CHATTAROY – Growing up in rural Chattaroy Hollow and heading to Morgantown and West Virginia University was a big step for Jim Barnett.
The talented basketball player graduated from the old Chattaroy High School in 1954. He had been named captain of the old Class B division All-state team and also the only small school player named to the Big All-state squad.
He averaged 21 points as a sophomore, 23 as a junior and 26 as a senior and scored 1,785 career points for the Yellowjackets at CHS.
“I was a poor individual and didn’t have enough clothes to go to college,” Barnett recalls. “The businessmen in Williamson had a Jim Barnett day. They gave me clothes, shoes, socks – everything I needed.”
That impressed Barnett and to this day if he can help someone less fortunate, he pays it forward. “Be nice to people on your way up, they are the first you meet on your way down,” is Barnett’s motto.
How did WVU find out about a kid from the southern part of the state in Mingo County? “Jim Van Zant and Joe Hofstetter, two referees had seen me play and contacted coach Red Brown,” Barnett recalls.
Barnett was on the same Mountaineer squad as the popular Hot Rod Hundley, who hailed from the streets of Charleston. “It was great playing with him,” Barnett said. “People packed the house to see him play.”
Hundley, who was a flamboyant player, was an All-American and went on to play with the Lakers in the NBA and then had a hall of fame career as a broadcaster.
An ACL injury to his knee hampered Barnett’s career. Many thought he would have been much more successful at WVU if it had not been for his injury. “I was only about 50 percent when I came back from the surgery and rehab,” Barnett said. Knee surgery in years past was much more invasive than it is with today’s modern surgical techniques.
“It was harder to recover. I played occasionally, but I wasn’t the same,” Barnett recalls. Brown had left and WVU was then coached by Fred Schaus, who brought in players like Jerry West and Willie Akers.
During the time of his injury and rehab, Barnett took a medical redshirt. He took that time to work on his degree. He became a certified teacher in six different studies.
Barnett became a graduate assistant under Schaus in 1958 and spent another year working on his education.
After that he became the coach at Hurley, Va. High School for seven years. He then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he coached in the 1960s. After retiring from coaching, he continued to teach high school for 30 years.
His wife of 40 years passed away from cancer and he moved back home to Chattaroy. He is now remarried to Peggy Belcher and has been back in Mingo County for 10 years.
“I still keep in contact with all the guys, “ Barnett said. Those he played with and those he helped coach at WVU like Akers and his old college roommate Klayce Kisbuch. “The group gets together on special occasions in Morgantown. “
“I love the atmosphere of watching a game up there at WVU, “ Barnett said.
After all these years he is still a diehard Mountaineer fan. He has many fond memories of his days in Morgantown, even though his career didn’t go quite as planned.
The road that led him out of Chattaroy Hollow is eventually the same road that led him back home.
However, Barnett used his scholarship, got his education and became successful in life. And it all started in the little Chattaroy gymnasium back in the early 1950s.
(Kyle Lovern is the sports editor for the Williamson Daily News. Comments or story ideas can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)