There’s just something about winners. For various reasons, they often keep on winning. Sometimes there’s an explanation, a formula; other times, it’s not as easy to distinguish—there’s just something in the air, the attitude, or perhaps the water. Digging through any historical record of sports championships will frequently lead you to a relatively ordinary conclusion—especially at the high school level: a lot of the same teams keep winning (or at least stay in the mix). Which is ironic, really, because even one championship at any level, within any sport, is quite extraordinary.
Flipping back through the pages of West Virginia high school football history is no different. Many of the teams that win can be spotted winning again, or taking second place at times. As it can be said about money, violence, or even laughter, winning often breeds winning. Some schools, programs, and coaches are synonymous with developing a culture of winning—where players enter expecting to win, and supporters expect nothing less. There’s a great deal that can be said about such cultivation—and its amazing power to practically seep into the DNA of student athletes, as well as the community. It happens on every level, but it’s especially compelling when it happens at the high school level, where players don’t get to pick what school they’ll attend (mostly), and coaches must simply work with what they have. It’s more than impressive, then, when a team is not only able to reach the top of the mountain, but stay there.
To win the West Virginia AAA High School Football State Championship is a big deal. It means you’re the baddest of the biggest schools in the state—the king of a very steep and treacherous hill. To do it back-to-back isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare—an exclusive club. To do it back-to-back, and never lose along the way, well, that’s something for the history books—it’s only been done twice in AAA, dating back to 1958. Martinsburg High School’s varsity football team is just one win away from such an accomplishment—having gone twenty-seven games over two seasons without a loss. That’s a little more than special—that’s a phenomenon.
As with any amazing achievement, an unforgettable run of success comes with an endless stream of applicable stories, situations, and characters. All of it inevitably adds up to form the overall story that is told for years afterward. In this way, we’re reminded that, while winning—and winning a lot—is quite captivating, even mesmerizing at times, the journey is often the destination. When the Martinsburg players and coaches and fans and families look back on this run—whenever it does finally come to an end—they will possess a rich inventory of memories and moments (and pictures and news clippings and radio bytes and TV spots) with which to rebuild this remarkable experience in their minds. And they’ll have that record forever, because the winning was the icing on the cake, but the cake—the cake was what happened along the way: the build-up in the off-season, the summer practices, the fundraisers, the family dinners, the extra tutoring, the family sacrifice, the anticipation during the week, the Friday nights, the playoffs, the unwavering community support, the school spirit, the player pride, the coaches’ dedication, and on and on. This is why high school sports is such a galvanizing force across this country—especially in small town America—and always will be. When a team like Martinsburg wins the state championship, so many people feel like they played a small part in it, even if it was just to make it out to Cobourn Field and scream wildly over every play. There’s a link. You know a lot of these kids; you know their families; you watched them grow up. You’re a part of it. And when something like a two-year run of dominance occurs, as we’re witnessing now, it becomes a source of pride and connection for everyone within reach.
Parkersburg won the first West Virginia AAA high school state football title fifty-three years ago. They beat East Bank 35 – 12. Over five decades have passed. The winners list is a pretty exclusive club. Yeah, an outsider occasionally gets in and shakes things up, but before long, the dust settles, and the usual suspects are back to doing what they do best. Over the course of those fifty-three years, only seven teams have won back-to-back state titles, with Charleston High School winning it three times from ’68-’70, under legendary coach Frank Vincent. Among this elite group of repeatists: Weir (’60-’61), Charleston (’68-’70), North Marion (’80-’81), DuPont (’92-’93), Morgantown (’04-’05), Parkersburg (’06-’07), and South Charleston (’08-’09), many have won additional titles, but Martinsburg seems to be the new sheriff in town, having been to the title game (including this Saturday) six times in the last ten years—all under Dave Walker, which should certainly be noted. The statistics tell it like it is: once a team figures out how to win a title, they’re usually in the conversation every year after. It would seem that this is Martinsburg’s time—its arrival—as one of West Virginia’s elite sports schools. History tells us that many more titles are likely within reach, even inevitable.
Perfection is an elusive beast; often once it is found, the exhaustion of chasing it supersedes the elation of finding it. But that’s where the exquisite exuberance of youth plays a starring role—young people have all the energy in the world. Let them chase perfection, and find it. Life is already hard enough; let them have their cake while they still can—and their icing, too.
- Good Luck this Saturday to the Martinsburg Bulldogs as they go for their second WV AAA State Football Championship…and the second perfect season in a row. You make Berkeley County proud.