The Wizard of Northfork
In the 1970’s, just as UCLA was finishing up their run of seven consecutive NCAA Basketball titles, Northfork High School in McDowell County, West Virgina was beginning its run of eight straight state championships. The UCLA coach, John Wooden, is called the Wizard of Westwood due to the success of his teams which were rich in talent that he recruited from across the nation. The Northfork High School coach, Jennings Boyd, couldn’t recruit his talent, he had to develop it!
As a kid growing up in Roane County during the early 70’s, I knew about Northfork High School and I always wondered what made the place so special. I had always wanted to visit the town and find out about its coach so I could learn for myself what it was that set Jennings Boyd apart. Recently, for the first time, I was able to visit the small coal mining town in McDowell County and I discovered the secret that made Coach Boyd a great basketball coach.
I had been wondering a long time about that small town tucked away in the mountains of southern West Virginia and their basketball coach Jennings Boyd. Was it his work ethic and tough basketball practices, or perhaps his motivational skills and superior strategy that led to his tremendous success?
Those were the questions on my mind when I visited Northfork while gathering information for www.WVyourWay.com. While speaking to one of the residents of the town, I asked her about that time period and discovered she was a cheerleader at the school for four of those eight magical years. Since she knew the town and the man, I determined I would ask her for some insight from those years. However, as I awaited an opportunity to ask, she told me a story that, although she was unaware of it, revealed the secret to the success of Coach Boyd.
It seems that her boyfriend was on the basketball team and she was at his house when Coach Boyd showed up. I was surprised and asked if he visited his players often. She responded, “Oh yes, Coach Boyd was always checking up on his players and one of the things he didn’t want to find was a girl at their house.” I laughed and asked what she did and she looked at me wide-eyed and replied, “I hid in the furnace room behind a pile of coal!”
As I laughed she went on with her story. “I think he knew I was there ’cause he stayed an extra long time and I was miserable from the heat of hiding behind that coal pile. He just wouldn’t leave and I had to stay hidden in that hot room just so he could punish me for being at my boyfriend’s house when I wasn’t supposed to be. By the time he left I was streaked with coal dust, so I just went home.”
It was at that moment that I discovered the secret to Coach Boyd’s success – he cared about his players. Because of that he could get them to work hard in practice and follow his leadership. Today Northfork and McDowell County are behind, but if they come together as a team and follow the leadership of those that care, they too can come out winners. Who knows, maybe the legacy of the Wizard of Northfork can lead to another championship for the people he taught how to win.
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