Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 3, 2013

Memories of WVIAC basketball tournament linger

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — The end came on Saturday for the oldest continuous — with an asterisk — college basketball postseason tournament, when men’s teams of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) concluded their 76th and final competitions.

West Liberty won its third straight tournament crown, 92-78, over Fairmont State in the 2013 finale.

The league is expected to cease operations this summer, the final result of 11 of its colleges and universities breaking away to start a new conference. If the league resurfaces, it will be as an entirely different entity from that which forged a long, long history.

The Charleston Civic Center has been home for the men’s basketball tournament since 1960. The first event, in 1935, took place in Fairmont, followed by four years in Clarksburg and the next 17 at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

The asterisk to the claim of a continuous string would refer to the absence of the tournament in the World War II years of 1943-45 — which was the expected response to the war effort.

The WVIAC tournament predates the NAIA’s first championship in 1937, which was followed by the creation of the NIT in 1938 and the launch of the NCAA tournament the year after that.

Bramwell native and Bluefield State College graduate Barry Blizzard has led the conference since November 1987. While the WVIAC was a member of the NAIA, Blizzard received its National Award of Merit.

He also received the Mike McLaughlin Memorial Administrative Award, named for his predecessor as commissioner. The award recognizes “outstanding contributions” to the conference.

Blizzard guided the transition of the WVIAC from NAIA to NCAA Division II, which became effective in the fall of 1995.

The region’s two local colleges have had their time to shine in the tournament spotlight.

The men of Concord College (now University) have had five tournament MVPs, including two-time winner Kelly Mann, and went 5-3 in the championship game. Bluefield State has two titles and three runner-up finishes, plus one tourney most valuable player.

The Lady Blues of BSC have two tournament MVPs in their past — Lisa Smith won it twice — and have gone 2-5 in WVIAC championship games. Concord’s women won it all in their only trip to the title contest.

Among all-time tournament records, prior to the 2013 event, Tommy Pritchett of Bluefield State holds the record for field goals made in a game, firing in 24 buckets in a 118-82 quarterfinal win over Salem in 1973.

Concord’s Todd Lusk holds the tournament mark for three-point field goals made, canning 21 in the 1990 tournament.

Other memorable players in the tournament’s history include West Virginia Tech alumnus Sedale Threatt, most valuable player of the 1982 tournament. He then played 14 seasons in the NBA, including three in which he scored more than 1,000 points per season for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The shooting of Archie Talley, playing for Salem College, was a draw to the Civic Center in the mid-1970s. One of the top point-scorers in college basketball history, Talley averaged 32.9 points per game in his career from 1973-76, and scored 3,720 points, still the league’s bests.

Talley played briefly for the New Jersey Nets before traveling throughout Europe in its pro basketball circuits.

Ron Moore, a standout for West Virginia State in the mid-1980s, went on to play in 14 NBA games.

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The men’s tournament was a popular draw in the capital city for decades.

The University of Charleston, formerly Morris Harvey College, has by far the most wins in WVIAC tournament play, going 117-66 for a 64 percent winning rate.

Pitt-Johnstown has a better average, 69 percent, but was only in the league for a seven-year span, going 9-4 in the men’s tournament.

Concord won the tourney five times. Coach Don Christie led the Mountain Lions to the 1979 and 1989 tourney crowns and his successor Steve Cox took the Maroon and Gray all the way in 1991, 1995 and 1997.

Will Johnson, now CU’s golf coach, was the tournament most valuable player in 1979, and Julius Lockett took that honor 10 years later. Three other Concordians were named tourney MVPs — Ron Ward (1991), Thaddeus Breckenridge (1995) and Kelly Mann (1997 and 1998).

Concord was tournament runner-up in 1936, 1941 and 1982.

Bluefield State College earned its only WVIAC men’s tournament championship in 1996, beating West Virginia Tech 61-58 after coming in with a 7-12 regular season win-loss record.

Terry Brown, now the college’s athletics director, was the head coach of that team; he was also the league’s coach of the year in 1987. David Clark was named the 1996 tournament’s most valuable player, and teammate Carlos Jennings joinied him on the all-tournament team.

In 1999, the WVIAC was among four leagues to record a first, when the leagues each received four bids to the NCAA Division II tournament.

• • •

The first four state college women’s tournaments ran from 1978-81, under the West Virginia Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Later in 1981, that group was absorbed into the WVIAC.

Bluefield State won the women’s conference tournament twice.

Led by coach Kenny Mandeville, the 1985 Lady Blues beat Charleston 85-73 for the championship, the highlight of a 14-2 season. Pam Lucado of BSC was selected the tourney’s most valuable player, and teammate Lynne Kelly joined her on the all-tournament team.

Under coach Tom Jessee, BSC went 19-0 in 1993 and topped Wheeling Jesuit 66-48 in the title game.

The all-tournament team that year included Bluefield State’s Lola Jones, Barbara Simpkins and Lisa Smith, who was named tournament most valuable player for the second year in a row.

The Lady Blues were runners-up five times in the tournament’s 76-year history, including a 76-68 overtime loss to West Virginia Tech in the 1989 championship.

Concord’s women won the conference tournament once, beating Glenville State 63-51 in 1987 under the direction of hall of fame coaching pioneer Georgia Kelley. One of the stars of that Concord team was Vansant, Va., native Tracy Fletcher.

Overall, the University of Charleston has the best winning rate in the women’s tournament, going 67-21 all-time and winning 13 championships.

The 2007 tournament showcased the 25th year anniversary of WVIAC women’s basketball. Jessee was honored as one of its top five all-time coaches.

Among former players, Tracy Wyatt, a graduate of Mercer Christian Academy, was the only unanimous pick of the voting panel. She played one year for Bluefield State and three for Glenville State.

Jones and Kelly, along with Concord’s Fletcher, also made the 25-woman squad.

— Contact Tom Bone at