WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - For West Virginia University men's basketball coach Bob Huggins, the 2012 Greenbrier Classic was more than a golf tournament, it was an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for a charity he's set up to benefit West Virginia coal miners and their families.
Huggins is the honorary chairman of Remember the Miners, a nonprofit organization set up to raise awareness for issues affecting coal miners and their families. The organization also provides scholarships to the children of coal miners.
For the second year in a row, Remember the Miners has used the Greenbrier's Badges for Charity program to raise funds. In 2011, Remember the Miners used funds from the Badges for Charity program to help fund nearly $25,000 worth of scholarships to miners' children.
Huggins founded the charity with the help of former WVU student body president Jason Parsons after witnessing firsthand the aftermath of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which claimed the lives of 29 miners in April 2010.
Huggins and Parsons visited the families of the fallen miners in the days after the mine explosion as rescue teams were still searching the mines for possible survivors.
"I, like everybody else in West Virginia, was sitting and watching the news and hoping something good was going to happen and wanted to do something," Huggins said. "I think everybody in the state wanted to do something to help."
But Huggins, who had just come home after coaching WVU to its first Final Four appearance since Jerry West played for the school in 1959, was worried making a visit to the Raleigh County mine would hurt more than help.
After continuing to mull over the idea, Huggins called then-Gov. Joe Manchin and asked his advice.
"He said, 'No I think that would be great, Huggs, if you came down, I think that would be great," Huggins said.
So Huggins and Parsons loaded up a vehicle with food and water to take to the miners' families. Huggins also decided at the last minute to grab a box of 125 basketball T-shirts to possibly pass out.
The two arrived shortly after officials briefed the families on the dour state of the disaster. Huggins was faced with the difficult task of having to console families stricken with grief.
"We happened to walk in right after they went in and talked to the families, so it was pretty somber, and water wasn't going to get it done," he said. "So I said to Jason, 'Go get those T-shirts because I don't know what to say.'"
Huggins went around the room, meeting all the miners' families and friends. While dealing with the worst, he said many wanted to ask him questions about the Final Four and Da'Sean Butler - who had suffered a painful left knee injury during the final game against Duke.
"Hopefully, for a little bit of time maybe, we gave them a diversion - hopefully," Huggins said.
But he knew it wasn't enough. So on the drive back to Morgantown, Huggins and Parsons started brainstorming other ways they could help.
"He said we need to do something because this happens in our state far too frequently," Huggins said. "We kept talking about it and we decided to do this, Remember the Miners."