According to the learned and sage sportswriter Doug Huff of the West Virginia Sportswriters Association, only one school in the history of West Virginia schoolboy sports has finished a school year being completely undefeated in both football and boys' basketball.
By Chapin Jewell
According to the learned and sage sportswriter Doug Huff of the West Virginia Sportswriters Association, only one school in the history of West Virginia schoolboy sports has finished a school year being completely undefeated in both football and boys’ basketball.
That school is Marion County’s now defunct Rivesville High School.
The school year was 1975-1976 when the football team finished a perfect 10-0 and the boys’ basketball team finished a perfect 26-0 and captured the West Virginia class A state championship.
“Well that’s interesting,” you might be thinking, “but how in the world does that have anything to do with Mineral County sports?”
The answer is simple.
Mineral County’s last football state championship was in 1975 and won by Ridgeley High School’s Blackhawks in what was literally the last football game ever for the school that was about to combine with Fort Ashby High School to become Frankfort High School in 1976.
Also, Rivesville’s class A state championship in boys’ basketball was won over none other than Mineral County’s Piedmont High School in 1976.
So while Piedmont actually went head to head with Rivesville’s ultra-talented and successful senior class that year, notice that nothing has been said about Ridgeley and Rivesville battling it out on the gridiron for class A supremacy. But Rivesville finished undefeated and so did Ridgeley. Ridgeley even won the state championship, how did the two manage to not lock horns?
Enter what many consider to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, slights in the history of West Virginia high school sports. Although “slight” might not be the best word to describe the controversy, as it wasn’t really a matter of someone making an arbitrary, unfair decision, but rather an example in which a governing board, in this case the WVSSAC, simply followed protocol and established rules to the letter of the law, despite the repercussions for those involved.
Here’s the long and short of it. While Rivesville finished a perfect 10-0, they ended up tied for fourth place in the class A standings. In those days, not 16, not even eight, but rather only four teams qualified for the state football playoffs. The rules, however, specifically stated that in the event two or more teams ended up tied for fourth place, there would be no play-in game or tie-breaker procedure, but rather both teams tied for fourth would simply be discarded, with neither team making it.
With Rivesville tied with Meadow Bridge for the fourth spot, which by the way largely took into account strength of schedule, both teams were essentially disqualified. For the three remaining top seeds therefore, the number one seed drew a first-round bye and the second and third seeds battled each other to see who would meet the top seed in the state championship game.
The number one seed was Wirt County (10-0). The two and three seeds were Ridgeley (10-0) and Hamlin (9-0). Wirt County drew the bye, automatically qualifying for the state title game. Ridgeley and Hamlin battled it out at Hite Field in Clarksburg on Nov. 15, with Ridgeley defeating Hamlin 29-8 to advance to the title game. One week later at Stadium Field in Parkersburg, Ridgeley defeated Wirt County 20-13 to capture the class A state championship, a first for the school, again, literally in the last football game ever played by Ridgeley.
While certainly everyone in northern Mineral County and the rest of Mineral County still celebrate and commemorate Ridgeley High School’s well-deserved and hard-earned state championship victory, no doubt the folks in Rivesville and even Meadow Bridge are left wondering what might have been.
Meadow Bridge finished 10-0, defeating Marsh Fork, Peterstown, Calhoun County, Tygart’s Valley, Lenore, Union Monroe, Parsons, Ansted, Clear Fork and Herndon by a combined score of 414-49, for an impressive average score of 41.4 to 4.9 points per game.
Rivesville, however, had an even more remarkable season. The Rams finished 10-0, defeating Fairview, Clay-Battelle, Barrackville, Valley Preston, Hundred, Mannington, Circleville, St. Francis, Monongah and Valley Whezel by a combined score of 488-6, posting nine shutouts. That equated to a jaw-dropping average score of 48.8 to .6.
It is also said that during that season, two of Rivesville’s opponents opted to play six-minute quarters to shorten the game and another team opted to get on the bus at halftime and head home early. That’s the type of dominating season Rivesville had, but then again, there was the question of strength of schedule, or lack thereof, that put Rivesville in a position of being tied for fourth place and ultimately falling victim to the rules in place at the time.
When Rivesville failed to make the playoffs, an obviously upset fan base and group of supporters did everything possible, to include pleading with the governor and the WVSSAC to get in, but to no avail.
It’s important to note, however, that in those days, especially with only four teams qualifying, strength of schedule was hugely important, as was winning obviously as the margin was razor thin. Ridgeley High School may have come out on top in 1975 by winning the state championship, but just the year before, the Blackhawks fell victim to the playoff system only taking the top four.
In the 1974 season, a very good Ridgeley team would finish the season 9-1, falling only to eventual class A state champion Musselman 28-22, yet still fail to make the playoffs. Musselman would go on defeat Mannington and Hamlin in the playoffs to capture the first of many state championships for the Applemen.
While things didn’t work out in football for Rivesville after a remarkable regular season in 1975, basketball practice began the very next day and the resiliency of high school kids is that they’re capable of bouncing back from disappointment quickly, and that’s exactly what they did.
Rivesville would go on to finish a perfect 26-0 and defeat Mineral County’s Piedmont (21-5) 71-55 to capture the class A boys’ basketball championship, helping to ease the pain considerably of the football disappointment. It would be the last state championship for the school that closed its doors in 1985.
Before and after that game, Piedmont had made quite a name for itself in small school basketball in the Mountain State. Piedmont made their first appearance in a state championship basketball game in 1954 where the Lions fell to Pax 63-54 to finish as a state runner-up. Two years later, Piedmont would again fall in the state title game, this time 62-52 to Barrackville in 1956.
In 1963, Piedmont would again make a state title game appearance but would ultimately fall to Mullen Conley 46-39 to again finish as the runner-up. In 1966, Piedmont would claim their first boys’ basketball state championship with a 58-56 victory over Williamson Liberty.
Piedmont would finish as runners-up again in 1969, losing to Harts 56-48. In 1974, the Lions would claim their second boys’ basketball state championship with a 50-40 victory over Marsh Fork. Back to back title game losses to Kermit in 1975 (48-37) and Rivesville in 1976 (71-56) would close out Piedmont’s boys’ basketball state title game appearances.
So the 1975-1976 academic year for the Rivesville Rams was a momentous one, as the football team finished undefeated at 10-0 and the boys’ basketball team finished undefeated at 26-0 and as state champions. This is the only time in high school sports history in West Virginia that a school has finished undefeated in both football and basketball.
Going hand in hand with Rivesville that academic year was Mineral County’s own Ridgeley and Piedmont high schools. Rivesville watched as Ridgeley won the state football championship and of course the Rams defeated Piedmont in basketball to win a state championship of their own. It’s good to look back at interesting stories such as Rivesville’s from the past, but also to celebrate the rich athletic history of Mineral County’s now-closed schools.