West Virginia’s greatest sports legends
When it comes to sports, the Mountain State leads the pack. Take a look: our athletes and coaches are some of the most recognized basketball and football figures in America!
See if you recognize these sports heroes:
Jerry West | Basketball
As a child, this Cheylan native didn’t have much; his father worked in the mines, and a neighbor’s rusty basketball hoop was one of his few pleasures.
Those years of hardship forged in Jerry West a will of iron. It’s a characteristic found in many West Virginians. In his case, the plucky youth channeled his competitive streak into the one thing he could control: basketball.
From that neighbor’s hoop, West rocketed to stardom at West Virginia University. He then became the Los Angeles Lakers’ greatest athlete and, according to the NBA website, “one of the greatest guards” in the sport. Incredibly, West won all-star honors every year. His 6,238 career assists belong to basketball history, too.
His legacy continues to this day. If you’ve ever seen the NBA logo, that’s West — at least, that’s the unofficial theory. What’s more, he amassed so many victories for the Lakers that the team retired his number (44). WVU also paid tribute to its indomitable athlete with a bronze statue; the next time you’re near the Coliseum, keep your eyes peeled for “Mr. Clutch.”
Hal Greer | Basketball
This humble athlete from Huntington so underestimated his abilities, he didn’t unpack his bag after arriving at the Syracuse Nationals’ training camp.
Hal Greer proved his worth in no time. During his time with the Nationals and Philadelphia 76ers, he made all-star honors 10 times. He also broke multiple records, including basketball’s top 10 career points, total field goals attempted and made and minutes played. In fact, Greer competed in 1,122 career games — an accomplishment that remains unbroken in NBA history.
Rod Thorn | Basketball
This athlete was so impressive that state legislature declared him a “natural resource” in order to retain him for WVU.
Rod Thorn played for the university during the 1960s and made All-America honors. From there, the Weirton youth shot hoops for the Baltimore Bullets, Detroit Pistons, St. Louis Hawks, and Seattle SuperSonics.
Later, Thorn coached the Chicago Bulls. Among his many successes for that team was the moment he drafted a young athlete named Michael Jordan.
Cam Henderson | Basketball and Football
This Joetown native left an indelible mark on sports history with his pioneering innovations.
Cam Henderson’s talent lay in coaching, and he first trained basketball and football athletes at Marshall University in 1935. He eventually devised the “fast break” for basketball and the “double-wing offense” in football, among others.
Not surprisingly, Henderson led the college through scores of victories in both sports. His basketball record— 362 wins, 16 losses— is unmatched. And until 2001, Henderson’s football record was unbeaten, too.
In 1981, Marshall University built an indoor stadium in his honor.
Mary Lou Retton | Gymnastics
One of the most famous athletes in the world hails from Fairmont!
Mary Lou Retton captured the public’s imagination in 1984, when she dominated the Los Angeles Olympic games. The agile gymnast won 5 medals, including a gold in the women’s all-around competition. She’s the only American to hold such an accomplishment. She also scored perfect 10s on the floor and vault.
Later, Retton was crowned “Sportswoman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated and “Amateur Athlete of the Year” by the Associated Press. She’s still one of the most popular, appealing athletes in the country. But Retton never let fame go to her head; modest and humble, she now cheers from the stands whenever her daughters compete in gymnastics.
There’s a park in Fairmont named after her.
Randy Moss | Football
This wide-receiver from Rand made All-American honors as a Marshall University athlete. His sports career only got better from there.
As a rookie player in 1998, Randy Moss made 17 touchdown receptions — an NFL record. His resume includes the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, and New England Patriots. He retired in 2012.
Forever energetic, Moss remains an active force in sports. He keeps TV audiences entertained with his spirited delivery as an analyst for ESPN. Moss also manages a football academy and keeps fit with a bootcamp class in North Carolina. Anybody can sign up for these free workout sessions, too!
Nick Saban | Football
A quiet coach from Fairmont leads the Crimson Tide to victory after victory.
Most folks, to some extent, are familiar with the University of Alabama’s fabled team. Coach Nick Saban adds to the “Roll Tide” legacy; he has a knack for picking the most talented athletes and assistants available.
His keen perception and insight bear fruit every season. The Crimson Tide is one of America’s leading college football teams, and its record seems as unstoppable as the university’s elephant mascot.
Saban currently holds 5 NCAA championships.
Rick Tolley | Football
Marshall University’s head coach from decades ago remains firmly embedded in Mountain State history.
In 1970, the college faced its greatest tragedy. Rick Tolley, 37 football athletes, coaches and staff were flying back from a game in Blacksburg, Virginia, when the plane crashed. All 75 passengers died instantly.
The film “We Are Marshall” pays tribute to Rick Tolley and his team.
Ben Schwartzwalder | Football
This honorable coach has the distinction of being a WWII hero, too.
Despite his lanky build and short height, Ben Schwartzwalder played football for WVU under Alfred Earle “Greasy” Neale. He eventually became a promising high school coach, although war put that career on hold.
Schwartzwalder became a paratrooper and landed behind enemy lines on D-Day. Fortunately, he navigated his way to Allied lines. He eventually reached the rank of major and earned the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, and several battle stars.
As a civilian, he continued to accrue honors. He coached the Syracuse Orange, won a national championship in 1959, and garnered 22 years of solid victories.
Jimbo Fisher | Football
This Clarksburg native grew from humble beginnings to reach the sport’s highest echelons.
As the son of a miner and school teacher, Jimbo Fisher had a modest childhood. Yet he strove for success and earned it through sheer grit.
The burly football athlete played at both Salem International University and Samford University before serving as a coach. For a time, he was an offensive coordinator for Louisiana State University under Nick Saban. Florida State University hired him next, where he won more games as a first-time coach than anyone previously.
Today, Fisher leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with a .829 winning percentage.
Bill Mazeroski | Baseball
One of the best second basemen in baseball history is from Wheeling.
Bill Mazeroski was so talented, he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates shortly after graduating from high school. He eventually earned 8 Gold Glove Awards.
Without a doubt, his most impressive moment came during the 1960 World Series. The Pirates were trailing, but he smacked a home run the bottom of the 9th inning during the 7th game. This was ironic, given Mazeroski’s preference for fielding over batting. It was the first time the Pirates won the World Series in 35 years.
Who is your favorite West Virginia athlete?
This post was last updated on July 28, 2020