Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 9, 2014

‘Country Roads’ special to residents, flagship university

— — “Country roads take me home.” To millions of people who are natives, former residents and citizens of the Mountain State, those words are part of a song that is about a special place.

This past week John Denver’s anthem to West Virginia became one of the state songs along with “West Virginia Hills,” “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” and “This is My West Virginia.”

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 Though the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River touch only a small portion of the Eastern Panhandle and some find the lyrics to be degrading, “dark and dusty painted on the sky...,” I have always liked the song.

I was in grade school when it came out and when I got older and went to college the only songs we played more in the Pride of West Virginia were the school fight songs, “Hail West Virginia” and “Fight Mountaineers.”

It brings back fond memories of marching through Disneyland, performing in the Astrodome, being at an NCAA tournament game in Birmingham and upsetting Oregon State and being ambassadors of the state of West Virginia.

My wife’s relatives in Scotland are familiar with the tune. At our wedding reception, the band played it and everyone joined in to sing.

It has come to be identified with West Virginia University as the marching band has performed it at every pregame show, while forming the state outline, since 1973. For more than a decade, following a WVU home win on the gridiron or the hardwood, John Denver’s original version is played and the team and fans join together in song.

A few years ago the Marshall University band played a version, but athletic director Mike Hamrick called for an end to it, in part due to the tradition WVU has with the song. It would be like Texas A&M playing “The Eyes of Texas,” or the University of Texas playing “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” Just doesn’t happen. Those are both songs about Texas, but tradition has each tune attributed to a specific school.

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While “Country Roads take me home” every day, and night, my brother once said “All My Exes Live in Texas.” I took a nap one day in L.A. Guess I was “California Dreaming,” before I headed “North to Alaska” but wound up in “Oklahoma!”

I was doing fine until the “Kentucky Rain” came down, but it didn’t affect my friends in “Rocky Top, Tennessee.” I couldn’t think of anything further due to the fact I had “Georgia on My Mind.” I once saw the Rockettes in “New York, New York” and that truly put me in a “New York State of Mind” after a young lady told me that her phone number was “Pennsylvania 6-5000.” It turned out she was a “Jersey Girl” who preferred the “Moonlight in Vermont” after traveling on the “Midnight Train to Georgia.”

“I’m Going Back to Indiana” someday, but before I do, I hope to “Meet Virginia” and count “One Mississippi” in my “Private Idaho.”

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Country roads have brought E. Gordon Gee back to West Virginia. Gee became WVU’s 24th president last week. He was also the school’s 19th president who served from 1981-84. Gee most recently was president of Ohio State University, or as the Buckeyes prefer to call it, The Ohio State University, which is actually the school’s official name.

In between his stints at WVU, Gee has been president at Colorado, Brown, Vanderbilt and OSU. I think the naming of Gee to the top position in Stewart Hall is good for the university and the state as a whole, which needs steady leadership at the state’s flagship university.

Gee has at times created controversy with some of his remarks, but he is a straight shooter who is one of the best in the country, evidenced by his leadership at some pretty prestigious institutions of higher learning.

He and his trademark bow ties will hopefully bring stability and credibility to the administration at West Virginia University.

Bob Redd is a sports writer and editorial page columnist for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bredd@bdtonline.com. Follow him at @BDTRedd.

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