Zack Harold

freelance journalist

LUCKIEST PLACE IN THE STATE IRELAND NOT JUST A NAME FOR TOWN LEWIS COMMUNITY EMBRACES IRISH CONNECTION WITH WEEKLONG FESTIVAL

This article originally appeared in the March 17, 2011 edition of the Charleston Daily Mail.

IRELAND – Leprechaun hats, Shamrock Shakes and green beer are fine for St. Patrick’s Day amateurs, but those seeking a big Emerald Isle bash should just go to Ireland.

Head north on I-79 and take the Flatwoods exit.

Ireland, a small Lewis County community just over the Braxton County border, is celebrating its 30th annual Irish Spring Festival. It started last Sunday, but most events will occur today through Sunday.

Residents have decorated their homes with leprechauns and rainbows. Four-leaf clovers abound.

Festivities include a “snake chase,” which is a 10-kilometer run named for St. Patrick’s legendary expulsion of snakes from Ireland; the “Tour de Shamrock,” a 10-mile bike tour; a four shooting contest; a fried potato contest; and a “lucky charm” horseshoe-throwing contest, among other events.

Road bowling, one of the festival’s most popular events, takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

The rules of road bowling are more like those of golf than typical 10-pin bowling. Bowler stand behind a starting line and roll a 28-ounce steel ball toward the finish line. Bowlers make their next roll from wherever the ball stops.

The bowler who reaches the finish line with the fewest number of rolls wins. There are no pins to knock down and, unfortunately, no gutters to return your ball if it leaves the course.

The competition takes place on Wild Cat Road, behind the Ireland post office. Though true Irish competitions limit the course to a mile or a mile-and-a-half, the community of Ireland’s course is about two miles long.

Postmaster Sharrey Craig said balls don’t usually land in convenient places when they run off the road.

“They’ve been in the creek in March. It’s pretty interesting,” she said.

The sport first came to West Virginia in the 1990s. David Powell, whose aunt lives in the community of Ireland, brought the sport home from a trip to the country of Ireland. He saw some men rolling balls down the street and asked what they were doing.

After they explained the sport and its rules, Powell decided it would be a good addition to the Irish Spring Festival. He was right.

Ireland, W.Va., hosts one of this country’s three road-bowling leagues. The other two are in Boston and the state of New York.

Travis Craig, Sharrey’s son, won the North American Novice 2 Championship in 2008. He traveled to the country of Ireland to represent the United States in the All-Ireland Championship, where he placed third.

The next year, Travis placed first in the North American Novice 1 Championship and again traveled to Ireland.

He said American bowlers face stiff competition on the Emerald Isle.

“Those boys over there have done it since they were 4 years old,” he said.

The country of Ireland even has professional road bowlers who make a living from the sport. He said European competitors can spot ruts in roads, allowing them to send their balls flying around turns. Some can even put “English” on the road bowl, spinning it like a cue ball.

“Very few guys can do it,” he said.

Road bowling is much more casual in Ireland, W.Va. Sharrey says the community doesn’t even flag traffic while the competition is going.

“You just yell, ‘Car!” and people move out of the road,” she said. “Here, it doesn’t matter. If you’re two or if you’re 90, you can still road bowl.”

The town also is marking the 29th anniversary of its post office’s special cancellation stamp. Collectors send letters to Ireland in March, just to have postmaster Sharrey cancel the letter.

“It’s just something the Postal Service does,” she said.

Every year, the post office makes up a special design for its cancellation stamp. Craig designed this year’s model, which features the Irish Spring Festival’s logo.

Lewis County Printing in Weston produces the stamp and for 30 days, from March 17 to April 17, Craig cancels her letters with the design, inked on a green pad.

“Is there any other color in Ireland?” she said.

The stamps truly are limited editions: Craig destroys each year’s stamp after the 30 days expire.

“I just tear it off and cut it up,” she said.

She said she receives letters from around the United States and overseas including Germany and Ireland. She said many of the envelopes come from repeat customers who have collected the commemorative stamps for years.

The U.S. Postal Service also advertises the stamps in collector publications. Craig spent time Tuesday canceling a big stack of letters, all from one person. The canceled letters were headed to family and friends in Tennessee, Michigan and beyond.

She said about 300 letters usually filter through the tiny post office for the special cancellation stamp.

“For this small of a community, that’s a lot,” she said.

Anyone wishing to receive a stamp should send an envelope – along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope tucked inside – to Postmaster, P.O. Box 9998, Ireland, WV 26376.

The post office also acts as a polling place, where Ireland residents can vote for the year’s King Andrew and Queen Elizabeth.

Named for the community’s founder and his wife, kings and queens must be at least 60 years old to compete. Votes cost a penny, with proceeds going toward Ireland’s community center. The community will host its annual coronation ceremony at 9 p.m. today at the community center.

At the festival’s 10th anniversary, Craig’s mother and father, Rex and Madeline Perrine, were named king and queen. They were the first married couple to hold the titles simultaneously.

“We’ve had several since,” she said.

For more information on the Irish Spring Festival, visit www.angelfire.com/wv/irish springfestival.

JOE’S HAIR AND THE FLOWBEE? IT’S NOT A JOKE SENATOR’S WIFE CALLS HAIRCUTTING GADGET ‘A PRETTY NIFTY DEVICE’

This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on September 26, 2012.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s latest ad claims his wife, Gayle, has cut his hair for more than 20 years.

What the ad fails to mention is Gayle routinely receives assistance during those ear-lowering sessions.

Joe Manchin – former W.Va. governor and secretary of state, licensed pilot, Harley-Davidson rider and yacht co-owner – is a devout user of an electrically powered vacuum cleaner attachment made for cutting hair.

Yep, the senator is a fan of the Flowbee, that technological miracle and pop culture sensation.

Manchin’s campaign unveiled the ad, titled “Haircut,” in an email Sunday night to supporters. It was uploaded to YouTube on Monday and is running on television stations throughout the state.

“For more than 20 years, Joe Manchin has got his hair cut by the same barber . . . his wife, Gayle,” the announcer says.

In the commercial, Joe sits in his Charleston townhouse kitchen, a towel draped over his shoulders. Gayle snips at his graying hair with a pair of scissors and trims the back of his neck with electric clippers. He occasionally inspects her work with a hand mirror and sometimes touches his hair as if to say “a little more off the sides, please.”

“I’m Joe Manchin and I sponsor this ad because a penny saved is a penny earned,” he says at the end of the 30-second clip.

“And he’s cheap,” Gayle adds.

The Flowbee never appears.

Was the campaign worried the as-seen-on-TV device would look too hokey for a U.S. senator? Were Manchin staffers trying to avoid a backlash from fans of the Robocut, the Flowbee’s longtime rival? Was Joe just hesitant to reveal his styling tips?

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Gayle explained why she chose not to use the Flowbee on television.

“With a sweeper running, there would be a tremendous amount of noise,” she said.

Oh. That makes sense.

Joe used to go to a real barber, the kind who works in a barbershop, when he and Gale lived in Farmington. The barber cut Joe’s hair for years and even gave the future governor a pre-wedding trim before his marriage to Gayle in 1967.

But one day the barber moved to a shop in Morgantown and Joe, then a busy businessman, found it difficult to make the drive.

“He had come to me a couple of times and I said ‘Joe, I don’t cut hair,’ ” Gayle remembers.

But her husband, a born negotiator, eventually wore her down. Though her training was limited to a few suggestions from Joe and what little she learned from watching stylists cut her own hair, Gayle took scissors to his head.

It turned out quite well.

“I am a woman of many talents, what can I say?” she said.

The arrangement worked wonderfully during the summer months. Anytime Joe needed a haircut, he would pull up a chair on the porch. Gayle could just sweep away the hair when they were finished.

But the process got complicated as the weather turned colder. When it was too chilly to sit on the porch, Joe had to get his hair cut in the house. That created a mess. Gayle tried to get him to sit in a chair in the bathtub, but that did not work very well.

They faced this dilemma every winter for years until Joe found the solution to their problem in a late-night infomercial.

“My husband, a lot of times at night if he can’t sleep, he’ll turn the TV on and he’ll turn it on QVC. Which is dangerous.”

One fateful night the shopping network was hawking the Flowbee, a haircutting attachment for household vacuum cleaners. Joe called the 1-800 number and ordered one.

Gayle didn’t learn of his late-night purchase until a box appeared on the porch a few days later.

“I said, ‘I can’t believe we’re cutting your hair with a vacuum cleaner,’ ” Gayle said. “As it turns out, it’s a pretty nifty device.”

The Flowbee is a simple machine: You just attach its hose to your household vacuum cleaner and then point it at your head. The hair gets sucked into the Flowbee, where spinning blades chop it off at a prescribed length.

“The results are a refreshing vacuum haircut,” according to the company’s official website, www.Flowbee.com.

Although Gayle still uses scissors when she and Joe are on the road – it’s too difficult to lug the Flowbee and a vacuum cleaner along on trips – she much prefers the Flowbee.

“It cuts every hair exactly the same length. And I can’t guarantee that. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect haircut, if you layer your hair,” she said.

She said Joe has recommended the Flowbee to many of his friends. He also has offered to cut his friends’ hair using the device, though only his grandson has accepted the offer.

The Manchins are still using the same Flowbee that Joe purchased on QVC more than a decade ago.

When they moved into the Governor’s Mansion in 2005, they took the Flowbee along with them. It did not make the trip to Washington, D.C. when Joe became a Senator, however. Gayle said he makes it back to Charleston often enough she can just cut his hair when he’s here. If he needs a trim while in the nation’s capital, she just uses scissors.

“He definitely has got his money’s worth,” Gayle said.

She said she thinks the haircut commercial is “hysterical,” even without the Flowbee.

“It’s just who Joe is at the end of the day. He’s all about what’s most efficient, most effective and cheap,” she said.

She said the ad’s light-heartedness also provides a respite from the typical mud slinging commercials that usually hit television screens in the months before a general election.

“I think things have gotten real cynical. We need to lighten up a little bit. Maybe it is just kind of a little breath of fresh air before the nastiness comes back,” she said.

‘BROKEN SYSTEM’ CAUSES HOLDUPS OFFICIAL SAYS CONTRACTOR IS TAKING TOO LONG TO PROCESS BACKGROUND CHECKS 

This story was originally published in the Charleston Daily Mail on January 9, 2013.

Problems with a contractor hired to process state background checks are leaving job seekers in limbo for months and costing state businesses lots of money.

The holdups have even slowed the adoption process for some children.

Speaking at a legislative interim meeting on Tuesday, Mark Drennan, executive director of the West Virginia Behavioral Health Care Providers Association, told lawmakers that glitches with MorphoTrust have caused some employers to wait three or four months before receiving results of background checks for potential employees.

“This broken system prevents individuals from being gainfully employed,” he said.

Scott Boileau, executive director of the Alliance for Children, Inc., said parents wanting to adopt or foster children have experienced similar delays.

Background checks are required in West Virginia for anyone wanting to work with children, the elderly or the mentally ill. Anyone wanting to adopt or foster a child who has been deemed a ward of the state also is required to get a background check.

Boileau said he knows of one family that has waited nine months for the results of their background check. Other families become frustrated with the process and drop out.

“Folks are not going to put up with that,” he said.

Although problems with background checks have not slowed any active adoptions, Boileau said the slow turnaround times have kept some children in the state’s care for much longer than necessary.

“The fact is, there probably have been kids that could have been placed sooner,” he said.

The state hired MorphoTrust, previously known as L-1 Enrollment Services, in August 2011. Before that, the State Police processed all background checks.

The contract was renewed in August, even though Drennan wrote a letter to Tomblin in July warning of problems with the contractor.

Capt. Michael Corsaro of the State Police told lawmakers on Tuesday that before hiring the company, background checks sometimes would not be processed for two months or longer.

He said the Huntington State Police detachment often had so many people waiting in line for background checks that troopers could not respond to calls because they had to stay in the office and take fingerprints.

Members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care were not pleased to hear of the problems.

“In an age of technology, it’s not acceptable to have to wait that long,” Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, said.

Williams is the co-chairman of the committee.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said she knows of businesses in her district that have waited two or three months to receive the results of a background check.

“By then, somebody has already found another job,” she said.

Hiring MorphoTrust was supposed to free up troopers for police work and reduce the turnaround time for background checks.

“Our excitement quickly turned in the opposite direction, to agitation,” Drennan said.

Drennan said there were often problems with the company’s digital fingerprint system, so MorphoTrust would take old-fashioned ink fingerprints. The company purchased a scanner to digitize those inked cards, but the device did not work.

Drennan said everyone who had their fingerprints taken while MorpoTrust was using that scanner had to go back and get new prints.

He said many providers have returned to inking fingerprints themselves and sending the cards to MorphoTrust for processing. It’s the same process as before the state hired the company, he said, except it costs businesses $9 more per background check.

There are other problems, too.

Drennan said the company does not cash checks in a timely manner, knocking many businesses’ bank ledgers out of whack. MorphoTrust also bills providers for background checks not connected with their business, and contesting the charges takes a long time, he said.

One member of his association received a $12,000 bill from the company, though it insists it owes only $8,000, Drennan said. The disagreement has dragged on for four months.

Drennan also sent a letter to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Tuesday regarding MorphoTrust’s service.

“We have tried to make this work for more than a year and, frankly, have given up on this vendor,” he wrote.

“They promised an electronic process that reduces errors and improves access. Instead what we have is a fragmented system that does not provide enough active centers across the state to accommodate the demand.”

Drennan told the governor members of his organization have paid $220,000 to MorphoTrust since the state hired the company.

“It is unacceptable that we should have to pay for a service that, at a minimum, does not deliver the expected results,” he wrote.

Representatives from the company assured lawmakers they would fix any problems with the state background check system.

“We realize we screwed up. That’s all we can say,” MorphoTrust representative Patrick Kelly said. “We get it. There’s been a lot of problems with our technology and what we’ve done.”

Kelly said the company has flown 25 people to West Virginia over the last three weeks, including an engineering team, to fix technical problems.

Danny Wear, senior director of program management for MorphoTrust, said the company also is meeting with agencies to find out what problems they are having and is now reviewing all 12 fingerprinting sites to see where it can increase staff.

Wear said the company hopes to open three additional fingerprinting sites in the next few months.

He said the company also held a three-and-a-half-hour training session with call center employees to teach them to be attentive to customers’ needs and follow up on every question that comes in.

He said the company is working to set up an email notification system to keep agencies updated on the status of potential employees’ background checks and also hopes to build a secure website that would do the same job in case employers miss the email notifications.

Speaking after the meeting, Kelly said he was not aware of months-long turnaround for background checks but said it could happen. He said the backlogs were not caused by staffing problems but blamed “technical issues.”

He said turnaround times for background checks have dropped each month.

“It’s trending the right way,” he said.

Drennan said he is skeptical. He knows of businesses that are still awaiting background check results from May.

Boileau said ultimately he would like to see all background checks processed within 72 hours. He said he does not care how that is accomplished, whether the state fires MorphoTrust or allows the company to get its act together.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, committee co-chairman, said MorphoTrust’s service has been “unacceptable” so far. He said the subcommittee would continue to watch the company’s progress over the next few months.

‘THIS MAY DO ME IN, I MAY RETIRE’

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on April 07, 2010. 

WHITESVILLE – Ed Runyon, 83, walked to the flag pole in his front yard shortly before noon Tuesday and raised his American flag for the first time this year. He tied it off at half-staff.

Although he didn’t know any of the victims of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the retired miner said the incident troubles him deeply.

“It’s a sad thing,” Runyon said.

Runyon worked as a miner for 34 years, suffering two broken fingers and a broken toe during his career. The Korean War veteran said he counts himself lucky he didn’t see any explosions, although he was working underground when several men died over the years.

He said he knew something was wrong at the mine, located a few miles from his house, when he saw a slew of police cars and fire trucks speeding along W.Va. 3 to the scene Monday afternoon.

“We knew something happened,” Runyon said. “Then it got to us pretty quick.”

Many in this Boone County town of about 500 people expressed sadness and shock.

Marlena Adkins, 45, said her husband, Robert, works at the mine and could have easily been among the victims had the company not switched workers’ shifts.

Robert now works the same hours as the victims did – a six day-on, three day-off schedule. His first day off work was Monday.

“That would’ve been the shift he would’ve been on,” Marlena said.

She said her husband was hit hard by the tragedy.

“He was pretty shook up,” she said. “He said, ‘This may do me in. I may retire.’ ”

Tobie Hilderbrand, pastor at the Marsh Fork Worship Center in nearby Eunice, said his stepson, Kory Ferrell, 20, worked on the same shift until Massey transferred him a couple of weeks ago.

“All of a sudden they needed some guys at the other mine,” he said.

Hilderbrand said Kory was initially upset about the move because of the co-workers he had become friends with. Obviously, the family is now thankful.

“The Lord’s really worked on our behalf on that,” Hilderbrand said.

But the family did not escape the tragedy. Hilderbrand said his wife’s uncle, Ricky Workman, was one of the miners killed.

“It’s hit home pretty hard,” he said.

Hilderbrand’s church opened its doors to those needing refreshments and prayer.

The church also changed its front sign to read, “Pray for our miners.”

Someone later affixed a small paper note to the sign: “With deep sympathy and concern for all miners who have lost their lives and all who are still trapped – (from) students and faculty at Marshall University.”

Church member Billy Pettry said the church would remain open “as long as anybody needs us.”

Pettry, a retired miner with black lung, said he once worked with many of the victims and some of their fathers. He was close to Workman, a former classmate and basketball teammate.

“We were like brothers there for a long time,” he said.

Mike Gordon and other members of the New Life Assembly in Pettus are keeping their lights on, too. Gordon said he didn’t leave the church Monday night and he was still there at mid-morning Tuesday.

“We’ll be here all day, I know,” he said. “If we’re not, somebody will be.”

Gordon said about 80 percent of men in the church, including Pastor Gary Williams, are coal miners. He works at the Pine Ridge Mine in Prenter.

“It could’ve been us instead of them,” Gordon said.

He said no family members have passed through the church, but plenty of rescue workers and journalists have.

“They came in off and on all night,” he said.

Gordon said the church doesn’t have a radio or TV on hand to keep updated with the news but is monitoring a police scanner. He said church members get most of their news from people returning from the mines.

“The information we’re getting is only what people are getting and bringing back,” he said.

He said the church members were deeply saddened when they heard of the miners who had lost their lives but are praying for the four miners still trapped inside.

“We’ve got hope,” Gordon said.

Getting Over: The Disgraced W.Va. Gospel Music Promoter Who Found Redemption in Indie Wrestling

This story was published on 100 Days in Appalachia on July 30, 2019.

The sound of twanging electric guitars fills the Madison Civic Center, a small gymnasium in the heart of southern West Virginia’s coalfields. It’s “Ride Stallion Ride,” the entrance music for WWE Hall of Fame inductee Cowboy Bob Orton.

The 300 fans seated on folding chairs and wooden bleachers during this May 2018 show clap and cheer as they wait for the wrestler to appear from behind the black polyester curtain. But the Orton that finally emerges is not the young, scowling, curly-haired villain pictured on the posters for tonight’s show. It’s not the big dumb oaf who, during the inaugural Wrestlemania in 1985, accidentally whacked his pal Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndoff on the head to give Hulk Hogan an easy pin.

The fringe vest and Stetson are the same. So is the prominent nose. But this white-haired, 70-year-old version of Cowboy Bob Orton has a keg where decades before a six-pack used to be. Yet his feet are light as he trots to the ring with Louis Moore, his tag-team partner for the night. He scales the ringside steps and swings his body through the ropes, then jogs slowly around the ring as the ring announcer introduces his opponents.

Now it is Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” blaring from the speakers. The good guy tag team O.V.E.R. appears from behind the curtain. Skinny, pale and dressed in black, Christian Kobain and Shane Kryzak look like members of a heavy metal cover band. They strut down the aisle, jump into the ring and mount adjacent turnbuckles to flex for their devotees — the majority of whom, from the sound of the squeals, seem to be women.

The referee checks everyone’s boots and signals for the bell.

If you’ve ever seen a tag team match, you can guess how this will go. Orton and Moore spend much of the match abusing Kobain while keeping him safely out of Kryzak’s reach. When the battered babyface finally gets to his corner and makes the tag, his comrade explodes into the ring — only to promptly fall into Moore and Orton’s clutches. For a moment, it looks like the bad guys will win. Orton goes for an RKO, a neckbreaker finishing move made famous by his son and fellow WWE superstar Randy Orton. But at the last second, Kobain reaches into the ring and pulls Kryzak from Orton’s grasp.

This destabilizes the big cowboy. He stumbles and falls to the mat. Both members of O.V.E.R. dogpile onto his hefty frame. The referee flops on his belly and pounds the mat with an open palm. One. Two. Three.

The ref signals for the bell and Fall Out Boy again fills the gymnasium, the emo pop mixing with shouts from fans. But instead of cheering the victorious good guys, the crowd sing-songs at Orton.

“YOU STILL GOT IT!” clap clap clapclapclap “YOU STILL GOT IT!” clap clap clapclapclap “YOU STILL GOT IT!”

Moore grabs a microphone and accosts Orton for losing the match. “All these people out here say ‘You still got it.’ From what I saw here tonight, you don’t have it anymore old man.”

The fans begin chanting again. “R-K-O! R-K-O! R-K-O!” In a flash, Orton locks his arm around Moore’s head and drops to the mat. Moore flops on the canvas like his spine has been separated from his brainstem. Now Orton’s music is blasting through the sound system.

The crowd erupts with a fervor usually reserved for tent revivals and championship football games. Grown men leap to their feet in ecstatic applause. Preteen boys in basketball shorts move to the aisle to slap Orton’s hands before he disappears behind the curtain. This is something they might tell their own preteen boys about someday, the night they saw Cowboy Bob Orton administer an RKO at the Madison Civic Center.

Little do fans realize that Gary Damron, who has promoted wrestling shows like this for the last 14 years under the name All Star Wrestling, has worked for months trying to bring this moment to fruition — and he saw almost none of it. Damron spent the majority of Orton’s match hidden away in the civic center’s kitchen, stuffing cash into white envelopes to pay his wrestlers.

Many wrestling promoters are former wrestlers themselves. Damron is not. He is a short, soft-spoken, soft-bodied, spectacled midnight shift movie theater custodian with plantar fasciitis. He loves All You Can Eat Wings Wednesdays at Quaker Steak & Lube, his dachshund Chico, and ’80s pop culture — especially The Golden Girls. He has no interest in administering or receiving a drop kick, frog splash, figure four, or piledriver. He has too much work to do.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

The Greatest’s First Foe

This story originally appeared in the Spring ’19 issue of WV Living magazine

In early October 1960, Associated Press teleprinters clattered to life in smoke-filled newsrooms across the United States. The harried editors assigned to monitor the machines couldn’t have known it at the time, but the rapid-fire hammers were pounding out words that would change the history of sports forever.

LOUISVILLE — Cassius Clay, the Olympic light-heavyweight champion, today signed for his first professional bout, a six-rounder against Tunney Hunsaker. Hunsaker, 29-year-old police chief of Fayetteville, W.Va., has a 15–7 record.

Although only 18 years old, Clay was already a global celebrity—not only for his gold-winning performance at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but also for his outsized persona. After his medal ceremony, he treated members of the press to a celebratory poem that began, “To make America the greatest is my goal, so I beat the Russian and I beat the Pole and for the USA won the medal of gold.”

Now that he was turning pro, Clay agreed to be managed by a coterie of 11 businessmen from his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Choosing the first professional opponent for their star required careful consideration. Naturally, they wanted someone their man could defeat. But the opponent also needed to provide enough competition to showcase Clay’s fistic talents.

Although Hunsaker’s name probably did not ring any bells with newspaper readers, he was exactly the kind of boxer Clay’s people were looking for.

This is the story of a tobacco farmer’s son, a lifelong public servant, and a middling boxer whose athletic career might have been forgotten if not for a chance meeting with a man who would become the most famous athlete of all time.

* * *

Born in 1930, Hunsaker grew up on a tobacco farm in Caldwell County, Kentucky, about 170 miles southwest of Clay’s native Louisville. His father was a fight fan, naming his son for the 1920s heavyweight champ Gene Tunney.

It must have come as no surprise, then, when Hunsaker fought his first bout at age 14 in a makeshift ring at his high school. He continued boxing after joining the U.S. Air Force and became base champion at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, a title he held from 1951 until he was honorably discharged two years later. Hunsaker was also the 1951 Golden Gloves champion in San Antonio, Texas. After going pro in 1952, he fought to a 12–2 record and was named “Prospect of the Month” in the June 1953 issue of Ring magazine.

But just as his career was gaining momentum, Hunsaker threw in the towel. His hitch with the Air Force was up and his mother-in-law—who lived in Oak Hill, West Virginia—informed him that nearby Fayetteville was looking for a police officer. Hunsaker got the job in late 1955, packed up his wife and young daughter, and headed for the hills.

There was little time now to think about boxing. Hunsaker became chief of the town’s two-man police force after less than a month on the job, and his days were filled with rounding up AWOL soldiers, breaking up fights at football games, and ticketing license-less drivers. He hunt-and-pecked his own reports on a manual typewriter and, because his office was not equipped with a telephone, answered calls in a phone box outside the Ben Franklin five and dime.

While working the beat, Hunsaker met Skippy Gray, the 16-year-old son of the local grocer. Gray was a scrappy kid, always getting in fights. Hunsaker offered to train him for the Golden Gloves and the two began working out in a makeshift gym in Oak Hill.

He found his way back into the ring in 1958, winning five of his first seven fights. In the year leading up to the Clay fight, though, Hunsaker’s hot streak had cooled. He lost each of six fights leading up to the bout. Yet he remained optimistic. Writing to a childhood friend, Hunsaker predicted he would knock out the loudmouthed young fighter in an early round. “I have fought men whose record proved that Cassius Clay shouldn’t even be in the same town as them.”

No one else was quite so confident in Hunsaker’s ability, but sportswriters admitted he would not be easy prey. “Hunsaker is no Sonny Liston, but Hunsaker’s no cream puff,” wrote the Louisville Courier-Journal, referencing the then-reigning heavyweight champion of the world. “He hasn’t been dug out of the graveyard at midnight either and propped up on a Halloween broom to furnish Clay a target to shoot at.”

* * *

Hunsaker drove to Louisville with his friend John Witt, who would later become Fayetteville’s mayor. The fight was to take place at Freedom Hall. Hunsaker had fought in the cavernous arena twice before, winning the first time but losing the second. They arrived to a less-than-packed house. The building could seat 20,000 but only 6,200 people showed up to see the fight.

This didn’t seem to bother Clay, who acted as if the house was packed to the rafters. He arrived at the ring surrounded by a large entourage. Hunsaker, by contrast, was accompanied only by a few men working his corner. It did not matter, though. As the opening bell approached, everyone else slipped into the darkness of the arena. Only Clay, Hunsaker, and the white-shirted referee remained.

One wonders if Clay, looking at Hunsaker in the opposite corner, thought back to another boxing policeman—Joe Martin, the Louisville officer who taught him to box and changed the course of his life forever. There is no way to know. If Clay had any warm feelings toward his opponent, it is not evident in the newsreel footage that survives of the fight.

The jittering black-and-white film shows Clay’s impressive speed on full display. He deftly avoids Hunsaker’s blows, sometimes sending the older boxer stumbling when a punch fails to connect. He is also quick to invade Hunsaker’s space, delivering a jab and then getting out of the way in a blink. This was four years before the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” would forever establish itself in the national consciousness.

Clay concentrated his punches on Hunsaker’s face. His jabs busted the blood vessels in Hunsaker’s nose. By the end of the third round, it was bleeding freely. The bell clanged and the fighters returned to their corners for a short respite—too short for Hunsaker. In an instant they were back in the middle of the canvas to begin the fourth round. Clay continued his assault on Hunsaker’s face. By the end of this round, both of his eyes were nearly swollen shut.

Still, Hunsaker fought on. He continued absorbing Clay’s jabs throughout the next two rounds, taking a beating but mostly remaining on his feet. At the end of the sixth and final round, Clay’s pristine white trunks were stippled with blood. It was not his own.

The judges tallied their score sheets and the result was unanimous. The hometown hero had won every round. Clay’s professional record now stood at 1–0.

Although the fight would go down as an “L” on Hunsaker’s record, it did provide one point of pride. Of the 20 fighters Clay defeated on his way to the title, Hunsaker was one of only six who went the distance with the future champ.

Displaying his usual bluster, the “Louisville Lip” was a sore winner. “That Tunney Hunsaker I fought Saturday was too easy—I was fresher after the fight than I was before.”

Hunsaker, though, was generous with praise for his opponent. Although he said Clay, who turned up to the fight in a pink Cadillac, was too “spoiled” by his backers, Hunsaker told Charleston Daily Mail sports editor Dick Hudson the 18-year-old had real talent. “He’s very fast and can hit,” he said. “The kid can be the heavyweight champion of the world some day. He’s that good, if he settles down to hard work.”

* * *

This prediction came true, of course. On February 25, 1964, Clay defeated Liston by technical knockout to gain the world heavyweight title.

Then things began happening that no one could predict. Two days after the fight, Clay confirmed rumors that he was a member of the Nation of Islam. The following week, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad announced that Clay would now be called Muhammad Ali. Three years later, Ali was stripped of his heavyweight title—not because he lost a boxing match, but because he refused to be drafted into the U.S. military, in protest of the Vietnam War.

For better or worse, Ali né Clay was more famous than ever. Hunsaker, meanwhile, had stepped away from the spotlight.

In February 1961, he left the Fayetteville police department to become an inspector with the state beer commission. He continued boxing but success eluded him, just as Ali had. He gained some national recognition in September 1961 when he traveled to the West Virginia State Penitentiary to fight inmate Thomas Dejarnette, the heavyweight champion of the prison. He lost by technical knockout in the eighth round.

This was becoming standard for Hunsaker. He won only two of his next six fights, which is why some worried how he would fare during 10 rounds with Joe “Shotgun” Shelton, scheduled for April 6, 1962.

Shelton, who hailed from Cleveland, Ohio, weighed in at 192 pounds and stood six-feet, one-inch tall, with 17-inch biceps and a body that looked like it had been chiseled from marble. One reporter described his physique as “more like a bodybuilder than a boxer.” Hunsaker was two inches taller than Shelton, but his 32-year-old body now weighed about 200 pounds, nearly 20 pounds heavier than he had been against Ali. Although he was fit, his frame belonged to an earlier generation of pugilists.

Raleigh Register sports editor Greg McLaughlin, a friend of Hunsaker’s, told readers the fight would be difficult for the former police chief, although victory was not out of reach. “Just flip a coin,” he wrote. “It’s going to be that close.”

This prediction proved frighteningly accurate.

Three photos ran at the top of the front page of the April 8, 1962, edition of the Raleigh Register. In the first, the camera captures the aftermath of a rushing right-hand blow by Shelton. Hunsaker’s face is contorted from impact. In the second, Shelton stumbles from the force of a left from Hunsaker. In the third photo, we see the large posterior of referee Cotton White. He is counting out Hunsaker, who lies face-down in the ring, his legs splayed unnaturally.

The headline: “HUNSAKER HAS A 50–50 CHANCE.”

The fight had been a brutal one, with both men sustaining significant damage but staying upright. By the beginning of the 10th and final round, it appeared the winner would be determined by judges’ decision. Then, with less than 30 seconds to go, Shelton caught Hunsaker with a hard left to the right temple. He collapsed onto the canvas.

When White reached the end of his 10 count, ring attendants lifted Hunsaker onto a stool where he regained enough consciousness to tell McLaughlin, “I want to fight him again. I’m OK.” But while being examined by fight doctor I. Braxton Anderson, he collapsed again.

By the time Hunsaker arrived at the Bluefield Sanitarium, still shirtless and wearing his trunks and boxing shoes, he sported a black eye and a bruise on the side of his head, and his right side was paralyzed.

Doctors discovered a bleed on the outside of his brain and rushed him into emergency surgery to relieve the pressure. After the two-hour procedure was complete, Dr. E. Lyle Gage told members of the media the outcome was uncertain. “In 48 hours, we’ll know,” he said.

Once again, Hunsaker made headlines. His fight with Shelton had occurred on the same day former welterweight champ Benny “Kid” Paret was laid to rest. Paret had died the previous Tuesday, 10 days after suffering a similar brain bleed in a nationally televised fight. The coincidence was too much for the public, and many called for boxing to be banned. This included Hunsaker’s wife, Phyllis. Speaking to reporters as she exited her husband’s hospital room, she said, “I hope they ban boxing, I’m against it all the way.”

Cards, prayer cloths, and flowers poured into Hunsaker’s room as newspapers worldwide followed his progress. He was finally released from the hospital after 17 days. Gage offered one piece of advice as he left: “Do not return to the ring.”

Later, in an interview with McLaughlin, Hunsaker conceded he would be “stupid” to return to the sport—although the money wouldn’t hurt, given the medical bills he had incurred.

Hunsaker had no memory of his fight with Shelton and asked his newspaperman friend how it had gone. McLaughlin told him the crowd had applauded after each round. “If that was going to be my last fight, I’m glad it was a good one,” he said. “I wanted to please the crowd.”

* * *

Hunsaker had no trouble building a life outside the boxing ring. He left the beer commission in 1967 to return as Fayetteville’s police chief—a job he would hold for the next 25 years.

Around that same time, he met a young woman named Patricia Halstead. He and Phyllis had divorced shortly after the Shelton fight and, though Halstead was 13 years his junior, the two became smitten with one another and eventually married.

While he had once been a brash young police officer, Hunsaker now became Fayetteville’s homegrown version of Andy Taylor, driving widows home from the grocery store, directing traffic for the local elementary school, and spending so much time walking the beat that his wife was continually buying him new shoes. The children of Fayetteville, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, did not say “policeman.” They wanted to become “a Tunney.”

Hunsaker also became a Sunday School teacher at the Oak Hill Church of the Nazarene, taking over the junior boys’ class. “He wasn’t a scholar, but he got that Bible and he tried the best he could. He taught by example more than anything,” Pat Hunsaker remembers now.

He took his students on camping trips to Bluestone Lake, invited them to his big Victorian home on Fayette Avenue to bake cookies, and, when the boys kept up good attendance or invited friends to church, gave them cheap watches he bought at the local auction house. “They would work for those watches,” Pat says. The church named Hunsaker “teacher of the year” for the 1983-84 and 1984-85 school years and, in 1987, he was named “teacher of the year” by the Nazarene organization’s West Virginia South District.

Still, his six rounds with the fighter formerly known as Cassius Clay followed Hunsaker like a shadow. It became local lore, the kind of story fathers would tell sons when they passed Hunsaker on the street. It was international lore, too. Decades after the fight, Hunsaker still received fan mail from all over the world. He was featured on the game show To Tell the Truth, where Soupy Sales correctly identified him as Ali’s first opponent. Then, in the 1980s, he and Pat drove to Ottawa, Canada, for Hunsaker to appear on a similar show called Claim to Fame. This time he stumped the panel, winning $500—more than he’d made for the Ali fight itself. He used the money to take his wife out to dinner at one of those French restaurants where the waiters wear white towels across their forearms.

* * *

It was 20 years after their original meeting that Hunsaker again crossed paths with the man who made him famous.

Ali retired from boxing in 1981 following a disastrous showing against Trevor Berbick in the Bahamas. But, like Hunsaker, he had little difficulty transitioning into life outside the ring once his fighting days were finally over. Time had tempered his once-radical views on race, religion, and politics. He now traveled the world promoting peace, even as Parkinson’s Disease slowed his movements and snatched away his smooth speech. “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer,” Ali once told an interviewer. “I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

In 1987, Ali used his face and fame to help out some boxing boosters in Charleston, West Virginia, who were trying to revive local interest in the Golden Gloves. Event promoter Bill Picozzi booked Ali for an autograph signing at the Charleston Civic Center to raise awareness and money for the effort. Picozzi also invited Hunsaker to lend the event some historical gravitas.

Although they had not seen one another for 27 years, the former opponents acted like old friends, joking and throwing fake jabs. The event went so well that the autograph signings became a regular occurrence.

During what would prove to be the final one, in February 1992, Ali learned that Hunsaker was retiring from his position as police chief, and he wanted to do something special for his foe-turned-friend. “Ali said, ‘I want to come to your hometown.’ Well, we had nothing prepared,” Pat says. The Hunsakers rushed home that afternoon, booked a conference room at the local Comfort Inn for the next day, and called everyone they knew to invite them to the impromptu retirement party.

After the party, the outgoing police chief treated him to a grand tour, even stopping traffic on the New River Gorge Bridge so Ali could walk out to the middle. They visited a local flower shop, where the proprietress pinned a bud to Ali’s jacket. When the champion noticed a school bus of special needs children passing by, Hunsaker flagged it down so Ali could climb aboard and interact with the students.

As they ended their day together, Ali remarked that he would like to come back to Fayetteville for something less public, like dinner at the Hunsakers’ home. Pat told him he was always welcome, but the meeting never came to pass.

Like Ali, Hunsaker was beginning to see the after-effects of so many punches to the head. He would get lost while driving on his own. Later, when Pat took his keys away, he’d wander out of the house and walk through town. She would follow him, walking for miles until he collapsed from exhaustion. Then she would get someone to drive them home. People were always happy to help, she says. Hunsaker had spent so many years watching over the town, now it was time for the town to repay the favor.

Doctors at West Virginia University in Morgantown eventually diagnosed him with dementia. Still, he told Pat he did not regret his time as a boxer. “I regretted it for him,” she says.

When Hunsaker died in April 2005, his name appeared on the Associated Press newswire for one final time—although the clattering teleprinters had now been replaced by websites and emails. At the wake, Pat listened for hours as mourners shared memories of her late husband. “Anyone who ever met him, even briefly, had a story,” she says.

Hunsaker was laid to rest at Fayetteville’s Huse Memorial Park. He is buried in the veterans’ section of the cemetery beneath a tombstone carved from highly polished black granite, not unlike the material that was eventually used for Ali’s own grave marker when he passed in 2016.

On the left side of the gravestone, Pat had two engravings made. On top is a portrait of Hunsaker in his police uniform. Below that is a drawing of a much younger man ducking a punch from Cassius Clay.

At the bottom of the marker, there is a scripture from the New Testament.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

LOAN DEBT MAY LEAD TO DOCTOR SHORTAGE MORE LUCRATIVE SPECIALTIES, JOB DEALS COULD DRIVE NEW PHYSICIANS OUT OF STATE

Publication: CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Page: 1A
Byline: ZACK HAROLD DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER

Medical school graduates in West Virginia are graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, which could eventually lead to a shortage of physicians in the Mountain State.

West Virginia’s newly minted doctors graduated with an average of $186,000 in medical school debt last year, according to a report released earlier this month by the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Dr. Norman Ferrari, vice dean for education and academic affairs at WVU’s medical school, said that crushing debt is beginning to affect which specialties new doctors choose.

While students might have wanted to become family doctors, Ferrari said that specialty typically does not make as much money as a cardiologist or oncologist, or another specialty where doctors perform expensive procedures.

“I sometimes hear students say ‘Gee, I would like to be a pediatrician but I need to be a’ . . . whatever kind of ‘ologist’ they think they need to be,” Ferrari said. “The debt is starting to influence their decision making.”

Students at West Virginia University’s medical school graduated with an average $156,425 in debt in 2012, while students at Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine were $162,010 in debt, on average.

Doctors leaving the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine incurred the most debt, however, with an average $240,283 in student loans.

And it appears the numbers are only getting higher.

In 2008, Marshall med school graduates were an average $147,902 in debt while West Virginia University grads had $125,438 in loans and WVSOM graduates had $176,297.

“Theoretically, it could make people stop applying to medical school,” Ferrari said.

What’s more, medical school debt figures only tell half the story. The Higher Education Policy Commission’s statistics do not include loans students might have taken out while completing their undergraduate degrees.

West Virginia’s public college students who completed their undergraduate degrees in 2008 – the year most 2012 medical school graduates got their bachelor’s degrees – had an average $29,065 in debt, according to a separate report from the commission.

That means a student who obtained a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University before heading to the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine could have more than $233,000 when he or she leaves school.

Ferrari said there are several reasons for the increasing debt.

Tuition is always increasing, he said, and more nontraditional students are entering medical school. These students are older, and are sometimes married with children. Ferrari said they often take on more debt than their younger counterparts because the demands of medical school prevent them from having a job, and they need cash to keep their families going.

But simply reducing tuition is not a viable option, Ferrari said. The cost of providing medical education is constantly climbing. Medical schools must pay faculty salaries and facility maintenance costs while trying to provide students with the latest technologies.

“Providing the learning environment has become very expensive,” he said.

So universities are taking other steps to help students keep their debt under control.

Ferrari said WVU tries to provide students with debt management training, and funnel as much money as possible to scholarships. The school also provides students with a notice every year to show how much debt they have incurred.

He said doctors are also finding creative ways to pay off their loans, agreeing to work for specific communities or hospitals in return for some money toward their debt. Others make similar deals with the U.S. military. Ferrari said joining the armed forces might be a good move for students, but does little to help the shortage of doctors in rural communities.

“Once they’ve been stationed in Germany or Hawaii it may be difficult to get them back,” he said.

Linda Holmes, director of development and alumni affairs for Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, said her school is attempting to provide medical students with more scholarship money.

The school handed out $1.93 million in scholarships to medical school students for the 2012-2013 school year. About 65 percent of Marshall medical school students receive scholarships from the university, at about $10,000 per student.

Last year, the school gave about $825,000 in scholarships to about 33 percent of the student body.

Holmes said by providing more money in scholarships, the university reduces the need for student loans.

Marshall’s medical school previously was put on probation by its accrediting body, the Liaison Committee for Medical Education, because graduating students’ debt was higher than the national average. When the medical school hired its new dean Dr. Joe Shapiro last year, he began pushing administrators to generate more money in scholarships.

The money has come from alumni, businesses, friends of the medical school and Marshall Health, the university’s private practice arm.

Denise Getson, spokeswoman for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, said the school has not raised its tuition in several years as an attempt to help students control their debt. She said the school also tries to direct students to resources like the National Health Service Corps, which helps new doctors repay their loans in return for service in high-need areas.

Getson said WVSOM’s debt figures are likely much higher than other state medical schools because of its large number of out-of-state students. The school has 255 in-state students and 582 students from outside West Virginia.

Tuition for in-state students is about $20,000, while out-of-state students pay nearly $50,000 per year.

STORM REPORT RECOMMENDS ‘EASY FIXES’ POST-DERECHO REVIEW CALLS FOR BACKUP POWER SOURCES, TEXT MESSAGING SYSTEM

Publication: CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL
Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013
Page: 1A
Byline: ZACK HAROLD DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER

A report commissioned after last year’s derecho recommends state government and other entities institute backup communication methods, do a better job of communicating with the public and purchase lots and lots of generators before the next big storm comes our way.

Strong winds caused by the June 29, 2012, derecho damaged buildings, uprooted trees and took down power lines across the state, leaving up to 1.6 million West Virginia residents without electricity for days.

About two weeks later, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin commissioned an “after action report” to review the state’s response to the storm. That report was released on Wednesday evening, along with a 19-page summary.

Many of the report’s recommendations are focused on backup power and communication methods in an emergency.

High winds during last year’s storms knocked out phone lines and cellular towers in the state. Other cell towers stopped functioning in subsequent days as their backup power sources ran out.

“Many of the findings and recommendations included in this Review are common sense conclusions that can be implemented with ease,” the report says. “Often it is the ‘easy fixes’ that can make the most difference.

“The path forward requires immediate action to ensure that the lessons of the past will contribute to the successes of the future.”

The report recommends state, county and local officials develop alternative communication plans – making use of battery-powered radios and texting, for example – to better transmit and collect information.

The report also advocates the creation of a statewide emergency text messaging system to keep the public better informed, as well as increasing the use of social media services.

“We needed to streamline communication and, in particular, we are now looking into alternative methods to be able to educate the public even when the entire state lacks electricity,” Tomblin said in a press release Wednesday.

The report also focuses on emergency power and generator needs, recommending that radio stations, telecommunication companies and public service districts all have backup plans when the power goes out.

The report found that although public service districts play a vital role in water and sewer services, they currently have no access to alternative power.

Generators became a prime target for thieves following last year’s derecho. Frontier Communications had 20 generators stolen, and police were able to recover only five.

The report recommends utilities coordinate with local law enforcement to patrol the areas near generators. State Police patrolled near generators following another round of widespread outages last fall after Hurricane Sandy and generator thefts “dropped significantly,” reviewers found.

Reviewers recommended power restoration efforts be prioritized to first ensure “preservation of life” and public safety and then to move on to the largest service areas.

Colleges and universities also should be considered high priority in power restoration efforts since they serve large groups of people, the report says.

Utility companies should have designated contacts within the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and should increase their efforts to cut trees around utility lines, it says.

In what probably comes as a surprise to many state residents – especially those who waited in long lines at gas stations after the derecho – the after action review claims “there was not a gasoline shortage in West Virginia.”

“There was, instead, a perceived shortage because West Virginians rushed to the pumps in a panic, exhausting the supply on hand before it could be restocked,” the report said.

A footnote in the report acknowledges a real shortage did exist in some areas of the state, where panicking customers overwhelmed stations.

“In these locations, the panic caused the shortage,” the report said.

Since gas shortages made it difficult for emergency personnel and utility workers to fill their vehicles and generators, the report recommends the Department of Homeland Security begin rationing gasoline during future statewide emergencies.

The report also encourages private gas stations to set aside certain pumps during emergencies to be used only by emergency vehicles.

STUDY SUGGESTS TRACKING EX-CONS GROUP SAYS SUPERVISING RELEASED INMATES WOULD HELP EASE OVERCROWDING

Publication: CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Page: 1A
Byline: ZACK HAROLD DAILY MAIL CAPITOL REPORTER

A national nonprofit group says West Virginia could save millions of dollars over the next five years – and avoid building a new prison – if it kept closer tabs on inmates once they leave the prison system and increased substance abuse treatment programs for ex-cons.

Officials expect the changes to save the state about $116.3 million over the next five years.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced last June that the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the Justice Center at the nonprofit Council of State Governments, had agreed to conduct a thorough review of the state’s jails and prisons.

The work group has now finished that study, which was funded by the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, and is making recommendations to Tomblin’s office for a major overhaul to the state’s criminal justice system.

There currently are about 7,500 people in West Virginia’s prison system – including about 1,700 prisoners held in regional jails due to overcrowding in prisons – and that number is expected to climb to about 8,900 by 2018 if no changes are made.

But work group members predict the state’s prison population could actually fall by about 2 percent in the next five years if their proposed policy changes are adopted.

The group estimates the changes would save West Virginia $141.8 million in gross operational costs between now and 2018, with about $25.5 million reinvested in substance use treatment programs.

Carl Reynolds, senior legal and policy advisor for the Justice Center, said the suggestions cover two main areas, increasing supervision of offenders once they leave the criminal justice system and reducing substance abuse.

According to the group’s report, 22 percent of new commitments are for drug offenses and 66 percent of people entering West Virginia prisons in 2011 needed substance abuse treatment.

But Reynolds said the state’s criminal justice system currently offers no substance abuse programs other than the ones available in prisons. He said there are 13 substance abuse treatment providers in the state, but court and jail officials sometimes have difficulty securing those services for offenders.

In addition to spending more money to increase the availability of treatment services, work group members recommended the state give judges authority to sentence convicted persons to treatment programs.

The report also calls for the state’s criminal justice system to better monitor individuals once they are released from prison.

It says 28.5 percent of people released from prison in 2008 returned to prison within three years. In 2011, 28 percent of individuals released from prison returned to society without any kind of court supervision.

“They serve their time, and once they walk out the door, there’s no supervision,” Reynolds said.

That is a problem because many prisoners have become so accustomed to having their every decision made for them that they cannot function in normal society. He said recidivism, or return, rates could be reduced if the state kept a better eye on ex-prisoners.

The group suggests all newly released prisoners be monitored upon their release. The length of supervision could depend on the seriousness of the prisoner’s crime and his or her likelihood to commit another crime.

Individuals who violated the conditions of their supervision would be subject to “swift, certain and cost-effective sanctions,” the report said. Those actions could include placing the person on probation or home confinement or sending them back to jail for a short time.

If a person was sent back to jail for breaking the terms of their parole, they would not automatically receive a harsh sentence.

Reynolds said the average individual who violates parole spends two years in jail. Those who violate their probation agreements spend an average 1.7 years in jail.

The group suggests parole violators be sentenced to 60 days in jail for an initial offense and 120 days for a second offense, provided the person did not commit a new crime or try to flee supervision.

Reynolds estimates a supervision program would free about 800 beds each year in jails, and that would “chip away” at the backlog of prisoners awaiting beds in prisons.

The group also proposed changes to streamline the state’s parole process.

Bureaucratic hiccups currently leave hundreds of prisoners in limbo as they await parole.

When the Parole Board is considering releasing a prisoner, members review the inmate’s “home plan,” their criminal history and a psychological evaluation. Prisoners are placed under “further consideration” if any of those documents are missing, and their hearing is postponed until all documents are completed and submitted.

According to the report, more than 1,400 people were placed “under further consideration” in 2011, up from 730 in 2007.

Fifty-seven percent of the 1,400 in 2011 were given that status because they did not have a home plan, while 17 percent were awaiting a psychological evaluation.

The workgroup suggested the state streamline the parole process by helping prisoners without home plans find housing and by requiring full psychological assessments only when a preliminary screening indicates it is needed.

Suggestions from the report likely will make their way into proposed bills once the 2013 legislative session begins next month.

The state Supreme Court took more immediate action on Tuesday, issuing a new policy directive partially inspired by the work group’s findings.

Beginning Aug. 1, 2013, every felon convicted in circuit court will undergo a risk and needs assessment test.

“This assessment gives each judge objective information about the likelihood of the felon re-offending and what needs must be met to prevent such recidivism,” state Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury said in a statement.

“It’s another tool at the judge’s disposal to help enhance public safety.”

Canterbury, who was a member of the work group and is the former executive director of the state’s Regional Jail Authority, praised the recommendations.

“Having run the jails for eight years and done this job for eight years, it’s pretty clear that we face a real public safety problem when you have a person sitting in a cell one day and on the street the next day,” he said.

“Public safety is not always enhanced by locking people up. Some people, by being placed on probation and having to do certain things to meet the terms of that probation, will be able to turn his or her life around.”

Coach Kellie: A Tiny West Virginia High School is Making Football History

This story originally appeared on 100 Days in Appalachia on Nov. 9, 2018.

It took a few weeks for Hannan High School principal Karen Oldham to realize her school might have made history. She was so busy with the day-to-day grind of running the small, rural Mason County school that it didn’t cross her mind, until an elderly alumnus brought it to her attention.

Oldham still was not completely certain the school had done anything significant, so before making any kind of formal announcement, she phoned the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletics Commission and asked officials there to do some digging. They called back a few days later.

It was true: Hannan had hired the first female head football coach in West Virginia history.

The Point Pleasant Register got the scoop. Then, Huntington’s Herald Dispatch and local television stations picked up the story, which led to national coverage in USA Today.

It was all a shock for Oldham. It seems that no one—not Oldham, not the hiring committee she put together, not the superintendent who added the hire to the school board’s agenda, nor the board members who unanimously approved it—realized they were doing anything newsworthy.

“Never did her gender come into our minds,” Oldham says.

All everyone knew was, they had found the best person for the job. And that person was Kellie Thomas.

* * *

The voice of Axel Rose singing “Welcome to the Jungle” cuts through the sour air of the Hannan Wildcats’ locker room as players lace up their cleats and tug navy blue jerseys over their shoulder pads.

In her office, Kellie Thomas is wearing her own uniform: a ballcap with a turquoise H, a Hannan polo shirt with a long sleeve shirt underneath, khaki cargo shorts with a Washington Redskins lanyard hanging from the left pocket and leather Carhartt boots with pink wool socks climbing her bare calves. She pulls on a hooded jacket to protect herself from the night’s drizzling rain and begins going through her pre-game preparations.

She replaces the batteries in the headsets she and her two assistant coaches will use to communicate during the night. She pumps up the three footballs that, as the home team, Hannan is required to supply for the game. Then she calls defensive back and running back Isaac Colecchia into her office.

Colecchia isn’t wearing pads. He suffered a concussion in last week’s game and is sitting out this week. Together, he and Thomas go through a checklist of symptoms—headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, insomnia, anxiousness, depression, and a few dozen more—that Colecchia ranks on a scale of zero to six. He gives most symptoms a zero, but ranks “sensitivity to light” and “sensitivity to noise” at one each. Once the symptoms go away and he’s cleared by his doctor, Colecchia will be eligible to play again.

The moment offers a glimpse at Thomas’s recent past. Although this is her first season as head football coach, she spent close to two decades as Hannan’s athletic trainer. She was there at every practice, scrimmage and game to tape up players’ ankles and wrists. Thomas was such a constant, stable presence that, over time, she became a confidant for players.

“She was their go-to when they had problems with previous coaches,” Oldham says.

That is why, when former Hannan coach Brian Scott resigned following the 2017 season, players approached Thomas and begged her to apply for the position.

With the questionnaire completed, Thomas dismisses Colecchia and leaves the office. She rallies her troops and leads the team out of the corrugated aluminum fieldhouse to a patch of grass just outside, where players arrange themselves into four rows and begin their warm ups.

The team normally warms up on the field, but tonight is homecoming. The field is currently occupied by members of the homecoming court and their parents, awaiting the announcement of this year’s king and queen.

As her players stretch and run drills, Thomas and defensive coordinator Thomas Miller size up tonight’s opponents, the Parkersburg Catholic Crusaders. The team isn’t much bigger than Hannan but the Crusaders are coming into this late October contest with a 7–1 record. Hannan hasn’t won a game all season.

When homecoming festivities are finally completed, the team moves its warm-ups onto the field. Then it’s the national anthem, handshakes between team captains and the coin flip.

Hannan wins the flip and elects to receive. Parkersburg punts and stops the return at Hannan’s 25 yard line. Then, in the first drive of the game, Hannan quarterback Matthew Qualls takes the snap, hops back on his right leg to pass and launches the ball into the air.

Immediately, a Crusader linebacker reaches up and swats the ball back to Earth.

“Oh, crap,” Thomas says.

Read the rest of the story here.