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Legacy of state sports legend lives on

By Candace Nelson

John Stansbury still remembers his grandfather cheering him on at high school basketball games.

His grandfather, Harry A. Stansbury, is the "father of the state tournament." The 100th West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission Boys Basketball Tournament is set to run from Wednesday to Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.

"Basketball was important in my family. Oh yeah, it was important. We had tournaments," John, 65, of Ridgeley, said. "Back then, kids played outside all the time. We always had family games going on in South Charleston. Basketball courts were everywhere."

John and his three siblings - Chip, Beth and Barbara - would routinely go to basketball games, especially when West Virginia University would come down to play in Charleston.

"We had WVU running through our veins. In fact, all four of us went there," said Chip, 59, of Woodbridge, Va.

"I can remember when Davidson was No. 3 in the country, and WVU beat them at the Civic Center. I remember several games when they came from behind, when we had players like Rod Thorn and Bucky Bolyard. I remember those games at the Civic Center," John said.

The Stansbury children remember their grandfather as being very athletic, with trophies dotting the house, said Beth, 67, of Savannah, Ga. In addition to basketball, Harry was passionate about football, baseball, wrestling, and track and field.

Harry was the athletic director for West Virginia Wesleyan before heading up the directorship at West Virginia University in 1917. There, he helped fund the basketball and football facilities.

"When he built the original Mountaineer Field, they told him he was nuts to build it to seat 35,000," Chip laughed.

Of the $740,000 cost to build the stadium, three-quarters of it was collected through private donations from Harry's promotion.

"Before WVU built the Coliseum in the '70s, he helped build Stansbury, where they used to have the basketball games. He envisioned it not just for the university but for the state basketball tournament. But he wouldn't let them name (the basketball facility) after him," Chip said. "But after he passed, they named it Stansbury Hall in honor of him."

Harry's contributions have continued to live on after his death on Aug. 8, 1966.

"The state tournament, for years, has been the centerpiece for the basketball teams - for boys in particular. A lot of folks plan their vacation around this time of year," said Gary Ray, the executive director of West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission. "It's beneficial for students and important for fans. It's definitely an exciting time for our school and communities."

This year's tournament looks to bring more than 68,000 people to Charleston, according to a release. To commemorate the centennial tournament, a public banquet will be held Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Charleston Civic Center where patrons will have the chance to hear players' and coaches' memories over the years.

Individual tickets are $35 and are available at the Civic Center Box office or online at

Contact writer Candace Nelson at or 304-348-5148. Follow her at

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If you go

What: WVSSAC 100 Years of Celebrating Boys' State High School Basketball Tournament Banquet

Where: Civic Center Grand Hall

When: Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Cost: $35 for individual tickets, $400 for a reserved premium table of 10

Info: Tickets available at the Civic Center Box office or online at



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