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We need to connect the dots on sports, tourism

September 25, 2018

This is one of a series of guest columns from candidates for public office in the Nov. 6 general election in West Virginia.

It doesn’t cost any more to think big than it does to think small, right? When I think of economic development in our area, I think of what we can do today, without money, and turn a profit for our local economy. The soccer tournament is a great example of what our area can be! For years, Charleston fought Huntington and vice versa over economic development dollars and airports, and such. Soccer showed us if you bring enough teams, the whole state prospers.

I propose making our region the high school basketball capitol of the world. Yes, I said it — THE WORLD! I have a friendship and admiration for what Coach Arkell Bruce has done at Huntington Prep. He has single-handedly built a league of Division I basketball teams who recruit the best in the world and bring them to our area. No one in the area has stepped up to help on this, but this can be incredible. Coach Bruce has spun off Coach Arrowood at Teays Valley Christian, David Meddings at Wesley, just down U.S. 23 in Allen, Kentucky, and most recently Ty Holmes at Huntington High. I won’t get into Shannon Lewis and the program he has built and how it can be expanded, but as athletic director at St. Joe, he can benefit from this program as well.

All these teams need is a basketball court or courts where they can host tournaments. Their expenses will be cut drastically if teams come here to play. Huntington has a lot to offer. We have to clean up streets, and we have to make tough decisions. The Civic Center can be a nice place, but for a place that is taxpayer-owned, it sure is hard to get support for local events. I am not here to stir up, but to solve, so I won’t go deeper into that right now, but when the St. Joe tournament is nixed because of “events that might happen,” that’s wrong. So, let’s turn to the local high schools for help. These kids are selling fruit, T-shirts, doughnuts and who knows what is next — $20 coupon book is good, though.

Huntington High is a state championship contender and has won several, and has had some superstars like Patrick Patterson and O.J. Mayo pass through, but they don’t get 200 people to a game. Girls basketball gets less. I propose a ” second chance” for a relationship between these private schools, Christian and Catholic schools and public schools. We will never grow our area or heal our divides with chaos and bickering. The schools all need money; these schools need a place to play. Let’s work a double-header program so people will come and see these teams play and also see the local school play. Let’s do co-op programs where schools host tournaments and split profits with the home teams.

Butch Mounts and Video Productions will provide streams and sell advertisement, with a percentage of sales to go to schools. Mark Cline, former Williamson great and Marshall assistant coach, sees how this can be spread through the coal fields; both of these men say thousands come out in the southern part of this state for a good basketball game.

Marshall basketball can be the main beneficiary of all of this. If Marshall fans show up and support this basketball league, we will be able to get these top players to stay here.

We have something special tied in with our athletics here, and if we come together for the kids and over sports, maybe we can save our area. This is not a competition anymore. We are one region, hurting. We need some victories, we need something we can do to bring new money now, and we need something that doesn’t take a lot of money to start.

But money would help, and it would be available if we pool our resources and follow this plan.

Larry Brooke Lunsford, a Salt Rock resident, is a Republican candidate for West Virginia Senate from the 5th Senate District, which includes Cabell County and part of Wayne County.

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