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When the “Big Green” Rolled

Newell’s Championship Season

By Bob Barnett

Newell championship team
The Newell championship team of 1951-52. Seated, from the left, are Wayne Swift, John Laneve, Ron LaNeve, Norm Six, Frank Mangano, and Jim McDevitt. Standing are coach John Robison, Bob Thorne, Orwin Britton, Donald McGown, David White, Ray Godwin, manager Virgil Grimm, and manager Dick Harrison.

When I was in junior high school, my mom called Newell a “one-horse town.” I was really offended. I admitted that Newell was small, with a population of about 2,000 in 1950. It was unincorporated, had large potholes in the streets, and had mostly dirt sidewalks. I admitted that Newell was a town with only one red light, which operated only when the pottery and the racetrack let out at the same time. It blinked on caution the other 22 hours of the day.

But to balance those disadvantages, Newell was the home of the Homer Laughlin China Company, the largest pottery in the world under one roof, and had a great pottery dump. [See “Wall of China: Recalling the Greatest Dump in the World,” by Bob Barnett; Spring 1992.] Newell is the most northern city in West Virginia and was the closest town to Waterford Park racetrack, now known as Mountaineer Resort and Gaming Center. (Chester, our bitter rival to the east, was given credit for both because they were incorporated and Newell was not.) There was one thing, I argued, that did set Newell apart from the hundreds of other small towns in West Virginia in the 1950's: We were the home of the 1951-52 West Virginia State High School Basketball Champions. For one glorious season, we were — and will forever be — Number One.

My family had moved from Follansbee to Newell when I was in second grade. We lived in the “lower end” of town, a block from the high school, and right next to the lower end playground that had one of Newell’s three dirt basketball courts. In the evenings after high school baseball practice and on weekends, the court was mobbed with high school and junior high kids and even some old married men, trying to momentarily recapture a sliver of their youth.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.