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Mark Martin's Notepad

Wright was a Ritchie County football fixture for nearly 40 years
November 28, 2012

Mark Martin In 1965 Kenny Wright left a coaching and teaching position at Van High School to fulfill a dream of becoming the leader of his own football program.

After an outstanding high school career at St. Marys, where he was a graduate in 1955, Wright went to Glenville State College and played baseball for Carlos Ratliff. He missed football from day one.

After coaching three sports at Van (assistant football, head basketball and head baseball) from 1959-65, Wright jumped at the chance to head to old Pennsboro High School and become the head coach of all three sports.

“I really wanted to be a head football coach. I loved football (coaching) from the start. My college roommate, Rennie Allen, lived there (in Pennsboro) and helped me get the job,” Wright recalled.

Wright so badly wanted to be a head football coach that he accepted becoming the leader of all three sports without any help. “I did it the first two years without any assistants,” he said laughing.

It was a lot of work, but Wright loved every minute of guiding the Cardinal sports programs.

He had some good teams in the tiny Ritchie County town, but never one that could crack the playoffs. “We had a 9-1 team one year and we had an 8-2 team,” he said of some of the better Cardinal clubs under his direction. “I had two teams that finished third (in the ratings of Class A) when only two teams made the playoffs. Once when four teams made it we were fifth and once when eight teams made it we finished ninth.”

Wright was at Pennsboro for 21 years until the school closed and merged with Harrisville to form what is now Ritchie County High School.

Wright was not only the head football and basketball coach at the new school, but also Ritchie's athletic director. While the two formed Ritchie in the 1986-87 school year, it wasn't until 1994 that the current facility opened in Ellenboro along Route 50.

“It's always tough when you go through a consolidation,” Wright said. “And it was tough having everyone at the old Harrisville High School. But the kids were great and the parents were great. A lot of people in the community hated losing their schools because it just rips the heart of those little towns, that's understandable. But we made it work.”

Wright inherited a group of football players who hadn't enjoyed much success at either Pennsboro or Harrisville the year before. In his final season of directing the Cardinals, Pennsboro went 0-10. Harrisville enjoyed just one win in its final year. The lone Gator victory came against Pennsboro.

Things, though, fell into place during the 1986 season and the newly-formed Rebels finished 7-3 and just missed making the Class AA playoffs. “That really helped with morale at the new school,” said Wright.

While that first Rebel didn't earn a shot at the second season of high school football, several others did during Wright's time of guiding RCHS. Five of his teams in the 1990s qualified and one more did in 2000.

His 1994 squad lost a heartbreaking 21-20 semifinal game to Sissonville at Laidley Field in Charleston. Had the Rebels won they would have been a part of the first-ever Super Six State Championship field at Wheeling Island Stadium.

“Many people felt we had the best team in the state that year as far as Class AA was concerned,” said Wright. “We had some great skill kids and just some good hard-nosed kids. That was a great team.”

The '94 Rebels lost their first game of the year before reeling off 11 straight wins. One win was over Sissonville in the last game of the season. Ritchie also captured a thrilling quarterfinal round game over Bluefield at Stadium Field in Parkersburg.

Wright, who now lives in Parkersburg, has many fond memories from his days at Ritchie County. He said seeing the school's fine athletic facilities being built certainly stands out.

“We just had so much stuff donated and then we had the community volunteering their time,” said Wright, who also enjoyed plenty of success coaching basketball at both Pennsboro and Ritchie. “When” we were finishing up at the football stadium I counted 40-some people putting bolts into the bleachers. That was quite a sight.”

One of the ring leaders of the project was Dick Schofield. His son, Chuck, was a standout for the Rebels who collapsed during a game in 1993 and died a few days later from what was termed a brain injury. It was a rough time for all of those involved, including Wright.

“He was such a great kid and great player,” said Wright. “It's something you never get over. I wake up at nights thinking about it. I always said that if that ever happened I would never coach again. But then you realize how much you are needed by kids. They just swarmed on me (during Schofield's passing looking for direction). I knew I had to stay in it.”

With the stadium nearing completion, Wright went before the school board and asked that the new home of the Rebels be named in honor of his late player. It was an easy 5-0 vote to call the football-playing venue Chuck Schofield Memorial Stadium.

“The day we finished the stadium, Mr. Schofield just sat down in the middle of the field and cried,” Wright recalled. “He died about a year later from cancer.”

Besides his time coaching and teaching in Ritchie County, Wright was very active with the West Virginia Coaches Association.

In 1978 he was chosen to be the head coach of the North Bears in the annual North-South All-Star Football Classic. Wright's North team fell in a close game to the South at Stadium Field in Parkersburg (the game was played there while Laidley Field in Charleston went through a major renovation).

The following year started what would be a 19-year run for Wright as the game director for the annual classic.

“Coaching in the game is one of my greatest thrills and then to meet so many great kids through the years as the game director was very rewarding,” said Wright. Each year the North team Most Valuable Player receives what is known as the Kenny Wright Award.

Wright, who is a member of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame, is still a fixture at sporting events all across the state. He continues to stay busy serving as the Sports Editor for the The Pennsboro News, a job he's had since 1979.

Besides being respected as a fine coach and administrator, Kenny Wright has long been known as a class act. Quite simply, he's a man who has always displayed the Wright stuff.


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