BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — The Coalfield Conference is the oldest high school athletic conference in the state,
but if you ask people around there area which schools are in it or what it is about, you will find there are some who might not have an answer.
What you will find no matter where you go in Southern West Virginia, is a community rallied around every program the school in their area offers. WVSSAC Referee Marty Jones said high school sports mean everything to the area.
“In the state of West Virginia, high school sports is a pretty, pretty important thing to the communities,” Jones said.
Marty Jones and Greg Fernett are long time referees and officials with the WVSSAC, and friends of the late Ryan Higa. They decided to take on the task of revitalizing the conference when Higa’s wife asked them to help keep his memory alive.
“What better way we could do it, right? His name was Ryan Higa. He was an avid a coal miner, you know, avid sports guy, avid kids guy. So what better way to keep Ryan’s name alive. You’ll see Ryan’s name. Wherever you see the Coalfield Conference I can promise you that,” Jones said.
Conference Tournaments, All-Conference Teams, the first and only High School Football Conference Tournament in the state, are all things they hope to achieve, as they believe the Coalfield Conference storied past can help facilitate a brighter future.
“It’s official and we always talk about things, but we never dreamed we’d be in this position now. Here we are. And we just now’s the time that and we’re we’re just moving along I think it’s just gonna get bigger,” Fernett said.
They began that journey with a first ever media day event, bringing schools from across the conference together to meet and connect. At the event they announced AAA teams would join the conference for the first time. Not just football or basketball, but each and every program the schools offer.
“It makes us feel better. We feel like we’re being recognized more for something that we work really hard and we enjoy,” Kaitlyn Lester with Westside Volleyball said.
While the Coalfield Conference is about competition and connection as well as honoring the lives of those who lived and breathed high school sports, at its heart, it is all about the kids.
“You see these kids out here with the smiles on the face and the kids deserve the credit. This is what it’s all about. It’s for the kids. We don’t want the kids to just come out here and play football and play golf and and cheer and be forgotten,” Don Barrett a WVSSAC Observer said.