It’s appropriate now to step into my time machine and visit the days of yesteryear — a time when things just seemed to be better than today, even though nobody had an iPhone and the word “internet” was more inclined to be associated with “Star Trek” than anything else.
It was April 2, 1980, and there were a few exciting things which had transpired in the few months that preceded that Wednesday afternoon in Logan County, which was just about a month prior to a Primary Election that today bears mentioning, and will be addressed later in this commentary.
The Pittsburgh Steelers had in January defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19, to win the Super Bowl. A month later the words “Do you believe in Miracles?! Yes!” was blurted by announcer Al Michaels in the closing moments of the Olympics medal game between a young U.S. hockey team and a heavily favored Soviet squad. While I realize that some readers were not even born 39 years, 10 months and 10 days ago today, for those of us who witnessed that televised game, it has to register as one of the greatest sports moments ever.
Unfortunately, not everything was perfect in America, including even the sports world. On the national level, President Jimmy Carter was dealing with escalating fuel prices and American hostages being held in Iran. The latter was an issue that would lead to his re-election defeat.
On April 1, Major League Baseball voted to cancel the 92 exhibition games that remained and the players later went on strike, virtually ending the 1980 major league baseball season that led to a very dull summer of watching pitifully poor replacement players. Maybe what prompted me to write the following column the very next day was that the only thing I had to look forward to that spring day in April was the approaching Primary Election that was coming up in about a month. Here’s what I wrote:
Now that everything is official and the election filings are over with, it’s just about time for us patriotic Logan Countians who are 18 or older to do our duty and vote.
Within the next few weeks, we are going to be bombarded by political slogans, bumper stickers and all kinds of other advertisements, which tend to leave us in a state of bewilderment. With a host of political candidates — and some pretty darned good ones, too — running for various offices within the county, we can now prepare for what should be a very interesting local election.
As usual, the Democratic ticket will present the most engaging results and it appears that three different Democratic factions have emerged within the county. (The Tom Godby faction; the Ralph Grimmett faction; and the so-called “softball” faction).
I suppose I’m a lucky person in many ways because there are two topics I have always found to be of special interest to me — politics and sports — and not necessarily in that order. Logan County abounds with both.
What is fascinating to me about those two fields is the fact that both consist of games, of teams, of winners and losers, all of which can be exciting. But when it comes right down to it, it is the final results that make the big difference.
With athletics, everyone concerns themselves with being the best, defeating their arch-rivals and becoming the champions. Too often, political fields differ from sports in that just being elected seems to be the final answer for many officeholders. Many do not concern themselves with being the “best” and with doing the best job possible for the people who elected them.
Years ago, this was most noticeable in county politics. The poorest people were deemed to be of little value, except for their votes, of which a good majority were bought and paid for. Things have changed in that regards. It is now necessary to be a “witty” politician, not just a “dirty” politician.
The wheelings and dealings that transpire in our government are dumbfounding. It leaves one to wonder if we can ever regain the respectability of the American people and of the international world. American citizens are left wondering why the oil companies continue to double and triple their profits, while the average working citizen watches his or her dollar’s value dwindle, his buying power decrease, and lives become more and more miserable.
Somewhere, somehow, we have been led astray, and it is going to take a lot of suffering, and yes, ingenuity to get back on the right track again. Day after day goes by and nothing seems to get any better, except maybe the weather.
As our elderly people grow older and eventually die off, I fear that younger folks will be left in the dark in some areas that they should be learning in right now. For example, few young ladies, or men for that matter, are learning how to cook, to garden, how to sew, how to patch a roof, or how to deal with other things, all of which were once the basics of our home society.
If we do not learn these things now, I fear that we will be losing a part of our heritage that could eventually come back to haunt us. Already, too many of us lack plain ole’ common sense.
It pays to be prepared, and a wise person would be even wiser to prepare for the worst. After all, there may come a time when we will need to depend upon ourselves — instead of our politicians.
BITS and PIECES
While the words above were written in 1980, I must add that it was also a time when a high school “kid” named Alex Nagy was leading Logan coach Roger Gertz’s baseball squad with both his fielding and his bat. It also was a time when Chapmanville’s Ted Ellis was continuing to guide his Tigers squads in various coaching capacities, particularly baseball and basketball.
In addition, 1980 was nine years after Mark Hatcher had led his Logan basketball teammates to an undefeated regular season and to Morgantown and a brand new coliseum in 1971, where three very early fouls on the Logan star would cost Willie Akers’ squad a probable AAA championship.
I mention these names because, as most people know, all three recently died — Ellis being more recent, while Hatcher and Nagy were just a few weeks earlier.
My connection to these gentleman is splendid. I followed, as a sports writer and editor, Alex Nagy from Buddy League basketball, Midget League football and Little League baseball all the way through Logan Central Junior High athletics and Logan Senior High School sports. In other words, I watched him grow up.
His father, Alex Sr., had been an all-state wrestler for Logan High and was the second baseman on the West Virginia Cable-sponsored softball team for which I pitched, when I was but a teenager.
I lost track of Alex Jr., after he went to college, but I know he became a successful businessman in Kanawha County.
Mark Hatcher and I graduated high school together and later became friends, playing a few rounds of golf together and trading sports barbs when we occasionally ran into each other at stores like Lowe’s or other public places. Mark just a few years back retired as a physical education instructor at Holden Elementary, where my wife was then the principal.
In my opinion, he may have been the best basketball player to ever grace the floors of Logan Memorial Fieldhouse, now known as Willie Akers Arena. Former coach Akers just might agree with me on that thought, too.
“What most people don’t know,” said Akers, just a few days after Mark passed, “was that he was a guard when he got to high school. When we asked him to move to forward, he never balked or said a word about it. He was a fine young man in every way.”
When I first started covering sports for The Logan Banner in the late 1970s, I was given the assignment of covering Chapmanville athletics, which meant I got to know Ted Ellis well, and other coaches like Clarence Elkins, Roger Bartram, Junior Amburgey, Ronnie Ooten, Greg Dalton and Tommy Kirk. Hanging around the basketball locker room, the baseball field, and the old football field, as well as playing organized softball and basketball against Ted, I can tell you two things: He was a competitive winner at all costs and a true Chapmanville guy, whose blood was probably orange in color.
Like Hatcher, Ted and I played a few rounds of golf together and talked sports. However, just a few years ago Ted became a Board of Directors member of PRIDE Inc., of Logan County, a wonderful organization that does tremendous things for needy Logan County citizens, as well as helping a few other counties in certain aspects.
Naturally, Ted and I sat beside each other at each monthly meeting. And, of course, our favorite topics were sports and politics. Even then, Ted fought for his hometown, helping to get free meals served by PRIDE to the residents of Chapmanville Towers, and always expressing an interest in the best for the county.
I worked several years with his devoted wife Marlene while we were employees of the Logan County Assessor’s office. I grieve for her and the entire Ellis family. Ted Ellis is a legend in Chapmanville like Willie Akers is to Logan, and William “Tootie” Carter is to Man High School.
The Ellis family also must grieve for the loss of Mike Vasarhelyi, a nephew of Marlene and Ted as well as County Commissioner Danny Ellis. Mike was another guy I competed with on the softball fields of Logan and occasionally on the golf course. I can recall Mike fondly as that smiling “skinny guy” who became Logan’s chief of police back in the day.
Of course, many things have changed since 1980, but do you know what really stands out about that year, at least politically?
Some relatively unknown softball player, who had been a Kroger butcher, and at the time was employed by National Cable Inc., became a Logan County commissioner. The 28-year-old young man named Arthur Kirkendoll was surprisingly elected as county commissioner. Another young fellow, who like Art, had been a coal miner, was elected as a Logan County magistrate. Perhaps you’ve heard of him — the myth, the man, the legend — Leonard Codispoti.
And now, as legendary radio and TV announcer Paul Harvey would say, “You know the rest of the story.”