By Paul Adkins
Tomorrow night begins a new tradition.
That’s when the inaugural East-West All-Star Classic is set to kick-off at Mingo Central’s Buck Harless Stadium.
Some of the top graduated senior high school players, mostly from the southern part of the state of West Virginia, will meet in the all-star showdown.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
The game replaces the annual Hatfield-McCoy Senior Bowl which was played from 1996-2013. The game pitted the top graduated seniors from the southern West Virginia Coalfields against their counterparts from the eastern Kentucky mountain counties.
The Senior Bowl came to an end only a few months ago when Kentucky reportedly notified game officials it no longer wanted to participate. West Virginia won 12 out of the 18 meetings, including last year’s 32-7 romp.
Now, something new is about to start.
The West All-Stars are led by head coach Gary Mullins, the 11th-year mentor of the Logan High School football team.
The East-West All-Star Classic is the brainchild of Mingo Central High School football coach Danny “Yogi” Kinder, who also started the Senior Bowl. Kinder is serving as Game Director, along with his Mingo Central assistant coach, Joey Fields.
Mullins said he hopes the East-West will catch on and rival the North-South All-Star Classic, played each June at Charleston’s Laidley Field.
The response has been good and Mullins was able to nab 11 players from the Charleston area with the other 21 coming from Logan, Mingo, Wayne and Boone counties.
“I think that this can grow and grow,” Mullins said when asked about the future of the game. “I think that it can become as big as the North-South Game. I think Coach Kinder would like to expand out geographically. That’s what he has in mind. In such a short time with this changeover there has been a great response. That’s the best thing about all of this. The kids are excited to be out there and I can’t wait until Saturday night.”
Mullins said the future goal of the East-West is to bring in players from the far reaches of the state.
“They would like to bring kids from there eventually and have kids from all over, not just within driving distance,” he said.
Walton on West team
Probably the biggest catch for Mullins and the West All-Stars was getting Capital High School’s James Walton, who won last year’s Hunt Award as the state’s best interior lineman.
Walton, a 6-foot-1, 245-pound defensive lineman, led Capital to an 11-2 record in 2013 and the school’s first appearance in the Class AAA playoff semifinals since 1999.
Anchoring the Cougars’ line from his defensive tackle position last fall, Walton helped Capital’s defense give up only an average of three yards per carry and only 4.8 yards per pass attempt. Walton was also Capital’s leading tackler as he averaged more than nine stops per game. In addition, he led Capital in sacks and tackles for loss.
“We’ve heard great things about him and it was good to see him out there on the first day of practice,” Mullins said. “He’s had some great workouts.”
A look at the East
Gilbert native and alumnus Gehrig Justice will coach the East All-Stars.
The East is bringing in players from such powerful programs as Bluefield, Princeton, Summers County, James Monroe and others playing for the East squad. Other schools represented on the East roster are River View, Mount View, Greenbrier East, Wyoming East and Westside.
Justice, who is now the head coach for the River View Raiders, which is a consolidation of Iaeger and Big Creek High Schools, has put together a very good athletic roster.
“This was a chance to work with some kids from Bluefield and Princeton,” Justice said. “This is exciting and it really peaked my interest. Bluefield always has some fast and athletic players.”
Justice has D.J. Edwards, a quarterback – defensive back who starred in multiple sports for the Beavers. Edwards will be playing at Concord this fall. Brennan Wheeler, who will walk-on at WVU, is another skill player from Bluefield. Justin Carter, a wide receiver, is another one of the six Bluefield players on the East roster.
Justice also has 2-way lineman Christian Marshall and Zen Clements, a tight end, which should help his team in the bowl game.
Justice said he’s exciting to come home to Mingo County to coach.
“It’s exciting to come back to Mingo County,” he said. “I never thought I would coach anywhere but Gilbert, but this opportunity came along in McDowell County and I went with it.”
(See team photos and rosters on page B2)