Turf Wars

Morgantown’s AAA football teams battle to be the best.

MORGANTOWN HIGH SCHOOL

Morgantown High School is no stranger to winning. With numerous state championship titles under its belt—the most recent in 2005—the Mohigans football team and Coach John Bowers look forward to more wins in 2011.

Bowers, who just entered his seventh season as head coach, says his athletes are persistent and unwavering. “Our goals are never going to change,” he says. “We want to win our conference championship in the OVAC (Ohio Valley Athletic Conference) and qualify for the play-offs. We want to practice on Thanksgiving Day, which would mean we are in the semi-finals for the state championship, and we want to play on the first Saturday in December at Wheeling Island Stadium, competing for the state championship game.”

The accomplishments of Morgantown High’s football team stems from talented, well-prepared athletes and an environment that fosters success. Bowers says the Morgantown community plays a major role in the team’s achievements. “We’ve won multiple state championships and produced a tremendous amount of athletes who have gone to play at the next level,” he says. “Morgantown is a sports crazy town and we wouldn’t have everything we have if it wasn’t for WVU. We’re sharing the limelight, but it doesn’t mean that we’re neglected.”

Brothers Terry and Tommy Bowden are among a few of Morgantown’s athletes who have enjoyed playing time beyond high school. Terry coaches at the University of North Alabama; Tommy coaches at Clemson University; and both played West Virginia University football in the ’70s.

Bowers’ athletes strive for excellence on and off the field as members in organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “We do things to make the kids better people,” Bowers says. “We establish a good work ethic, attention to detail, and the toughness factor. When they’re out there on the job and being fathers, we want them to do things the right way.”

Bowers says he knows the abilities of cross-town program University High School, but competition is good-natured. “We’ve got two excellent AAA schools in the same town and both have a tradition,” he says. “You can have side by side neighbors who go to different schools, yet they go to church together and play community ball together. There’s a certain rivalry, but I would say it’s a friendly rivalry.”

On a team that thrives off of natural speed, senior utility player Kevin Minehart, junior running back Conner Leone, and junior Jalen Thomas stand out on the 65-man roster and provide leadership at game time. But Bowers’ athletes show camaraderie, too. “They enjoy being around each other and going to battle with each other,” Bowers says.

 

 

UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL

After years of trial and error since the school opened in 1933, the University High School football team started gaining steam in 1987—when Coach John Kelley took the turf. After 25 years of leadership, a new school building, and the construction of Pony Lewis Field, the Hawks thrive as one of the top programs in the state.

Athletic Director Jeff Bailey and Kelley have high hopes for their young team, comprised largely of underclassmen, this fall. “We like to talk about now,” Bailey says. “We take it one game at a time, but we have high expectations for football this year. I think they’re going to do well, have a successful season, and hopefully make a deep run into the play-offs.”

“Our athletes are top-notch kids who give everything they can,” Bailey continues. “When University High shows up to play football, the other team knows they’re in for a game—that’s for sure.”

As Kelley coaches his 25th year, he says the team keeps him young. “Society changes but kids are still kids and football is still football, and I really enjoy that.”

Athletic Director Jeff Bailey calls Kelley the team’s “solid rock and foundation,” and credits the entire coaching staff for adding to the team’s rich football history. “They are second to none, and we are really, really fortunate to have such a great football staff. Coach Kelley is all about getting the right people who are loyal and dedicated to these young men.”

Kelley’s sophomores went undefeated last year as freshmen, lending truth to the theory that success is on its way. “The future might not be right now but it’s right around the corner,” Kelley says. “It’s going to be a successful year now and for years to come. This team will continue a great tradition.”

Now that University High is competing in the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference after the disbanding of the North Central Athletic Conference, it may take the team a couple of years to adjust as new relationships and rivalries form. “We were not happy with the way things ended with the NCAC,” Bailey says. “But we were given lemons and made lemonade.”

Since joining the OVAC, University High has helped develop a sub-conference, the Two Rivers Athletic Conference—made of six West Virginia high schools. “When we left one conference, we actually joined two,” Bailey says. “It’s our first year of the Two Rivers Athletic Conference, which is something we are excited to be part of as founding members.”

Kelley says his team will benefit from the transition. “There’s a lot of tradition up there and I’m glad to be a part of it,” he says. “I’m proud of this school’s idea of presenting more challenges to our kids. I’m a big believer that you have to play the best to rise to that level.”

Neighboring high school Morgantown High also joined the move to the OVAC, bringing a familiar face to a new competition. “I don’t know that I’d necessarily call it a rivalry as much as I call it a partnership,” Kelley says. “It brings out the best in both of us to be successful. It’s a very good-spirited competition.”

Not only do University High and Morgantown High compete, but they also vie for attention from West Virginia University Mountaineers fans.

“I was once told we are always going to be second fiddle here,” Kelley says. “When people talk about ‘the game’ they’re not talking about the high school game, they’re talking about the WVU game.” But Kelley says the staff, athletes, and parents do everything they can to support the high school teams.

“One thing about Morgantown is that the community is football crazy,” Bailey says. “It’s a town I love to live in, and one of the reasons is because of the athletic atmosphere, but UHS and MHS would love to see the communities come out to support all of the athletes who work so hard.”

The Hawks will look to versatile senior quarterback, Travis Maraney, to lead the team. “This year, not only is he playing offense for the first time as a quarterback, but he’s also playing defense as a defensive end,” Bailey says.

In addition, Kelley believes that juniors Tim Kocher, a tailback, Dione Cunningham, a wide receiver, and John Lewis, an offensive and defensive lineman, will be stand out players on the field.

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