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The Diminishing Den

The West Virginia economy affects everything… including high school football

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In their spare time.

10/08/2008

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.”



 





















MOUNTAIN LION UPPERCLASSMEN BIOS:

Senior Darius Dillard, No. 5, is a wide receiver and a cornerback. Dillard, 17, is 5-foot-7-inches and 136 pounds. He started playing football in the eighth grade. He also plays for the TCHS basketball team.

Senior Allen Summerfield, No. 20, is a cornerback and wide receiver. Summerfield, 17, is 5-foot-7-inches and 152 pounds. With such a small team, Summerfield says playing both offensive and defensive position makes him a smarter player.

Senior Josh Michael, No. 17, is a quarterback and linebacker. Michael, 18, is 5-foot-6-inches and 153 pounds.His father was the football coach when current coach, AJ Rapp, played. Michael is looked at as a team leader and often gives advice to younger players. He looks to his father for his tips and advice.

Senior Dylan Simmons, No. 32, is a linebacker and fullback. Simmons, 17, is 6-foot-2-inches and 208 pounds. Dylan says he is serious on the football field but it a self-proclaimed “class clown” who likes to have fun off the field, spending his time fishing, hunting, mudding and partying.

Junior Trenton DiBartolomeo, No. 14, is a safety and wide receiver. DiBartolomeo, 16, is 5-foot-9-inches and 145 pounds. DiBartolomeo has been playing football since the seventh grade.

Junior, Brendan Miller, No. 7, is a quarterback and on the defensive line. Miller, 16, is 6-foot-1-inches and 233 pounds. As a child, Miller says he exceeded the weight limit for football, which barred him from playing on a football team until high school.


QUICK STATS:

Tucker County High School, Hambleton, W.Va.

Final record: 7 wins 4 losses

Ranking into playoffs: 14th in state- lost in first round

Head coach: A.J. Rapp

Mascot: Mountain Lions

Class: “Single-A” school

Enrollment: 385 students

Roster: 28 players: 10 seniors, 11 juniors

The Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism
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