KEYSER - If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, today would have been the day the WVSSAC crowned state champions in the sport of track and field. Laidley Field in Charleston, however, sits empty, as empty as the feeling in the stomach of sports fans as we lament the loss of all spring sports.

By Chapin Jewell
Tribune Correspondent
KEYSER - If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, today would have been the day the WVSSAC crowned state champions in the sport of track and field. Laidley Field in Charleston, however, sits empty, as empty as the feeling in the stomach of sports fans as we lament the loss of all spring sports.
On Tuesday, we reflected back to last year’s state track meet and the varying levels of success experienced by Mineral County’s track athletes. Today, we take it back a step further, four years ago to 2016 and 11 years ago to 2009. In both years, under the direction and leadership of track coach Scott Furey, the Keyser Golden Tornado track and field boys’ teams won the West Virginia class AA state championship.
Those boys’ state track team championships represent the first (2009) and second (2016) track state championships in Keyser High School history. They also join Frankfort’s 2013 girls’ state champion track and field team, to be profiled later, to comprise three Mineral County track and field state champions in the new millennium.
“The program itself means so much to me, because my mentor was Coach Turbin, and I know what it meant to him. I took over in 2005 and then he got sick, had a stroke. For us to win it in 2009 was huge because a few months after we won it, he passed,” Furey detailed.
“I actually, when we got back from Charleston, one of the first things I did was go to the nursing home and visit him, and I took the trophy with me. You could just see his face light up,” Furey stated. “When I got there, some people from town were there visiting and they were showing him the newspaper. When I walked around the corner with the trophy in my hand, they said ‘I guess the paper can be put down because he’s got the real thing.’  That first one meant a lot.”
“2016 was just as special, mainly because the time was so spread out from the first one. This was seven years later, we did it with an entirely different group of athletes. In track especially, people just attribute success to just having great athletes. The 2016 group wasn’t necessarily loaded with Division I athletes like the 2009 team had been,” Furey explained.
“I thought we could have won it again in 2010, losing by five, and then in 2011 we finished third. The 2016 team, having done that with a group of young kids, they just did it differently.  In 2009, we won it in the track events. In 2016, we mainly won it in the field events, where we scored a ton of points. Honestly, the two teams were in some ways opposites of each other,” Furey opined.
2009 represented the coronation of a senior class of remarkable athletes that were hugely successful from middle school all the way through high school. That success manifested itself in seemingly every sport. With that success, however, came expectations. With those expectations came pressure. In what would be their last-ever athletic event at Keyser High School, this talented group rose above the pressure and delivered for themselves and school a state championship.
The story of the 2009 state championship team was their near sweeping of the relay events that weekend in Charleston. Of five relay events, Keyser finished first in four of the five and took third place in the fifth relay event. On top of those four first place finishes, the Golden Tornado speedsters set state records in two events.
Those four first place finishes came in the 110-meter shuttle hurdle relay (state record), 4 x 200-meter relay (state record), the 4 x 100-meter relay and the 4 x 400-meter relay.
The shuttle hurdle relay team was comprised of Jeremy Green, Matt Wilmer, Kaison Rohrbaugh and Jarell Ross. In the 4 x 200-meter relay, it was a team consisting of Taige Redman, Green, Ross and Wilmer that took the top prize. The 4 x 100-meter relay team was made up of Kadeem Garland, Redman, Green and Ross, while the 4 x 400-meter relay consisted of Wes Washington, Rohrbaugh, Redman and Ross.
Furey pointed out that despite the existence of many star athletes, many of the athletes that made up the state championship teams were not stars in other sports, “The Rohrbaugh brothers of Kaison and Taven were huge in 2009.  Kaison placed in the 200-meter, the 400-meter, was on the shuddles and 4 x 400 relay teams and Taven was a sophomore that came out of nowhere to get runner-up in the 800-meter and that cemented the win for us.  Both went on to run at West Liberty.”  
With the success of the relay teams and other successful performances, in 2009 Keyser won the state championship decisively, finishing in first place with a total of 93 points. The Golden Tornado finished ahead of Ravenswood in second place (77), Oak Glen in third (72), Tyler Consolidated in fourth (60) and Ritchie County in the fifth spot (37).
The story of the 2016 state championship team was their rebounding at the state track meet from what had been a disappointing regional track meet leading up to the event.  It was performance sub-par by Keyser’s standards.
As Furey told News-Tribune sports editor Michael Minnich in 2016, “We picked a bad day to have a bad day. We knew that it was a possibility. We knew that Bridgeport was super strong in the distance and they’ve just got athletes everywhere. But we qualified enough kids to go down there and still make a run for it.”
Make a run for it they did. Keyser earned three first place finishes, one from an individual and two from relay teams. In addition, as Furey explained, the Tornado picked up a great many points in field events to claim their second track and field state championship.
That individual first place finish came in the 300-meter hurdles from Deavonta Johnson. Johnson also participated in both first place finishing relay teams. The winning 4 x 100-meter relay team was comprised of Johnson, Maliek Garland, Christian Ravenscroft and Brady Ours. The winning 110-meter shuttle hurdle relay team consisted of Johnson, Brandon Tranum, Ethan Whitlock and Beau Horner.
With the individual first place success of Deavonta Johnson and the two relay teams, and the large collection points from field events, in 2016 Keyser won the state championship comfortably, finishing in first place with a total of 78 points. The Golden Tornado finished ahead of Nicholas County in second place (56), Bridgeport in third (47), Poca in fourth (46) and East Fairmont in the fifth spot (38).
“Everything just came together in 2016, here’s how crazy that year was.  Brady Ours beat one of his teammates in a jump off to even qualify for the state meet in the high jump. They jumped off at 5’8”, that’s what he qualified at regionals with. He goes to the state meet and jumps 6’2” and gets state runner-up. Also, Amante Turner went down there and jumped 21 feet in the long jump, which was above what he’d been doing all year, and gets runner-up as well,” Furey explains.
Of course in both years, the state championship track and field teams were honored in their hometowns and back at the school.  As Furey explained, the fact that the teams arrived home so late from Charleston meant a firetruck but not necessarily sirens and a big crowd. Nonetheless, in both instances, Keyser High School put on a pep-rally event to honor their champions.
“We had schoolwide pep rallies for the kids, and had their parents there and such, which was great. The school really opened it up along with inviting community members. The kids spoke on what they did and what they thought. It was great, the reception from the school and community was great, particularly at the school event,” Furey stated.
We don’t have a state track and field meet to attend or cover this year.  What we do have, however, are fond memories of years gone by, and in this case, fond memories of two state championship teams to remember.