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Flashback Friday: Keyser wins 1923 Class B state basketball championship

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
The 1923 state championship banner that hangs on the wall at Keyser High School.

By Chapin Jewell

Tribune Correspondent

KEYSER - The year was 1923. The world was five years removed from claiming an Allied victory in World War I, and six years remained until the world would plunge into the Great Depression.  A dozen eggs, if not harvested from your own chickens, cost the consumer 13 cents. A head of lettuce, if not plucked from one’s own garden, cost 10 cents.

In a major medical advancement, Insulin saw its first widespread use for the treatment of Diabetes. The ever-famous King Tut’s tomb was cracked open for the first time and first every game played at Yankee Stadium occurred. The world’s first domestic refrigerator was sold, the first flight of the autogiro, predecessor to the helicopter took place, and Estelle Getty, Rocky Marciano and Charlton Heston were born.

1923 was a major year for media outlets and entertainment as well, seeing the establishment of Warner Brother’s Film Studio the first ever printing of Time Magazine.

Speaking of media, if you picked up a Monday, March 19, 1923 copy of the Mineral Daily News, or a Friday, March 23, 1923 copy of the Keyser Tribune, chief among the headlines would be a story about Keyser High’s boys’ basketball team capturing the 1923 class B state basketball championship.

Specifically, the headline in the March 23, 1923 copy of the Mineral Daily News read, “Keyser High Annexes Title in Tournament,” with a subheading of, “COACH CORBIN’S QUINT WINS FOUR STRAIGHT AND CLASS B TITLE AT BUCHANNON: PLAY CENTRAL IN FINAL TONIGHT.”

There you have it.  If you enter Keyser High’s gymnasium at the “new school” off Pine Swamp, you will find a variety of state championship banners, all the ones won by Keyser or an absorbed school dating back many, many years. Most recently is the 2016 boys’ state track championship. The oldest is really old, 97 years, almost a century old, and it belongs to the 1923 boys’ basketball state champions.

The Mountain State’s boys’ basketball tournament was still in its relative infancy at the time. The boys’ state championship tournament began in 1924 in Buckhannon, on the campus at West Virginia Wesleyan College, which, at the time, housed the largest and finest gymnasium in the state.  

1n 1922, the tournament was modified to include both an A and B classification. The distinction between the two classes had nothing to do with school size, but rather the competitiveness of the team, with class A including the most competitive teams, and class B those somewhat less competitive. Nonetheless, state championships were awarded in each classification.

Until 1933, the tournament was an open format with schools throughout the state invited to compete. In 1933, things changed as now sectional winners would advance to eight regional tournaments. The winners of those regional tournaments would then comprise the top eight teams invited to the state basketball tournament.

The tournament was held in Buckhannon at West Virginia Wesleyan for 25-years, until being moved to the Mountaineer Field House in Morgantown to accommodate larger crowds. Since then, the boys’ state tournament has bounced around between Morgantown, Huntington and Charleston, with Charleston housing every tournament since 1972 with one exception (1979/1980) when the Charleston Coliseum was being constructed.

In 1923, the year of Keyser’s class B state championship victory, Parkersburg won the class A competition. According to the March 23, 1923 Keyser Tribune article, “Parkersburg pursued a hard course in the tournament but came through and won the title by true merit of her team.  She first met Fairmont, then came Morgantown, Washington-Irving and Wheeling, and all these were dispatched with comparative ease but only with good generalship and basketball.”

It was expected that Follansbee, Parkersburg’s opponent in the title game, would lose to Bluefield and not advance. In what was described as the surprise of the tournament, however, Follansbee defeated Bluefield and advanced to the title game. Parkersburg defeated Follansbee in the title game by a football score of 24-17.

In class B competition, Keyser would conclude tournament play with an unblemished 4-0 record to claim the top prize. Keyser opened the tournament with a 20-0 forfeited victory over Little.  With a score of 20-0 and not say 1-0 or 2-0, the implication is that Little simply quit.  Keyser then edged Blacksville 19-18 in game two, and trounced Parsons 13-3 in game three to advance to the title game against West Monongah.

Keyser defeated West Monongah by a baseball score of 12-7 to claim the top prize.

According to the tournament story in the Keyser Tribune, which obviously was a story that came across whatever news wire they had in 1923 and didn’t originate in the local paper, “West Monongah played basketball of the highest caliber throughout the meet and would have taken the title had they played more aggressively and taken more chances.”

The story goes on to say, “Keyser did not look like a championship team although they took the title in class B. It was their clever playing and stalling that won them the crown.” Ouch. It’s clear the story came across the wire and Parkersburg and not Keyser got top billing in the story.

The Keyser Tribune also had their own story and it, along with the Mineral Daily News sotry, had a much more favorable slant to the home team in the story.  According to the Daily News, “The local players who took part in the contests were McCarland, Bright, Lyons, Isles, Lowery, Shores, and Stanhagen.”  

Their story begins with, “The Keyser High School Basketball Quint returned from Buckhannon last night on Train No. 12, where it made a clean sweep of the four games and won the Class B title in the West Virginia School Basketball Tournament.”

According to the story, “The team was met at the station last night by a large number of students, who gave a rousing welcome home.”

The Keyser Tribune story details that, “Keyser and West Monongah were both presented with silver loving cups and the members of the Keyser team received individual gold basketballs while the Monongah boys received silver basketballs.”

While winning a state championship is universally recognized as the pinnacle of team success for a high school sports team, even back in 1923, unfortunately for Keyser, their season did not conclude with the state tournament victory as they still had one more game to play.

The day after winning the state title, Keyser had to play Lonaconing’s Central High School for the final game of the season.  According to the Mineral Daily News, “Tonight Coach Corbin’s Crew will end its 1923 W.M.I. League season, having as an opponent, Central High School of Lonaconing.  In the preliminary contest, the Central girls, Maryland state champions, will play the Keyser High sextette.  The games will be played at the Armory.”

The Keyser boys would go on to lose that contest to Lonaconing Central by a close score of 24-22, in what was described as “one of the most sensational league games of the year.”  Keyser let a 16-9 halftime lead slip as Central got hot in the second half to claim the two-point victory.

According to the Mineral Daily News, “In the preliminary game, the Central High Champs defeated the Keyser High School lassies by the score of 51-3.”

It’s interesting to note that West Virginia was one of three states in 1919 to create a state basketball tournament for the girls.  In West Virginia, it was the brainchild of Spencer principal W.W. Lovell.  Spencer did not even have a gymnasium at the time, so they recruited carpenters and the high school shop class to build a gym capable of holding 1,000 spectators.  

Five years later, there were claims sweeping the country that interscholastic sports were harmful to girls’ health.  In 1924, the West Virginia High School Athletic Association, the predecessor of today’s WVSSAC, voted 24-22 to discontinue the girls’ state tournament.  By the late 1930’s, almost all the high school and college girls’ basketball teams had been disbanded.

Keyser High School has a rich history of athletic success, with a multitude of state championship banners hanging on the wall.  That history of state championship-level success dates back almost 100 years, 97 years to be exact, to the 1923 boys’ class B state championship basketball victory.

In 1923, the team was greeted with great fanfare upon returning to Keyser on the train.  While the members of that team are long gone, we salute them to this day every time we see that banner hanging proudly in the gym.