Derek Taylor: St. Albans Shootout all about community, competition
As a native son of St. Albans, Scott James is somewhat of a throwback in an era when prep sports has become as cut-throat and individualistic as any higher level of competition.
It's fitting, then, that his devotion to his primary sport and to his community have produced what has become the Kanawha Valley's top high school sports event of the three-week out-of-season coaching period.
"This is the 10th year for it. We had seven teams that first year and it's grown from there," James said of the St. Albans Lady Dragons Summer Shootout, which, on Wednesday, concluded two days and almost 90 girls basketball games played in four gyms across St. Albans.
James is entering his 11th season as the Dragons' coach. He also serves as the school's coach in golf and track, and said his hometown ties are a key motivational factor in pushing for further growth of the event.
"I do this to promote two things," he said. "Number one, to promote high school girls basketball, and to do that you've got to have some of the best teams and the best players in the state. We've been fortunate to have that.
"Number two, to promote St. Albans. I was born and raised here. I love this place and I want St. Albans High School on the map as much as possible."
The two-day event had more than its share of star power. St. Joseph shooting guard Griffin Dempsey, who committed to Charlotte on Tuesday night, was there with her five-time defending Class A champion Irish.
Parkersburg South point guard Taryn McCutcheon, who became the darling of the 2013 State Tournament as much as any player has in recent memory while leading South to the Class AAA state title as a freshman, was there as well. The Patriots and Irish went head-to-head in a game Wednesday afternoon.
"Obviously that's the marquee match-up, and it ought to be a good one," said James, prior to St. Joe's beating South 35-27. "There was a question about Mychal (Johnson) and whether or not she'd be here, but still it ought to be a heck of a ball game."
South, St. Joe and Class AA champion Bridgeport all made the trek to Kanawha Terrace this week, as did state powers such as Huntington, North Marion, South Charleston, George Washington, Parkersburg Catholic, Tolsia and Westside.
James' strong relationships with the state's top coaches - South's Scott Stephens and Bridgeport's Dave Marshall among them - have aided in the event's growth, for certain. Every profession has leaders that - within its confines - set the tone and example for others.
If Team A is successful and it attends Event B in the offseason, teams striving for similar success will follow its lead. But that's not enough for an event to sustain growth. James realizes that fact. In all, there were 44 schools that committed, though there were a few last-minute cancellations.
Event T-shirts - popular with players as well as adults - in a variety of colors were sold at the gate to commemorate the event. Professional photographers were on hand to sell their work to players' families who were participating.
A well-staffed concession stand and other amenities are provided.
"I think it has grown, and for several reasons. I was the first one to do this, and we try to do things totally right when we do this. We have a hospitality room that feeds the coaches, the officials and any of the guests," James said. "That and the match-ups we get, because we get a variety of teams from up north and down south, it allows us to get match-ups that you don't normally see during the regular season.
"This year we have all three of the previous state champions from last year and we're allowed to match those teams up. I've always kind of said no matter what happens in Charleston, if everybody shows up and we can get them here we can determine who the best is in the shootout."
The shootout also had the majority of the Kanawha Valley in the field. Of the 13 schools in the area, only Buffalo did not attend.
There is one drawback for James. As the director of the event, he doesn't see much of his own team, which returns all five starters from a club that reached the Region 4 co-finals last season.
SA's varsity went 3-0 on Tuesday, beating Riverside, George Washington and Gilmer County.
"The varsity got to play three games. I didn't get to coach them at all. I got to watch them some," he said. "The J.V. played a couple games, and I didn't get to coach them. It's good to have good assistants. Scott Tweedy runs the show on the varsity side, but I'm meeting and greeting people and putting out fires and I've got to run and do this and do that, but that's OK."
James stays busy, but his hometown, his program, his school and his sport are all better for it.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT