Gary Football Champs--Thirty-Five Years Later
Gary Dove, WDN Sports Writer

Gary-This school year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the 1966 Gary Coaldiggers' Class AA football title.

The championship was the first by a McDowell County team on the gridiron, as recognized by the Secondary Schools Activities Commission (SSAC).

Unlike today when 16 teams from each class make the playoffs, in 1966, the top two schools in each class played in the championship game.

Ceredo-Kenova finished the season atop the AA rankings and Gary, with an 8-2 mark, copped the runner-up spot.

Sid Cure, the third year head coach of the 1966 Coaldiggers related, "We were fortunate to have had enough points (in SSAC ratings) to be number two. We tried to play a good schedule. We figured if we would win 8 or 9 games we would be in the playoffs."

"That '66 team was as good a group of athletes as I've ever coached. And we had a good bunch of kids," noted Cure, who went to Bluefield State College as head football coach after the Coaldiggers won the 1970 state title.

Harvey Silas, an all-state linebacker on the 1966 team explained some of the preseason plans that laid the groundwork for the champsionship, "My first year at Gary, as a junior, we really had a rough time. Like anything, you've got to mesh and we didn't (on the football field)."

"As seniors, we made a concerted effort before the season began to make our team be better and mesh," he continued.

The Coaldiggers opned the 1966 season with a 14-7 win over Northfork, propelled by a second half Leon Allison 70 yard punt return for the winning touchdown.

The second game of the season, Gary cam back from a 20-6 deficit to beat Princeton 27-20.

A 32-13 victory over Man was followed by a 40-13 win against Logan.

Al Wade, a sophomore linebacker on that team, remembers the Logan game, "That Logan game stands out in my mind. We knew we had a good team. After we beat Logan rather easily, at that point, I realized we had something special. I think the whole team realized it.

A 28-13 loss to Bluefield the next week temporarily knocked Gary off stride, but back-to-back wins over Mullens (32-7) and Pineville (44-12) moved the record to 6-1.

A 19-13 setback at Big Creek was followed by a pair of shutout wins: 42-0 decision over Iaeger and a 13-0 victory over Welch in the annual battle for the barrel.

Joe Heizer, a tackle on that championship team related, "That was one of the greatest times of my life. Physically we were in great shape. Teams would play with us the first half, but the second half nobody could hang with us.

Coach Cure gives much of the credit for the team's success to assistant coaches James Wilkerson and Dennis Perdue, "We had great coaches."

The championship game, played at Logan High School, pitted Wayne Wonders, winners of two of the last three Class AA crowns and the defending state champs, against the Gary Coaldiggers.

"It was just one of those days when we did everything right. It worked out real well for us," remembers Coach Cure. The Coaldiggers won 33-14.

Quarterback Dennis Webb scored two touchdowns, while connecting on 10-0f-15 passes for 192 yards against C-K.

Halfbacks Leon Allison and Jon Thornton and fullback Buck Perry each scored a TD in the win.

Allison's score came on a Webb buttonhook pass to 6'7" end Jim Gregory, who then lateraled back to the speedy Allison, who raced in for the six points.

The play was one of the Coaldiggers' favorites that season.

After the championship win, Coach Cure said in the Welch Daily News, "This was definitely a team effort. Most of the boys turned in their best career performances."

Silas recorded 15 tackles that day, along with a pass interception.

He credited defensive tackle John Holpe with much of the success, "On defense, we played a 4-4. I played (linebacker) behind John Holpe. C-K had a big 300 pound offensive tackle and John kept him tied up all day, allowing me to get to the ball carrier.

Allison, in addition to his TD, rushed 9 times for 88 yards, caught three passes for 54 yards and returned a pair of punts for 44 yards against the Wonders.

From that group, Webb and Perry went to Marshall on football scholarships, Allison and center Leon Stout played football at Bluefield State College, Gregory received a basketball scholarship to Eash Carolina, and Heizer played football at West Virginia College.

A starting guard on offense and end on defense, John Dickinson went on to become President of Mining Operations for U.S. Steel.

Rounding out the starting offensive unit were Robert Gillespie, along with Dickinson at the guards, Holpe and Heizer at the tackles, junior Sam Christian with Gregory at ends and Stout at center.

Webb was the signal caller, with Allison and Thornton at halfbacks and Perry at fullback.

Webb, now living in Tesas, related, "There were two really neat moments associated with presenting the championship trophy. C.W. Dean, who was the principal at Gary to present the trophy to the high school, where I believe he had been principal for about thirty years by then!"

Mr. Dean was a member of the SSAC Board of Appears, and thus got the pleasure of presenting the trophy to his school's football team. He had in fact also been principal at Gary since the fall of 1935.

An assembly was held the Monday following the championship game in the Gary High gym.

"The McDowell County Superintendent of Schools, George W. Bryson, made a brief congratulatory speech, then the coaches made brief remarks...Then Leon Stout, John Dickinson and I might have stammered some thanks to the student body for the support they provided to the team," Webb continued.

"Then I asked the President of the Student Council, Sue Ellen Alford, to come to the podium...she didn't know what to expect. I just said that I was presenting it (trophy) to Gary High School on behalf of the 1966 West Virginia AA State Championship football team and the place went nuts! Pretty exciting!" continued Webb.

Summed up Wade, "1966 was a special year. We had some good players and we had a lot of fun."

1966 Gary Coaldiggers Results
  Gary Opp.
Northfork 14 7
Princeton 27 20
Man 32 13
Logan 40 13
Bluefield 13 28
Mullens 32 7
Pineville 44 12
Big Creek 13 19
Iaeger 42 0
Welch 13 0
Ceredo-Kenova 33 14

1966 Gary Coaldigger Roster

Leon Allison                                  Buck Perry
Andy Blasher Robert Rurcell
Sam Christian Robert Rash
Ray Cox Michael Reeves
John Dickinson Carl Reynolds
Thomas Foddrell Morris Scruggs
Arthur Proe Harvey Silas
Robert Gillespie Dexter Simon
Jim Gregory Jerry Stepp
George Hall Leon Stout
Joe Heizer Jon Thornton
James Jarvis Al Wade
Clayton Johnson William Warren
David Lester Dennis Webb
Randal Mayhew Head Coach: Sid Cure
Dennis Myers Asst Coach: James Wilkerson
James Myers Asst Coach: Dennis Purdue