WVSWA hosts 74th annual Victory Awards Dinner

Mark Martin

Among the plethora of victims when it comes to sports during COVID-19 was the annual West Virginia Sports Writers Association’s Victory Awards Dinner.

After its absence in 2020, the VAD returned on May 23 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.

The VAD was started in 1945.

The late Charleston Gazette Sports Editor A.L. “Shorty” Hardman and friends organized the first VAD and it has been going strong ever since.

The VAD is the longest running sports banquet of its kind in the nation.

The West Virginia Sports Writers Association is in its 88th year of existence as the voice of those writing sports across the great state of West Virginia.

The Victory Awards Dinner showcases some of the brightest stars within a particular sports year.

Through the years, a select number of Jackson Countians have been honored with some of the top awards handed out at the event.

Jackson County has produced three Hunt/Stydahar Award winners. The honor is given to the top high school football lineman in West Virginia.

Brad Hunt, who graduated from Ripley in 1983 before going on to enjoy a great career at WVU, won the Hunt Award for the football season of 1982.

Luke Salmons, a former Red Devil standout who graduated from Ravenswood in 1999, was the Hunt Award winner for the 1998 season. Salmons enjoyed an outstanding career at Marshall and now runs one of the state’s top high school football programs at Cabell Midland.

Salmons is a member of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

Another Red Devil, Chad Small, was the recipient of the 2010 Hunt Award. Small was instrumental in leading Ravenswood to the Class AA state championship that year at Wheeling Island Stadium before going on to spend time in the football program at the University of Charleston.

The Hunt Award started in 1959 and was renamed in 2015 for the late Joe Sydahar, a Shinnston native who played at WVU and is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Ravenswood head boys basketball coach Mick Price, one of the state’s all-time winningest coaches, was the recipient of the Van Meter Award in 2009.

The Van Meter Award honors the top high school coach (in all sports). It is named in honor of the late, great Jerome Van Meter, the long-time Beckley Woodrow Wilson, boys basketball and football coach. He won a combined 869 games as a coach and a bevy of championships.

Price was honored the year he guided Ravenswood to a second Class AA state championship.

Ripley baseball player Josh Whitlock was recognized as the State Baseball Player of the Year, now known as the John Lowery Award, in 2004.

Whitlock was a vital cog in Ripley winning its second Class AAA state baseball championship as a standout pitcher, shortstop and third baseman. Whitlock later pitched at WVU and then signed with the Chicago Cubs.

The Lowery Award is named for Jefferson baseball coaching legend John Lowery, who is still active. His named was bestowed upon the award in 2018.

Lowery has over 1,300 wins as Jefferson’s baseball coach (the most of any coach in state history, regardless of the sport).

Ironically, Ripley’s first state championship (in any sport) came on the baseball diamond against Lowery’s Jefferson Cougars in the AAA title game of 1997.

Chase Fischer, Ripley’s all-time scoring leader, was named the Evans Award winner in 2011 as the state’s top boys basketball player.

Fischer was a two-time Class AAA First Team All-Stater. He averaged over 30 as both a junior and senior.

After graduating from Ripley, Fischer took his talents to Wake Forest University where he played for two years. He spent the final two seasons of his college career at Brigham Young University and enjoyed great success. He helped lead the Cougars to the Final Four of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Fischer later spent time in the professional ranks overseas.

He is a part of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020.

The award is named for the late Bill Evans, the former sports editor and editor of the Fairmont Times.

Running great Andrew Benford, a Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Famer in 2019, was honored with the Ray McCoy Male Trackperson of the Year in 2009.

It is named for Ray McCoy, who coached at Huntington High for 43 years.

Benford enjoyed a decorated career as a runner at Ravenswood High, winning two state cross country titles in Class AA-A and was a member of four championship teams.

In track and field, he finished as a three-time double-A high-point scorer at the State Meet, winning multiple titles in the 3200, 1600 and 4×400 relay.

He moved on to compete at the collegiate level for the University of Richmond and established himself as one of the top distance runners in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

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

Ripley’s Tori Starcher is a two-time winner of the Ray McCoy Female Trackperson of the Year.

Tori Starcher

Starcher was honored in 2018 and 2019 for her phenomenal success in the sport of track and field.

She won the individual Class AAA 800 meters, 1,600 meters and 3,200 meters three consecutive years for the Lady Viking track program. She also anchored the 4x400 meter relay that won three consecutive titles.

Starcher helped Ripley to a runner-up finish in the team standings as a freshman before being a main ingredient in the Lady Vikings claiming two straight state team championships.

Unfortunately, her senior season was wiped out due to COVID-19. Starcher, who also won a state title in cross country and was a three-time winner of the West Virginia Gatorade Track and Field Athlete of the Year, is now running at Stanford.

Ripley’s Lucas Simpkins was the winner of the prestigious Robert Dutton Award as the state’s top wrestler in 2016.

A two-time state champion, Simpkins won his second crown as a senior. He was a dominant performer the entire season on the mat.

The Dutton Award is named for the late Parkersburg High coaching legend. Dutton was the head coach of the Big Reds from 1956-1976. He won seven state team titles during that time and had several state individual champions.

The late Bob Staats of Ravenswood was honored as the Gene Morehouse Award winner in 1995.

A proud graduate of Ravenswood High School, Staats chronicled sports for The Ravenswood News, The Weekender, The Jackson Star News and The Jackson Herald for a number of years.

Staats produced award-winning stories, columns and photographs.

No story was too big for Staats as he wrote with a passion and produced volumes of copy from T-Ball results to the high school ranks and beyond. And amazingly, he did it while working full-time at the local aluminum plant.

Morehouse, who died in the 1970 Marshall plane crash, which was carrying the entire team, coaches and supporters, was the school’s radio play-by-play broadcaster and sports information director at the time of his passing. He was an active member of the WVSWA.

In 2015, Ravenswood football standout Rhys Jelich was honored at the VAD with one of two Kennedy Scholarships given annually. Jelich, who would later enjoy a four-year football career at West Virginia State University, helped Ravenswood to back-to-back Class AA playoff appearances in 2013 and 2014.

The Harrison H. Kennedy estate, which includes the Kennedy Award selection by the WVSWA as the state’s top football player, awards a pair of scholarship each year to players who placed high in the Kennedy Award balloting.

Those honored at this year’s Victory Awards Dinner were: Gene Morehouse Award – Rich Stevens Wheeling/Charleston) and Chris Johnson (Clarksburg) for 2020 and 2021, respectively, (Mary) Ostrowski Award (girls basketball), Marley Washenitz, Fairmont Sr, and Baylee Goins, Nitro, (Mickey) Furfari Award (college coach) – Tianni Kelly, University of Charleston women’s basketball, (Robert) Dutton Award (wrestling), Gavin Quiocho, Parkersburg South, (Jerome) Van Meter Award (high school coach), Van Meter Award (high school coach) – Shaun Smith, Parkersburg South wrestling, (Bill) Evans Award (boys basketball) – Isaac McKneely, Poca, Kennedy Scholarships – Hunter Patterson, Oak Glen and Naieem Kearney, Martinsburg, (A.L “Shorty) Hardman Award (amateur athlete) – Darrius Stills, WVU football,

Also, (Joe) Stydahar Award (football lineman of the year) – Wyatt Milum, Spring Valley, Kennedy Award (top football player) – Blake Hartman, Musselman, Doug Huff Award (leadership, hustle and determination) – Zara Zervos, John Marshall, Sam Huff Award (defensive football player of year) – Zeiqui Lawton, South Charleston, J.R. House Award (top quarterback) – Gage Michael, Fairmont Senior, Carl Lee Award (top defensive back) – Anthony Smith, Martinsburg, Curt Warner Award (top running back) – Blake Hartman, Musselman, Chuck Howley Award (top linebacker) – Caden Biser, Morgantown, Fulton Walker Award (top special teams player) – Colby Piner (Greenbrier East) and Randy Moss Award (top wide receiver) – Ethan Parsons (Princeton).

The Hall of Fame inductees were former Marshall football great Mike Barber, a Winfield native, who set several receiving records for the Thundering Herd before moving on to the National Football League and Monte Cater, a long-time head football coach at Shepherd University, who is the sport's all-time winningest college coach in West Virginia.