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Upshur County teacher, Gilmer County bus operator receive state’s top honors

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Education named its 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year and School Service Personnel of the Year during a virtual ceremony on Tuesday.

Erin Anderson, a fifth-grade teacher at Tennerton Elementary School, and Susan Kirkpatrick, a bus operator with Gilmer County Schools, received the awards.

The state Department of Education held this year’s event online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Erin Anderson (West Virginia Department of Education)

Anderson has spent two decades in education. Her focus on building relationships with her students includes starting a running club that holds events after school.

“Apparently, my kids love me, and I sure do love them, even the tough classes,” Anderson said through tears. “Especially the tough classes.”

Kirkpatrick has spent 36 years as a bus operator, but uses her EMT experience to teach first aid to school system employees. She also serves as the athletic trainer for the county’s sports teams; she was at a football practice during Tuesday’s ceremony.

“They’re all excited,” she said over the supportive youth standing nearby.

State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch noted Kirkpatrick’s work during the coronavirus pandemic, in which she made home visits and contacted students if they did not pick up their meals.

Susan Kirkpatrick (West Virginia Department of Education)

“For some of these kids, coming to school is a blessing for them because that is when they get to see people,” she said. “If I don’t see them out, I sometimes go up to the door and knock on the door whenever they are missing for a couple of days to make sure, you know, everything is all right, if they need anything.”

Anderson will receive a Toyota car to use for Teacher of the Year engagements as well as $5,000 from both Highmark West Virginia and the Horace Mann Insurance Company. Each Teacher of the Year finalist will receive a $300 grant for their classrooms and a Blenko Glass piece.

As for Kirkpatrick, she will receive $500 from the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, $2,000 from the Horace Mann Insurance Company, a weekend trip to a state park, a Blenko Glass suncatcher, a desk plaque made by Wheeling Park High School students and an iPad.

Burch will meet with Anderson and Kirkpatrick on Wednesday in their respective counties.

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West Virginia’s Malleable Covid-19 Map

The Justice administration’s color-coded Covid-19 map shows the extent of the virus in each county.  It provides a metric for determining whether public schools can open and whether sports and other extracurricular activities can take place.

The mapping and the data that go into the metric have generated confusion and controversy for a variety of reasons.

The map has undergone multiple changes since its introduction before the start of school. A fifth category was added to the color code (gold) and counties were given the option of using the percent positive metric as well as the rolling average of positive cases per 100,000 population to determine their category.

The percent positive measurement produced a dramatic change in how counties were categorized. When the dominant Saturday map came out last weekend, more counties were depicted as green—the safest category—allowing them to open school and play sports.

That triggered speculation that Justice modified the metric to get the result he wanted.  At his briefing Monday, Justice dismissed the criticism. “There is not one chance on earth—not one slither of chance—that I’m going to put up with us manipulating numbers.”

The problem is not with the mapping so much as the messaging. The frequent changes have occurred while groups are pressuring to have football games or open schools, so it can appear as though the desired result is driving the decisions.

Justice is given to lending his ear to constituent groups, especially when they show up outside the Capitol to make their case. However, that does not mean tweaking the metric is wrong.

Under the previous system, just a few positive cases in a county were enough to shut down schools and extracurriculars.  That discouraged testing and made it harder for local health officials to identify individuals with the virus and conduct contact tracing.

West Virginia Covid-19 Czar Dr. Clay Marsh said adding percent positive “allows us to incentivize communities to test in order to both reduce Covid spread from super-spreaders and to have the county deemed safe for school and activities.”

Additionally, Justice has ordered the amount of testing to roughly double to 7,000 a day.

The importance of increased testing is backed up by other experts published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“When there is not enough testing in an area, people who are infected with coronavirus don’t get counted, and they don’t know to isolate themselves. As a result, these people can spread the coronavirus and cause disease in their communities,” wrote David Dowdy and Gypsyamber D’Souza.

It is appropriate for Justice and his team to fine-tune the mapping procedures, not to get the outcome they desire, but rather to better identify and contain the virus.  Hopefully, they have now settled on best practices that will provide a more accurate measurement.

Each change may be an improvement, but it also prompts distrust among a public that is already wary of official declarations about the virus and weary of shifting policies.


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Nine football teams open their seasons in Week 5

— Story by Taylor Kennedy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As we head into Week 5 of the 2020 high school football season, there are a number of teams that have yet to start their season. The teams competing for the first time this week include: Clay-Battelle, Meadow Bridge, Midland Trail, Mingo Central, Morgantown, Oak Hill, Trinity (Morgantown), University, and Winfield. Last Saturday’s color-coded map indicated that those nine schools can begin their season this week.

There was a game Monday evening, and there will continue to be games throughout the week. There is one team that will play twice this week. 

Here is a preview of the nine teams that are scheduled to play this week, and a look at who those teams will be playing against.

Clay-Battelle Cee Bees v. Calhoun County Red Devils

Clay-Battelle will make the journey down south to Calhoun County to take on the Red Devils. This will be the Cee-Bees’ first game due to Monongalia County being ineligible to begin its season. 

Clay-Batelle looks to build off its 6-4 record last season, including back-to-back shutout wins to end the season. Clay-Battelle will be replacing eleven seniors from a season ago, including quarterbacks Levi Carrico and Seth Casino. The Cee-Bees will look to either upcoming senior Cooper Watson or sophomore Carson Shriver to take the quarterback reins. They will have help up front as four linemen return.

Calhoun County will be trying to earn its first win of the season. The Red Devils are 0-4 to begin the 2020 season. Calhoun County is coming off a 60-8 loss to No. 1 St. Marys last week. This game against Clay-Battelle will be the first of back-to-back home games for the Red Devils.

Friday’s matchup will be the fourth all-time meeting between these two schools. These two schools faced off last season as Clay-Battelle won 21-14. The Cee Bees lead the all-time series 3-0.

Midland Trail Patriots vs Meadow Bridge Wildcats

The Midland Trail Patriots will head across Fayette County to take on county rival Meadow Bridge. This will be the first game for both squads as their county was ineligible to compete due to COVID-19. 

Midland Trail is coming off a 6-5 season under head coach Frank Isaacs. The Patriots clinched its third straight playoff appearance last year, but lost in the first round to East Hardy. 

Midland Trail is one of several football teams statewide that has yet to play in a game due to the COVID protocols map.

Meadow Bridge looks to improve off a 6-4 season under Dwayne Reichard. The Wildcats missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

The last meeting between these two teams came last year. Meadow Bridge defeated Midland Trail 14-2. This will be the 27th all-time meeting between these programs. Midland Trail leads the series 16-10.

Mingo Central Miners v. Man Hillbillies (Wednesday) & Oak Hill Red Devils (Friday)

Mingo Central will be playing two games in three days. The Miners will welcome the Man Hillbillies (0-1) into James H. “Buck” Harless Stadium on Wednesday. Mingo Central will then head to Fayette County on Friday to take on Oak Hill.

The Miners are coming off an impressive 9-3 season. Mingo Central was able to make it back to the state playoffs for the eighth straight season. The Miners reached the state quarterfinals, and lost to Class AA state champion Bridgeport. Mingo Central lost wide receiver Drew Hatfield due to graduation, but the Miners return quarterback Daylin Goad and wide receivers Devin Hatfield and Isa Scales.

Man looks to bounce back from a 19-0 loss to Wheeling Central. (Photo by Chuck Roberts)

Man played its first game last week against Wheeling Central. The Hillbillies fell 19-0 to the Maroon Knights. Man finished the 2019 season 8-3. The Hillbillies reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2015. 

Oak Hill will also be competing in its first game of the season. Like a lot of other schools, the Red Devils had other games scheduled, but they could never play due to their county being ineligible. Oak Hill is looking to improve off a 3-7 season. During the offseason, Oak Hill hired Dave Moneypenny as their new head coach.

Wednesday’s game will be the third ever meeting between Mingo Central and Man. The last time the Miners and Hillbillies faced off was back in 2012, as Mingo Central won 30-14. The series is split 1-1. Friday’s matchup between Mingo Central and Oak Hill will be the first meeting all-time.

Morgantown Mohigans v. Musselman Applemen

Morgantown will welcome Musselman into Pony Lewis Field Friday night. The Mohigans will begin their 2020 campaign under first-year head coach Sean Biser. Biser spent the last 16 seasons at Keyer, making 14 playoff appearances.

Morgantown is coming off its first three-win season since 1991. The Mohigans are returning key offensive threat Deondre Crudup. 

Musselman’s Blake Hartman (Photo by Christopher C. Davis/@EP_BigCameraGuy)

Unlike the Mohigans, Musselman has already played four games. The Applemen’s only loss came against defending Class AAA state champion Martinsburg. In the last two games, Musselman is averaging 43 points per game, while only allowing 14 points. Senior Blake Hartman recently became Musselman’s all-time leading rusher.

This will be the 11th all-time meeting between the Mohigans and Applemen. These two have faced off against each other for the last seven years. Musselman won last season’s game 35-0 at Waldeck Field. The Applemen has won three of the last five games. The all-time series is tied at 5-5.

Trinity Christian Warriors (Morgantown) v. Madonna Blue Dons

Trinity will head to the northern panhandle to take on Madonna. The Warriors will begin its 2020 season with a new face at the head coach position. In the offseason, Trinity hired Chris Simpson as its new head coach replacing Marcus Law.

The Warriors are coming off their first full season since 2010. Trinity started last season 2-0 with wins over Maptletown, Pa. and Hannan before losing its next eight. The Warriors will be young this season as they have eight upperclassmen.

Madonna is already four games into this season. The Blue Dons squeezed past Steubenville Catholic (OH) 34-28 last week. Madonna finished last season 6-4-1, and clinched a spot in the state playoffs.

This will be the second all-time meeting between these two. Last season was the first meeting between Trinity and Madonna. The Blue Dons defeated the Warriors 32-6. 

University Hawks v. Albert Gallatin (PA)

University will welcome out-of-state opponent Albert Gallatin, Pa. to Mylan Pharmaceuticals Stadium Friday evening. The Hawks look to start off on the right foot.

University witnessed its second losing season in 25 years a season ago. The Hawks finished the season with a 3-7 record. They won two of their first three, but would not earn another win until October 18. University will look to returning quarterback Chase Edwards for some help on the offensive side of the ball. The Hawks averaged 19 points per game last season.

John Kelley is entering his 34th season as University’s head coach

This will be the second opponent Albert Gallatin has faced this season. Back on September 18th, the Colonials faced Brooke and won by nine. 

When University and Albert Gallatin meet on Friday, it will be the eighth all-time meeting. These two schools squared off against each other last season, and the Colonials won 13-12. Albert Gallatin has won the last three over University, and the Colonials lead the series 4-3.

Winfield Generals v. Fairmont Senior Polar Bears

A rematch between two schools that faced off in the first round of the 2019 playoffs a season ago. Fairmont Senior defeated Winfield 63-34 at East West Stadium. 

Winfield is coming off an impressive year. The Generals won seven games, which was three better than the season before. Winfield started last season winning four of its first five. The Generals lost Nick Vance due to graduation. Vance recorded over 1,500 rushing and 1,600 passing yards. Senior John Covert will look to lead Winfield back to the playoffs.

Fairmont Senior QB Gage Michael (Photo by Teran Malone)

Fairmont Senior has completed three of its games this season. The Polar Bears won their season opening game against North Marion, but since then they have lost their last two. Kent State commit Gage Michael looks to be the spark for his team as he has ten total touchdowns this season.

This will be the second meeting all-time between these respected programs.

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Photo gallery: Sherman wins Monday night matchup vs. Scott, 14-8

SETH, W.Va. — Photo gallery from the Monday night matchup between the Scott Skyhawks and the Sherman Tide. Sherman won 14-8.

(Photos courtesy of Chuck Roberts)

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Teachers group concerned about state’s reporting of coronavirus cases

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An organization consisting of West Virginia teachers wants state officials to list all coronavirus cases across school systems, arguing there are more coronavirus cases in institutions than what is being reported.

The West Virginia United Caucus on Tuesday discussed its COVID-19 tracking project, in which the group said there have been 149 cases among schools since the school year began on Sept. 8.

The number differs from the state Department of Education’s data; the department reported 40 cases related to outbreaks Tuesday evening. The department defines a school outbreak as two or more confirmed coronavirus cases among students and staff from separate households.

“If you think of a middle or a high school, there’s many different wings. There’s many different parts of the school,” Kanawha County teacher Jay O’Neal said. “You could have four, five, six cases at a school, and it not be classified as an outbreak because they are not in the same room or not in the same groupings.”

Members of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Education Association formed the West Virginia United Caucus during the 2018 statewide work stoppage to advocate for education issues.

The West Virginia United Caucus received anonymous reports from educators to compile its list of cases. O’Neal said each case had to have documentation, which could have been a news article or an email from a school leader.

“We even got a voicemail dropped in there from an All Call system from a school source. Anything like that we felt like was valid and good,” he said. “We got some screenshots of text messages from people, and we didn’t use that.”

O’Neal warned cases will likely increase, but the state Department of Education’s numbers are showing a much better picture than reality.

Tuesday’s announcement came after Gov. Jim Justice spent Monday’s coronavirus briefing defending his administration’s actions related to the pandemic. Justice stood by the multiple adjustments, which include placing smaller counties on a 14-day rolling average; having nursing home residents and college students count as one case if they live with others who test positive; and the addition of a gold category on the state’s coronavirus tracking maps.

Justice also defended the decision to increase testing, which O’Neal said is a good thing. O’Neal added the data must accurately detail the spread of the coronavirus in school systems.

“We think we need consistent, transparent ways of reporting cases. Not just outbreaks, but all cases,” he said. “We would like to see every county report the case to the public via website, Facebook, All Call, whatever works for the county, but be public about it.”

The West Virginia Education Association on Tuesday announced it is seeking an injunction regarding the changes to the state’s coronavirus policies. Union President Dale Lee said the state’s alterations place students and employees at risk.

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Clerks getting poll workers in place, processing mail-in ballot applications

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes was only able to open seven of 68 voting precincts for the June primary election but he said Tuesday plans are to have all precincts open for the Nov. 3 General Election.

Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes

Rhodes had difficulty finding locations for polling places and poll workers for the June vote which was pushed back from May because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He told MetroNews it’s been different this cycle.

“We’ve had to move a couple of precincts just because the availability of the space but we currently have enough poll workers that we should be able to man all of the precincts in the general election.”

Rhodes said both the Wood County Republican and Democratic executive committees have worked with his office to recruit enough poll workers.

The Harrison County Clerk’s Office is a busy place these days with less than five weeks to go before election day. Clerk Susan Thomas said her county has had more than 4,600 voters request a mail-in absentee ballot. She said they are turning those requests around pretty quickly. Thomas said they won’t have as many mail-in ballots as the June primary.

“We sent out a little more than 12,000 ballots (for the June vote) and got a little over 10,000 back,” Thomas said. “I envision (for this election) we’ll have about 6,000 (ballots).”

Harrison County Clerk Susan Thomas

Thomas said the primary process where all registered voters were sent an absentee application and the general election process where an application has to be requested have both worked fine. Thomas said the important thing is the application.

“The last time we mailed them out we probably got at least 15,000 applications back. The addresses had changed, people had moved and they couldn’t be forwarded. For whatever reason, that’s a lot of mailings to get back,” Thomas said.

According to the Secretary of State’s Office, as of Tuesday 94,413 votes had requested mail-in absentee ballots with 94% of those requests processed and a ballot sent out. More than 10% of the registered voters in Kanawha, Jefferson, Harrison and Monongalia counties have thus far requested mail-in absentee ballots. Clerks in Mingo and McDowell counties are reporting just more than 1% of registered voters have applied for mail-in ballots.

Ballots can be requested through the Secretary of State’s online portal or by calling the county clerk in the voter’s county. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 28. Rhodes predicted the online portal would get busy in the days approaching the deadline.

A directory of county clerks is listed at Voters can call 304-558-6000 for assistance.

The last day to register to vote is West Virginia is Oct. 13.

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W.Va. teachers union says it’s ready to sue over changes to virus map that determines school status

The West Virginia Education Association says it will seek an injunction over changes to the state’s map that determines school status based on the spread of coronavirus.

“Listening to the comments from the governor and his health advisors, the focus has clearly been on getting teams back on the playing field and getting students in school,” WVEA President Dale Lee stated today.

“They forget that in many classrooms and buses across our state it is impossible to practice appropriate social distancing and enforce mask wearing.”

The teachers union is questioning whether continued changes to the map have compromised the safety of students and employees in public schools.

Dale Lee

“Our members have watched the constant manipulation of the map. As each rendition failed to provide the desired results sought by our state leaders, additional changes were made,” Lee stated.

“The map manipulation has gone on long enough. Citizens and educators have lost confidence and trust that the changes made to the map are in the interest of safety and public health.”

Changes over the past few weeks have included placing smaller counties on a 14-day rolling average; having nursing home residents, corrections inmates and now some isolating college students count as one unit; altering the cutoff points for colors meant to indicate county status; and adding an additional color, gold.

The most recent change had a dramatic effect last week.

Initially the map counted just daily positive cases on a rolling average and adjusted for 100,000 population. State officials concluded people were holding back on getting tested because positives would count against their local numbers.

So state officials now allow use of a percent positive figure. Counties are assessed by whichever is better, the average daily positives or the percent positive.

A daily state map appeared with that change for the first time Friday, and then a dominant Saturday map that dictates school status also reflected the switch.

Significantly more counties were depicted as green, the lowest levels, on the map. Monongalia County, which has been red for weeks, very quickly went to green.

Governor Justice

Gov. Jim Justice defended the changes during a Monday briefing, specifying that the most recent ones were meant to encourage more coronavirus testing and identify more people who might be spreading the virus.

“I am very pleased with what we’re doing. I know it’s difficult. I know it’s confusing. I know it’s all those things.”

Justice also indicated, though, that he wants more counties to have opportunities to get their numbers down. Kanawha County is still orange, which means there has been no in-class instruction all year so far.

“The kids in Kanawha County have not been in school. We want ’em in school so bad,” Justice said.

So, he said, “What we need to do is blanket the orange counties and, God forbid, a red county. And we need to test and test and test.”

Justice, during his closing remarks on Monday, specifically addressed school employees.

“Have I not since the get-go done every single thing I can do to keep you safe, to keep our kids safe?” the governor asked.

“Have I ever told you something that’s not the truth?”

The WVEA says the latest changes to the map simply go too far and the illusion of a ‘green map’ does not mean it is safe to return
to in-person learning in many of our counties.

“We know how important it is for students to be back in classrooms working with their teachers. No one wants in-person education more than our members, but they no longer feel safety is the top priority of our state government’s leadership.

“We have educators all over the state who have lost confidence in the governor and his statements regarding his desire to keep them safe.”

The union says the only way to restore confidence in the process and ensure safety in public schools is to adopt a new system from independent experts recognized in the field of infectious diseases and public health, such as the original color-coded map from Harvard.

The state originally modeled its map on one developed by Harvard but altered it over time.

A map from Harvard Global Health shows far fewer counties with the lowest green level, more in yellow or orange and two counties — Kanawha and Gilmer — as red.

Justice was asked on Monday how parents can be confident if they look at the differences between the state map and the Harvard map.

Justice responded, “I don’t know why in the world all of a sudden the Harvard map is a better map than the experts right here in West Virginia are doing.”

The governor continued, “The Harvard people naturally want their map to be one-size-fits-all.”

WVEA says its injunction “seeks to return the state’s color-coded map to reflect the intent of those national experts regarding the health and safety of our students and employees.”

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Baylor game will test WVU’s ability to improve and adjust after loss at OSU

(Neal Brown pregame Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Three days after the Mountaineers’ 27-13 loss at Oklahoma State, WVU head coach Neal Brown balanced the obvious disappointment of a lost opportunity with the need to move on to face a Baylor team that dominated Kansas 47-14 in their opener.

“It is not the outcome we wanted,” said Brown. “I thought that we had some opportunities to win the game. And we didn’t do it. So we have to continue to get better. Not only the players, but coaches.

“That game was winnable. There were winning plays we could have made that could have changed the outcome. We didn’t make them. You have to learn from those things.”

Specifically, Brown pointed to West Virginia’s 12 penalties which cost them 106 yards. 7 of those penalties occurred in the second quarter alone, when the Mountaineers fell behind by 17 points.

“The procedure penalties and the non-aggressive penalties, those have to be eliminated before they kill yourself. And the selfish penalties, Leddie (Brown) had one after the whistle had blown, we have to eliminate those.

“Where we are at right now as a program is that we can’t beat ourselves. Whether that is turnovers, whether that is missed assignments, penalties, we can’t do that. We have to get better at it.”

Oklahoma State Cowboys running back LD Brown (0) runs the ball against West Virginia (Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports)

“We did so many things to not win that game,” said WVU cornerbacks coach/co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae. “And we still had a chance in the end. What that says is that if we can clean up those things, offensively, defensively and special teams, we have something special going on here. But it is going to take us to clean those up. It takes the work.”

Junior quarterback Jarret Doege passed for 285 yards against OSU. That was his second-highest passing total in five starts at WVU. But the Mountaineers missed out on some chances to hit big plays in the passing game.

“He missed a couple throws. Those were footwork when he got his feet tangled up. What is came down to was he was trying to rush. He was trying to throw the ball before the running back got cleared. We missed two that would have been big plays. He had a couple where he didn’t have his eyes in the right spot. But you are never going to be perfect on those.”

“The decision making was pretty good but when you miss key opportunities as an offense in a game like that that is heavily conflicted with man and zero coverage, the one miss or the one drop or the one misread we may have had kind of collectively added up to three or four things,” said WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker.

Through two games, Sam James is West Virginia’s leading receiver with ten receptions. But he was held to just 32 yards receiving against the Cowboys.

West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Sam James (13) catches a pass for a touchdown against Eastern Kentucky (Photo by Will Wotring/The Dominion Post)

“I don’t think Sam would play that way again if we line up again,” Parker said. I think there was a lot of thought in some things he was doing to get off man press. And sometimes when you think too much you don’t respond and let your body do what it is born to do. We are going to give him a better plan and nobody takes more responsibility with that than me.”

As the Mountaineers turn the page to Saturday’s contest against Baylor, they will face a Bears team that has played only one game. Their lone scheduled non-conference game vs. Houston was wiped out due to COVID cases on the BU roster. Baylor rushed for 203 yards in their season-opening win over Kansas in the debut for Dave Aranda as the Bears’ head coach.

“When you put on Baylor’s tape, they are a tough, physical team that runs very well,” Brown said. “You can tell they have a really good culture there that Matt Rhule built and Coach Aranda and his staff continue to maintain.

“I think they want to run the football. Coach (Larry) Fedora (offensive coordinator) always ran the football and played with tempo. They’ll throw it too but with the talent they have at running back, people try to get their best players the ball. And those running backs are special.”

“The tempo is probably going to be the biggest issue,” said WVU defensive line coach/co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “They try to get you in some scenarios, formation-wise off that tempo. They are not very complicated up front. So they play fast, they play hard and they are physical.”

“That culture has remained pretty good by seeing one game,” Parker said. “I think just seeing how hard they play, they line up and they are sound. Kids know what to do and they play fast and they play hard. What better compliment to a football team to see that, especially with what we see on the defensive tape.”

Baylor Bears quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) makes a throw in the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl (Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports)

The Mountaineers will face Baylor’s senior signal caller Charlie Brewer for the fourth time. He has completed 29-of-47 passes for 408 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions against WVU.

“He makes plays with his feet,” Brown said. “They’ll run him a little bit. Where he really hurts you is on called pass plays where he scrambles and breaks the pocket.”

“He is a chain mover,” Addae said. “He doesn’t necessarily wow you with anything specifically, but he is really sound at just about everything.”

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Baseball returning to Bluefield, Princeton with new format

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — After questions revolved around the future of minor league baseball in Bluefield and Princeton this summer, those clubs finally have answers and baseball fans should be thrilled.

Major League Baseball (MLB) and USA Baseball announced Tuesday a new format for the Appalachian League, home of clubs in those two respective West Virginia cities, with a planned launch opening day in June 2021.

The league will feature the top rising college freshmen and sophomores in a 54-game game wood-bat season from June to August with an All-Star Game and playoffs.

“We are thrilled. The format that MLB has provided for us will ensure that we hold baseball here in our communities for quite some time,” Rocky Malamisura, the General Manager of the Bluefield Baseball Club told MetroNews.

Rocky Malamisura

As part of the deal, Bluefield will drop its MLB affiliation for the first time in over 60 years and its nickname associated with the Toronto Blue Jays. All 10 teams in the league will go through a rebranding process and create nicknames, logos and uniforms at a later date as they will no longer be a professional rookie league through Minor League Baseball (MiLB).

Malamisura said MLB will still be represented in games through scouting departments. According to a joint release, the Appalachian League will become a part of the Prospect Development Pipeline, the collaborative effort between MLB and USA Baseball that establishes a player development pathway for amateur baseball players in the United States.

MLB also said players will receive instruction from former MLB players and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes. The players will no longer be paid and controlled by a MLB parent club.

The parties are in communication with the NCAA to ensure athlete eligibility requirements are met. Malamisura said the league will feature Division I athletes along with Division II, II and NAIA where players could move on to the famed Cape Cod wood-bat league.

MLB and USA Baseball have already begun the process of identifying and inviting the 320 players to participate in next year’s league.

“The communities of the Appalachian League have supported baseball since our founding in 1911. We are grateful to MLB and USA Baseball for bringing this exciting opportunity to our fans and look forward to welcoming players, coaches, MLB scouts, and fans into our cities next summer,” Dan Moushon, the President of the Appalachian League said.

Dan Moushon

The future of those teams had been in doubt as MLB had been in discussions with MiLB to cut down the minor leagues by roughly 40 teams, even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2020 season.  A 10-year Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB was set to expire at the end of the 2020 season.

Malaisura said the news is reassuring for his 42 gameday staff employees and the near $14 million impact on the economy between Bluefield and Princeton.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.) released a statement about the announcement, “After months of conversations with Major League Baseball, USA Baseball, and the Appalachian League, I am pleased by this agreement to bring the Appalachian League into the Prospect Development Pipeline. This collaboration will directly benefit our two Appalachian League teams in Bluefield and Princeton, which provide many West Virginians with entertainment and family time and foster a love of the American pastime.”

“Through this new arrangement, our communities will host the premier baseball players in the country, giving West Virginians a chance to see baseball’s future stars before they reach the big leagues. I am committed to ensuring the future of all of West Virginia’s minor league teams, and I will work with everyone involved to ensure these teams receive the support they need to succeed during this transition and look forward to seeing top talent play in the Mountain State for many years to come.”

In a similar statement, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), “Though we have missed baseball this summer on the diamonds across West Virginia, today’s announcement is great news for Bluefield and Princeton, and frankly for anyone who enjoys watching our nation’s game in a West Virginia summer. The announcement of this new format for the Appalachian League made today by MLB and Baseball USA ensures future summer nights in Princeton and Bluefield will be spent watching our national pastime. This partnership will enable the baseball tradition that has existed for decades in Mercer County to continue for many to come. I couldn’t be happier.”

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Another letter from senators to WVU and Marshall, this one supporting presidents’ decisions

Eight West Virginia senators have sent a letter to the president of West Virginia and Marshall universities, taking a different approach from their counterparts who recently suggested those universities’ resources were being used to promote hate speech.

Democrats in the state Senate wrote that they appreciate tough decisions made recently by West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and Marshall President Jerome Gilbert. They’re also inviting students to talk.

“We think this moment requires us not to point fingers, call names and create further division in our state, but instead to listen to one another with compassion in an attempt to find a positive way forward,” the Democratic senators wrote.

Their letter was a response to one sent this month by 17 Republican Senators who objected to “Black Lives Matter” stickers on some West Virginia University football players’ helmets.

That letter also focused on recent comments by a Marshall University professor who told students during a virtual lecture that she hopes all of President Trump‘s supporters contract the coronavirus and die before the November election.

Drawing a connection between the helmet stickers and the professor’s comments, the letter from the Republican senators stated, “These behaviors are inherently disgusting, but the use of law abiding taxpayers’ money against their very country, especially in light of the violence these movements have displayed, is beyond any excuse,” the GOP senators wrote.

They went on to write that the taxpayers in their districts “would rather see those tax dollars returned to them or used for a more honorable purpose.”

MORE: W.Va. senators blast BLM stickers on WVU helmets, ‘get it and die’ comments by Marshall professor

Marshall issued a statement to say that it does not condone comments by the biology professor, who has been suspended. The statement said the university will take action after the conclusion of an investigation by the chief academic officer.

WVU said no taxpayer dollars were used for the BLM helmet stickers and that players have worn them voluntarily.

Black Lives Matter refers both to an organization — the Black Lives Matter Global Network — and a broader decentralized movement. The Black Lives Global Network says it is working “for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.”

But the movement is broader and involves hundreds of locally organized groups.

“It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction. The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality,” WVU said in a statement.

The Democratic senators, in their own letter sent this week, proposed a listening session with students. That letter does not specifically mention the one sent earlier by Republican senators.

“In the wake of recent questions raised, we want to begin a positive dialogue between elected officials and your students and student athletes,” the Democratic senators wrote.

“Now more than ever, during a time of racial and political tension in the midst of a public health crisis, we feel it is incumbent on us to listen to our youth. They are our future and will lead us into it.”

Gilbert Gee Letter 9 28 20 (Text)

That letter was signed by Democratic senators Stephen Baldwin of Greenbrier County, Corey Palumbo of Kanawha County, Bill Ihlenfeld of Ohio County, Richard Lindsay of Kanawha County, Mike Romano of Harrison County, Ron Stollings of Boone County, Mike Woelfel of Cabell County and Bob Beach of Monongalia County.

Baldwin said the letter was meant to recognize current times have political and racial turbulence, as well as anxiety over public health. He said senators wanted to reach out to youth navigating this moment.

“We didn’t want to put thoughts in somebody else’s head, we didn’t want to call anybody names, we didn’t want to make value statements necessarily and tell you what we believe about the situation,” Baldwin said.

“We wanted to instead say maybe this is the time to listen, especially to our young people.”

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