Meet the team and hear their story.
The Mountain Lions in action.
Tucker County comes together
In their spare time.
By Elaine McMillion and Steve Butera
Beyond the usual concerns of speed, strength and agility, football coaches at Tucker County High School have to deal with an additional obstacle: the local economy.
“The only thing I really worry about our football team is the shrinking number of people in the county,” said Coach A.J. Rapp. “There’s not a whole lot of industry here and we’re really losing kids.”
Many residents abandoned Parsons and the surrounding communities after a Cheat River flood in 1985 demolished businesses, according to Parsons Mayor Charles Rosenau. The flood washed away jobs at a lumber mill that employed around 20 and The Parsons Footwear Plant, which employed 275 to 300 people.
“We’re still devastated from the flood,” Rosenau said. “It crippled our economic growth.”
Prior to the flood, Tucker County High School had 650 students and was a Class AA school, Principal Shawn Dilly said.
But in 2001, due to a decline in student population, the county’s only high school was changed to a Class A. Now enrollment is down to 385 at the high school and 1,100 in the county school system.
“After the flood, [the student population] began to go down, and you also had the closing of coal mines,” Dilly said. “That really led to some changes concerning population around here.”
Rapp has witnessed how the changing economy affects athletics in the county. In 1986 and 1987, when the football teams were runner-ups in consecutive state championships, the roster contained 60 players, Athletic Director David Kyle said.
Now there are only 28, 10 of which expect to graduate in the spring.
“We got about 15 kids playing 22 positions, so we’re just so small number-wise that we have to have kids that can play both ways all night long,” Rapp said. “That’s pretty strenuous playing four quarters of ball.”
However, when one teammate can’t play, Rapp must shuffle much of the roster.
“It’s kind of a chess match,” Rapp said.
In order to compensate for a small student body, many athletes in the school play several sports, including Dylan Simmons, a senior linebacker and fullback on the football team who also plays basketball and baseball.
Rapp says he encourages the 10 seniors, nine juniors, five sophomores and six freshman to form a bond, regardless of experience, grade and age.
“I tell them every year, for the next three months, ‘This is your family, you better get to know them, get to enjoy them,’” Rapp said. “We get in our little spats, but every family does.”
Rapp grew up in Tucker County, playing football for the high school when one of his current players, Josh Michael’s father was coach. Now Coach Rapp says he loves his job.
“This is where I always wanted to be, this is my dream job. I mean, I love football, I love the kids,” Rapp said. “It’s [Tucker County] a place I have lived, always wanted to live and a good place to raise your kids.”