By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Northfork and Gary high schools exist now only in record books and in memories, but those memories are strong — strong enough to bring a proud championship past back to life at the state boys basketball tournament this week.
For the 100th anniversary of the tournament, organizers invited people representing schools from Class AA, past and current, to display memorabilia on Thursday in the Charleston Civic Center.
“We’re trying to keep our history alive,” said Dallas A. Jones of Huntington, a 1965 Gary District graduate, who takes parts in yearly reunions “to try to keep the memory and the camaraderie together of coming from that small, small town.”
Patty Boyd, talking with bystanders at the Northfork display, said, “The memories are great. We’ll always have our memories.”
Boyd’s late husband Jennings Boyd took Northfork to nine state titles, including a national record eight in a row.
Patty Boyd’s sister-in-law, Phyllis Romeo, said, “Even people now, even from far away, remember the record and remember Coach Boyd.”
Of the five schools with displays, three were McDowell County schools that no longer exist.
Northfork closed in 1984. Gary District, an all-black school, served its community from 1913 to 1965, then merged to form the integrated Gary High, which had its own display on Thursday. In 1978-79, Gary and Welch high schools consolidated into Mount View High School.
Gary coach Ergie Smith was present, as usual, at the tournament, enjoying the opportunity to reminisce with hundreds of acquaintances.
The other two schools represented were Bluefield High and Romney High. There were no representatives present from Bluefield when a Daily Telegraph reporter left courtside at the basketball arena twice on Thursday to conduct interviews.
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Patty Boyd said she wanted to have a display in Charleston “to represent him (Jennings Boyd) and make sure his memory is going to live on. ... I felt like somebody ought to be here.”
“It’s been great to see so many old fans,” she said. “They are wonderful people to talk to. ... I’m surprised so many people remember the (Blue) Demons and remember Coach.”
Patty Boyd was particularly happy to see “my boys,” she said, referring to former Northfork basketball players who returned to Charleston for the 100th anniversary celebration.
They included Bruce Henthorn, Mark Page, Eddie Ivy, Kenny Brown and Ronnie Tote. Boyd added, “There have been so many, I can’t remember.”
Quietly assisting Boyd with the display was Gary Dove, who kept statistics for the legendary coach and is still a regular fixture at McDowell County basketball games as a writer for the Daily Telegraph and the newspaper in Welch.
“We have had great help from our good friend, and Coach’s good friend Gary Dove,” Patty Boyd said. “Gary will always be there for Coach.”
She recalled a special memory of accompanying her husband to his induction into the national high school hall of fame, then in Wisconsin. She said her late husband “was a great man, and he deserves (this). He didn’t get to be with us long enough to put the icing on the cake.”
“This is the icing on the cake,” she said as she sat beside black-and-white photos of the coach and his championship teams.
His contribution to education was more than basketball victories, she said. She noted, “Jennings was a fabulous math teacher. He was so very proud of all his math students who did so well when they went to college.”
A player on the last Northfork High team, James Redd, was an official at this year’s state tournament. During some off-duty time, he talked about the environment surrounding the Blue Demons’ basketball success.
“It was unreal,” he said. “We brought people up here by the busload. We packed this place out! ... We had a great following, a great energy.”
He said about the basketball players, “We always carried ourselves with great sportsmanship, great character.”
He recalled that after Northfork’s championships, there was quite a welcoming committee waiting for the team bus.
“When they got back to Coaldale Mountain,” Redd said, “there would be cars there from the sheriff’s office, or the state police, and they would lead us down the mountain with their lights flashing and horns honking ... all the way down to the high school.”
A parade followed the next week, “and you’d have all the local bands playing,” Redd said. “And in the first car was Coach Jennings Boyd.”
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Jones was the manager for the Gary District team that won the Class A crown in 1965, and was manager for the football team as well.
He showed a little-known newspaper reproduction listing the teams in the “Basketball Union” of African-American schools in West Virginia that existed prior to 1957.
“This (Gary District) is the second, and the last, segregated school to win the state championship,” he said. The team was runner-up in 1962, and fell short to Mullens Conley in 1963.
“We came back to win it in 1965, which is quite a distinction,” Jones said. “We had a great coach here, Ergie Smith.”
Asked about his memory of that tournament, he said, “It was so very exciting. I knew we could do it, but it was very exciting.”
“We’ve had some outstanding players that came out of Gary,” he said. “Gary was a great, great launching pad — and athletics was only one of the activities we had.”
“One of the sad things about the closing of all of these schools,” he continued, “is that some of the physical history has been lost.” He pointed to a pair of large shiny trophies on the tabletop.
“We had hundreds of these trophies, literally hundreds,” he said. “We don’t know what happened to them all.”
“In a manner of speaking, it seems like it was so long ago,” Jones said. “But really it wasn’t.”
— Contact Tom Bone at