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Mark Martin's Notepad

Gary Dove recalls one of the great McDowell County teams
November 4, 2013

Mark Martin One of my favorite things to do is talk with natives of various West Virginia counties who know the history of sports in their areas inside and out.
In McDowell County, that individual is Gary Dove.

He is a walking athletic encyclopedia for that once heavily populated area of the state.

Dove also possesses a plethora of knowledge when it comes to other parts of the great state of West Virginia when it comes to sports.

A proud 1967 graduate of old Northfork High School, Dove started keeping stats for the basketball team during the 1965-66 season. He became the football team’s statistician his senior year in the fall of 1966.

He would continue to keep the stats for both programs until the school closed in 1984.

Dove was there during Northfork’s national-record run of winning eight consecutive Class AA state championships in boys basketball under the guidance of the late Jennings Boyd.

I enjoy reminiscing with Dove about those teams in addition to the many legendary sports figures who played for the likes of Northfork and the county’s other schools back then of Welch, Gary, Big Creek and Iaeger. McDowell County is now down to just two high schools in Mt. View (Northfork, Welch and Gary) and River View (Big Creek and Iaeger).
When sports followers around the state think of Northfork, the incredible feat by Boyd’s basketball program comes to mind.

But there was good football being played there as well.

This season marks the 40th anniversary of the Blue Demon football squad winning the Class AA football crown in 1973.

The Blue Demons went 12-0 and defeated old Ceredo-Kenova, 14-13, for the Class AA championship at Bluefield’s Mitchell Stadium. “The paper said there were about 8,000 people there for that game,” Dove said of the Friday night showdown.

“We thought at the beginning of the year that we could have a pretty good team,” said Dove. “We had gone 8-2 in 1972 and only lost to Gary, 20-8, and Welch, 22-6. We ended up not making the playoffs (when just four teams qualified).”

The Blue Demons got out of the gate quickly in 1973 on their way to the title. They opened with a 44-8 win over Gary and then topped Stoco (now a part of Independence in Raleigh County), 56-0. Next came shutouts over Greenbrier West, 22-0, and Oceana (now a part of Westside), 52-0. Northfork soundly defeated Fort Chiswell, Virginia, 61-22, rival Welch, 21-8, Peterstown (now a part of James Monroe), 61-8, and rival Iaeger, 30-14.

Game nine of the season was with the highly-regarded Bluefield Beavers. The Blue Demons captured a hard-fought win, 22-18, in what would be the first of two games for the Blue Demons at Mitchell Stadium. “John Brant was our coach. He had promised his players before that game that if Northfork won he would stand on his head in the middle of the field,” Dove said laughing. Brant, indeed, kept his promise. Brant, who is now 80, still lives in the area.

Nortfork closed the regular season with an 18-8 win over Princeton.
Off to the playoffs, Northfork defeated two schools from Wayne County that now make up Spring Valley. In Dunbar, Northfork downed Vinson, 14-7. Then came the memorable 14-13 win over C-K.

“I still talk to Carl Ward (C-K’s legendary coach who won 10 titles for the Wonders) every now and then. He will bring up that game and laments going for two,” said Dove. Leading C-K 14-7, the Wonders scored to close the deficit to one. Ward chose to try a two-point conversion, but the pass attempt “was wide” according to Dove.

“There was just a great chemistry between the young men,” Dove said of the ’73 title team. “They had several good athletes on the team. David “Duck” Riley was a senior fullback who went on to WVU. The late Ronald Cowan was an outstanding player on the line who was All (West Virginia) Conference three out of his four years for Tony Colobro at Concord.”

Sporting events back in the day at the McDowell County schools were something to behold, Dove said. “In 1960, there were 100,000 people in the county. Football was the big thing.”

Keeping stats, going to games and then writing about them are facets of Dove’s life he can’t imagine being without.

After graduation, Dove attended Bluefield State College and earned a degree in business. He taught school early on in his professional life before entering the business world. He held a variety of jobs before going to work for Kraft Foods in 1997. Dove started writing for the old Welch Daily News several years ago. Retired now from Kraft, Dove still writes for the Welch News and also the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

“I would sit and watch sports on TV when I was 9, 10, 11 years old. I would listen to the announcers bringing out the facts. I liked that kind of thing. When I was young, there was a men’s softball team in Keystone. They needed a scorekeeper and I had taught myself how to keep a scorebook. I wanted to do it, but they kind of brushed me off. That kind of gave me a kick. I really wanted to do this kind of thing and be respected with it.”

Dove, who helped with the founding of the McDowell County Sports Hall of Fame a few years back, has certainly earned that respect.


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