Local sports history big topic at Rotary meeting

PARKERSBURG – When looking at the history of sport in West Virginia, the city of Parkersburg – and especially Parkersburg High School – is an important part of that history.

Bob Barnett, an author and retired professor of sports history at Marshall University, talked about Parkersburg’s role in West Virginia’s sports legacy during Monday’s meeting of the Parkersburg Rotary Club at the Blennerhassett Hotel.

Barnett previously published the book “Growing Up in the Last Small Town” in 2010 about the changes which began occurring in Small Town West Virginia – and America – with the advent of television, causing many unique and different small towns to grow more like each other.

Earlier this year, Barnett also published “Hillside Fields: A History of Sports in West Virginia” through West Virginia University Press. The book covers the history of sports in the state from 1866 to 2013. Barnett said it discusses many of the biggest state sports figures and stories in the state from Jerry West to the Marshall University plane crash to Mary Lou Retton.

It also looks at many of the other stories related to sports in West Virginia over the decades, including a look at the role of high school sports in the state, something most other authors aren’t interested in writing about, he said.

“I tried to capture as many of the local legends as I could before they are lost,” Barnett said.

Any story of high school sports in West Virginia has to include the history of Parkersburg, since PHS was a dominant force in sports over the years, he said. As of 2010, he said 138 state teen championships have been won by PHS, Barnett said.

Looking at the sport of wrestling alone, he said 37 of West Virginia’s state wrestling titles have been won by PHS or Parkersburg South High School, he added.

Barnett said the golden age of sports in West Virginia appears to have been in the 1930s to 1960s, when colleges in West Virginia around the country recruited strongly in the state for athletes.

Barnett also discussed two of the best known Parkersburg athletes, Mary Ostrowski and Earle “Greasy” Neal.

Ostrowski started playing sports at a young age in a local boys youth baseball league before playing basketball for Parkersburg Catholic High School’s Crusaderettes. While there, she was leader of the teams which won 88 straight games. She also went on to play for the University of Tennessee, helping the team reach three Final Fours.

Neal attended PHS and then went to West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he helped the smaller college beat WVU in football in 1912 and 1913. He also went on to play pro football and baseball, as well as coaching professional football.