Tug Valley 65, Bluefield 61. That was the final score of the 1999 West Virginia Class AA State Championship game. A day that capped a 24 and 2 season for the Panthers and a title that finally put a stamp of success on a program that had a very turbulent first decade of existence.
But that championship was more than just a trophy. It was a symbol that two schools, two communities and two legacies were finally brought together in a successful enterprise. It was THE defining moment of the school’s first full decade.
The school and the community owed Coach Smith and his assistants and those players a debt that may never fully be re-paid. For one shining moment, there was only one thing that mattered to folks from either direction leading to Dens Branch - Tug Valley had arrived. The Panthers were champions.
Fame is fleeting. Memories are short. Championships are short-lived. People move on. Life continues.
Today, the occupants of Tug Valley High School can look at that trophy, but they don’t know the importance of that singular piece of wood and metal to their predecessors of a decade ago and that community. What it meant to a school and to it’s community members.
But now, the names are not Frankie Smith, Greg Miller, Don Spence, Greg Davis, or any of the other members of the 1999 Panthers. Now the names are Garland Thompson, Thomas Newsome, Tyler Hodge, Channing Preece, Michael Evans. Austin Vance and all of the other members of the 2009 Panthers.
They can do for their school and community what those former Panthers did ten years ago.. they can lift spirits. They can unify communities. They can instill pride that they and their classmates have not known. They can be called State Champions.
But first....they must beat Poca. And to do it, just as in 1999, they need their community’s help.
Head Coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson said it best. “Hopefully, playing on our home court Wednesday night will be an advantage. But just because you’re guaranteed a home game, doesn’t guarantee a trip to Charleston. Hopefully, we’ll have a big crowd and that will help us. The bigger the crowd, the better we will respond. It’s been a little more than twenty years as a school now and ten years since we won it. I think the county will see something special Wednesday night. I’ve said all along there is something special about this team and if they come out to see ‘em, we’ll put on a good show for them.”
Perhaps, a championship show.
That’s how I see it from the other side of the desk. See ya courtside at Tug Valley!