Derek Taylor: Statewide poll will help interest in the sport
The West Virginia Sports Writers Association began to issue an annual All-State softball team in 2005.
Today, the state's sportswriters issued their first weekly prep softball poll. The poll - like others of its kind - ranks the top 10 teams in each of the state's three competitive classes. Media members representing Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg, Wheeling, Martinsburg, Clarksburg, Beckley, Keyser and the state's southern coalfields vote to determine the rankings.
It is hoped by the media that an objective ranking of the state's top teams will aid in raising the awareness of the sport. For years, it has been a staple of the spring sports season in southern West Virginia, and in the Mountain State's Southwest corner, especially. However, as the last decade has seen more success enjoyed by teams in the northern half of the state, many coaches, players and media members came to believe that the only statewide rankings of teams failed to recognize that development.
The sentiment came to a head last season, when John Marshall stormed its way to the Class AAA state championship, snapping a seven-year grip on the big-school title by schools from Region 4 - the state's southwest quarter. It was the crowning achievement for the growth of the sport.
Prior to the Monarchs' title win, northern schools had also recently become more prevalent in Class AA and Class A as well. Class AA saw Ritchie County win the state title in 2011 and Point Pleasant, which was at the time a Region 1 school, won the championship in 2008.
In a somewhat ironic twist, the Big Blacks find themselves in the heart of Region 4 country now that the school has made its return to Class AAA after being in the state's middle class for much of the past decade.
Wheeling Central had a two-year run as Class A state champ in 2006-07 that announced the Maroon Knights' continued power in the sport after they had won seven consecutive titles (1995-2001). South Harrison won the school's first state title in any sport when the Hawks won the small-school championship in 2010.
Some of the state's most successful coaches have made their living in its southern regions - Greg Garber at St. Albans, Ronnie Ooten at Chapmanville and Darrell Moore at Buffalo among them. But make no mistake, the sport has grown not only in competitiveness but in the amount of media attention supplied to it. Consequently, the WVSWA got into the game by naming its own All-State team. Prior to 2005, and still afterward, the West Virginia Coaches Association released its own All-State teams, which often differ considerably from the selections made by writers who cover the events.
The move by writers to become more involved in the sport is an attempt to further the sport's growth.
It also shows that more people are paying regular attention to the sport, which can only be taken as a positive development in terms of not only entertainment but of gender equality.
After all, the state has not had a high school baseball poll of any kind for at least five years.
John Marshall (6-3), Herbert Hoover (2-1) and Buffalo (7-1) top the initial poll. Like the Monarchs, Buffalo is coming off a state championship season. Two of them, in fact. The Bison have claimed the Class A state title in each of the past two seasons, and have only a road loss at Wheeling Central on their record this year.
In Class AAA, Lincoln County (8-2) is second, and is followed in the top five by Cabell Midland (4-1) and a fourth-place tie between Musselman (7-0) and Hurricane (8-1). St. Albans (9-0) is sixth.
The teams that played for the 2012 Class AA title - Ritchie County (7-0) and Wayne (4-3) are second and third in this week's poll, followed in the top five by Robert C. Byrd (2-1) and James Monroe (5-0). The Eagles did not appear in the Coaches Association preseason poll for Class AA.
Moorefield (4-1), which was the 2012 runner-up to Buffalo in Class A, is tied with Wheeling Central (6-1) at No. 2. Sherman (6-1) is fourth and Bishop Donahue (5-1) is fifth.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT