in 2020. The two had been instrumental in Ripley winning two in a row, not to mention a near miss in 2017 when the Lady Vikings lost by a mere two points to Morgantown and finished as AAA runner-up.

Krystle Cunningham (center) led Ripley to back-to-back Class AAA girls state track and field championships in 2018 and 2019 along with a runner-up finish in 2017. Her great teams were led by star sprinter Allison Fields (left) and distance sensation Tori Starcher.

Ripley’s recent titles are just a part of Jackson County’s rich history of state meet success.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: It was the Ravenswood Red Devilettes of 1988 who first brought a state championship track and field trophy back to Jackson County. The program of coaches Jim Mahan and Bryan Canterbury captured the Class AA-A state crown.

And it would be just the beginning.

Ravenswood would win another in 1989. The string of titles continued in 1990 and 1991.

The streak was stopped in 1992, but not for long.

Ravenswood again captured the state championship in 1993.

Jim Mahan served as the head coach for Ravenswood girls track and field in the late '80s and early '90s. In the span of six years (1988-1993), his Devilettes won five Class AA-A state championships. He coached the teams with his life-long friend Bryan Canterbury. Mahan is presently director of secondary and vocational education for Jackson County Schools.

SECOND BEST: Besides Ripley’s runner-up finish in 2017, two Ravenswood boys track and field teams came in second when the final standings were calculated.

The first was in 2004 under head coach Mike Schnell's nice run as Ravenswood's head coach. Schnell's Red Devils amassed 70 points in garnering the AA-A runner-up trophy. Schnell has served many years since as assistant coach for the girls program at Ravenswood.

The Ravenswood boys of 2007 also earned a runner-up trophy in Class AA by scoring 76.50. Ben Nesselroad currently works alongside Canterbury with Ravenswood High School cross country.

RECORD HOLDERS: Starcher is presently the owner of two individual state records and a part of a relay mark in Class AAA.

She set the record for the Class AAA 800 meter event at 2:08.40 in 2019. Not only does she have the record for Class AAA, but for all three classes (there is now a separate Class AA and Class A, which started in 2003).

Starcher owns the state record in AAA and all classes for the 1600 meters, as well. She also posted her record-setting time of 4:46.61 in 2019.

She joined Kyanah Baldwin, Carly Miller and Fields to establish a new state mark in the 4x400 meter relay of 4:01.64.

MAKING THEIR POINTS: Jackson County has had several earn the prestigious High Point Award for state meet competition.

In fact, it started in the very first state meet of 1914 when Ravenswood’s Howard “The Horse” Rowley scored 12 points.

Years later, Ravenswood would produce three other High Point Award winners, led by Andrew Benford.

As a sophomore, junior and senior in the state meets of 2004, 2005 and 2006 Benford would be the top scorer in Class AA. Benford had produced point totals of 32.5, 28 and 26.5 in those three consecutive meets, respectively.

Following the graduation of Benford, who went on to star in track and field at the University of Richmond, Ben Miller made it four straight state meets for a Devil to claim the High Point Trophy by scoring 25 in the 2007 state meet.

Both Benford and Miller are members of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame, which takes in five counties from West Virginia (including Jackson) and two in Ohio.

Blake Jarrell was the High Point Trophy winner of the Class A boys meet of 2019 with 26 points.

Jill Balis, who helped ignite the Devilette track and field dynasty, was the first from the county to win High Point Trophy honors.

Balis did so in back-to-back state meets of 1988 and 1989.

She scored 30.5 as a junior in 1988 and then followed it up as senior by becoming the first girl in state meet history to win four events and produce 40 points. Balis registered titles in the 100, 200, 400 and 800.

Balis, too, is a member of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

Carla Smith-Akers and Jennifer Johnson extended Ravenswood’s string of High Point winners to three and four in 1990 and 1991.

Smith-Akers scored 24.5 in the 1990 state meet helping Ravenswood win a third straight title. The following year in 1991, Jones scored 30.5 to bring home the High Point Award as Ravenswood captured its fourth consecutive team crown.

Ripley’s Holly Clever was the 1996 Class AAA High Point winner as she scored 32 for Jim Pauley’s Lady Vikings.

Starcher was the High Point winner of the 2018 state meet in Class AAA with 32.5.

COACHING RECOGNITION: Ravenswood girls head coach Renee Swisher was honored in 2011 by the National Federation of State High School Associations for her years in track and field.

The association each year presents awards to coaches for their dedication, commitment to excellence and promoting the ideas of interscholastic athletics.

HISTORY DATA: Besides team success, record holders and High Point winners, Ravenswood and Ripley have had a bevy of state champions, both individually and in relays.

The search is always on for notable data and keeping the records and history up to date.

Jackson County has indeed had great moments and there are certainly more to come.