Nehlen, Pruett rally for Paden City High School
Paden City High School was hopping on Monday night with the high school band entertaining the large crowd in attendance with both the Marshall University and West Virginia University fight songs. On the podium in the middle of the gym floor, two shining football helmets faced each other as if in battle, one vivid blue – the other bright green. But there was no battle in sight, only two distinguished gentlemen heaping praise upon the City of Green and White.
Former West Virginia University head football coach, Don Nehlen and former head coach of Marshall University’s Thundering Herd, Bob Pruett, were in the house that Burton built, speaking on the importance of small towns thriving and surviving in West Virginia.
“Every small town in West Virginia is not like your town,” Nehlen said to the crowd. “You have the greatest adults I’ve ever been around. They have worked and are working to make sure you thrive.”
Nehlen, the 17th winningest coach in college football history, and Pruett, who successfully coached Marshall for more than nine years were speaking at Paden City High School as part of the Legends of West Virginia Football and were sponsored by the Don Nehlen Chapter of the National Football Foundation, the College Hall of Fame, the Paden City Foundation, Inc. and the Paden City High School Athletic Department. Fred King, athletic director at Paden City High School and Rodney McWilliams, president of the Paden City Foundation were instrumental in bringing the team of well known coaches specifically to Paden City.
The coaches were greeted with enthusiasm by the hometown crowd and the several out- of-towners in attendance. Obviously friends, the two guest speakers entertained the gathering with quips and inspirational stories. They were eager to point out the positive aspects of living in a small town in West Virginia and stressed their own opinions of keeping the spirit and pride in Paden City.
At a press conference held prior to the public forum, the two celebrated coaches spoke candidly and with emphasis of the necessity of small towns to the well being of the state of West Virginia and the large role played by high schools and high school athletics in these small communities.
“In my opinion the one rallying point you have here is your high school athletics,” Nehlen said. “When that disappears, your town disappears.”
“They closed my high school you know, and looking back it’s amazing the amount of spirit (the town had) back then. Now there’s nothing.”
The coach said he’d been in Paden City only a few hours and had met several people, all of them welcoming with smiles on their faces. “You take this school and these teams out of here, you won’t see anybody smiling,” he said.
Pruett concurred adding that sports alone were not the only reason for a community to hold onto a school. “This is bigger than athletics,” he said. “It’s what memories are made of. The pride and the love you have here is very, very special, and you won’t find it anywhere else. Each situation is different, every town is different, but I’d really hate to see this pride lost here. It will not carry over to other places.”
As ambassadors to keep small schools alive in the state and obvious advocates for small town athletics, both men spoke of the need for people in these communities to work together and not give up the fight to keep their schools. They praised those in Paden City working so diligently in the past several months to protect the future of their school, and urged them to never stop.
Coach Pruett said he was unaware of Paden City’s uncertain future until he attended the first football game this season at Van High School in Webster County. “I’m telling you, the pride that your people have in this great town is really something,” he said. “When I heard that the town purchased and built the football field, and did so many other things, make improvements, build that new facility (the new building)?? and all, I was impressed. This community is thriving. Your enthusiasm is awesome. I hope you get to keep that.”
Nehlen agreed, quickly saying he was not a politician. “But your high school is very, very important. You have to have that kind of community pride.”
The former West Virginia head coach also said in his opinion being part of a sports team is important. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “I think football is important. Let’s face it, there is something about being on a team that brings out the best in you,” Coach Nehlen said. “Small schools and small athletic programs are getting hammered here in West Virginia, we’re just trying to hammer back a little bit.”
“We need to stand up and be proud of what we’ve got,” Pruett said.
In the gym, in front of the crowd, both famed coaches urged youngsters to be part of the plan for the future of Paden City. They each advocated being part of a team in their own way, Pruett by recognizing and praising members of the Wildcat football team and Nehlen by encouraging parents of sons, and sisters of brothers to “get these boys on a team.”
The evening ended with a stirring, heartfelt speech by Rodney McWilliams, beseeching each and every citizen to keep the spirit of their city alive. He said living in Paden City meant understanding the three “R’s” that described their community: Rich in History; Ready for Today; and Reaching for the Future. He highlighted the recent West Test scores of students in the state, stating that only four other high schools in West Virginia ranked above Paden High School. “We’re learning in Paden City,” he said. “We learning and we’re teaching.”
The tone of McWilliams’ speech left no one in the room in doubt as to how he felt about his community and his school and his willingness to continue to fight for the future of both.
“We’re not giving up,” he said. “It’s not the dog in the fight. It’s the fight in the dog.”
In this scenario, on this night, in this atmosphere, he probably meant, ‘Cat. Wildcat.