West Virginia Athletic Union Tournament
West Virginia Athletic Union Tournament, 1925-1957
The West Virginia Athletic Union Tournament was begun by the West Virginia Colored High School Athletic Union, formed in 1924 among African American schools of West Virginia. Throughout the history of the tournament participation was limited to West Virginia schools, but the tournament had national importance in the African American community well beyond the state's borders because of the strength and vitality of the tournament reflected on African American achievement in basketball. Such nationally distributed black newspapers as the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender gave many column inches of coverage each year to the tournament during the 1920s and 1930s.
The state of West Virginia not long after its founding established a segregated school system in 1863. As the number of black high schools increased in the state and as basketball increased in popularity, and as conflicts developed over rules and competing claims of state championships, coaches and school officials felt the need of a state organization. The league held its first tournament in 1925 at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute (later West Virginia State) a historically Black college at Institute, near Charleston, West Virginia. The first tournament drew 11 of West Virginia’s 24 black high schools. This number increased to 17 by 1927, and 22 by 1930.
In 1929, the northern schools seceded from the tournament, citing travel time and expenses. Some of the northern schools, notably those up in Martinsburg and Wheeling, were much further away than most of the other schools. The northern schools instead conducted a separate tournament, but rejoined the tournament in 1930. In 1931, the schools were divided into three regions—southern, central, and northern--and schools first competed in each of these regions, with the final four from each competing in the finals. In 1938, four regions were set up--north, south, east, and west. Eventually the name of the organization was changed to West Virginia Athletic Union (WVAU).
In the first five years of the tournament, the competition was held at West Virginia Institute, and then the site was rotated among Charleston, Clarksburg, Bluefield, as well as Institute. During the 1920s and 1930s, the competition was dominated by southern schools--notably Colored (Gary), Genoa (Bluefield), and Browns Creek (Kimball)--where most of West Virginia’s black population resided. Browns Creek under Coach H. Smith Jones won four titles during this time, and rival coaches attributed his success to the fact that he just knew more basketball than any of them. In 1935, Genoa (Bluefield) was the very first Southern Interscholastic Basketball Tournament held at Tuskegee, Alabama.
From 1935 to 1944, Kelly Miller (Clarksburg) won five championships under Coach Mark Cardwell, who during his 20-year tenure at the school built a 307-46 record. His success, according to other coaches, was due to being both an excellent coach as well as being an excellent recruiter. He would draw players from as far away as Pittsburgh.
From 1949 to 1955, two larger city schools, Douglass (Huntington) under Coach Z. L. Davis and Garnet (Charleston) under Coach Jim Jarrett, won six of the next seven tournaments. Their dominance was credited to the rise of playground basketball, where the city kids would gather in the parks and playgrounds day and night and play.
Integration ended the basketball tournament and the West Virginia Athletic Union. By the fall of 1957, such long term members as Charleston Garnet, Parkersburg Sumner, and Wheeling Lincoln were merged into white schools. The last tournament was held in March of 1957, with only twelve schools participating. The other black schools had either merged into white schools or had joined the previously all-white West Virginia Secondary Schools Activity Commission. After the last tournament the WVAU disbanded.
The West Virginia black schools also competed among themselves in baseball but not in a regular league schedule. In 1933, the league began an annual track and field competition.
|1925||Lincoln (Wheeling, WV)||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||25-24||Institute|
|1926||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||Lincoln (Wheeling, WV)||30-12||Institute|
|1927||Washington (London, WV)||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||26-24||Institute|
|1928||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||22-21||Institute|
|1929||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||Genoa (Bluefield WV)||28-17||Institute|
|1930||Colored (Gary, WV)||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||21-20||Institute|
|1931||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||22-15||Charleston|
|1932||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||Excelsior (War, WV)||29-28||Institute|
|1933||Browns Creek (Kimball, WV)||Colored (Gary, WV)||29-28||Clarksburg|
|1934||Lincoln (Wheeling, WV)||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||35-30||Institute|
|1935||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Dunbar (Fairmont, WV)||36-22||Institute|
|1936||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Genoa (Bluefield WV)||37-34||Institute|
|1937||Genoa (Bluefield, WV)||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||46-26||Charleston|
|1938||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Colored (Gary, WV)||48-34||Charleston|
|1939||Colored (Gary, WV)||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||30-28||Bluefield|
|1940||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Colored (Gary, WV)||26-24||Clarksburg|
|1941||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||Colored (Gary, WV)||53-50||Charleston|
|1942||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||52-50||Bluefield|
|1943||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||31-24||Clarksburg|
|1944||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Simmons (Montgomery, WV)||46-37||Clarksburg|
|1945||Elkhorn (WV)||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||40-31||Institute|
|1946||Monongalia (Morgantown, WV)||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||48-39||Institute|
|1947||Dunbar (Fairmont, WV)||Dunbar (Weirton, WV)||44-36||Institute|
|1948||Kelly Miller (Clarksburg, WV)||Elkhorn (WV)||43-37||Norfork|
|1949||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||48-34||Bluefield|
|1950||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||Conley (Mullens, WV)||50-36||Institute|
|1951||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||55-53||Institute|
|1952||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Park Central (Bluefield, WV)||64-38||Institute|
|1953||Douglass (Huntington, WV)||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||56-52||Institute|
|1954||Stratton (Beckley, WV)||Byrd-Prillerman (Amigo, WV)||65-55||Institute|
|1955||Garnet (Charleston, WV)||Stratton (Beckley, WV)||74-63||Institute|
|1956||Byrd-Prillerman (Amigo, WV)||Buffalo (Logan County, WV)||69-66||Institute|
|1957||Park Central (Bluefield, WV)||Byrd-Prillerman (Amigo, WV)||26-24||Bluefield|
Author’s note: Much of this narrative was based on an article by C. Robert Barnett: "'The Finals': West Virginia's Black Basketball Tournament, 1925-1957." Goldensell: A Quarterly Forum for Documenting West Virginia's Tradition Life 9, no. 2 (Summer 1983).