WHEELING - When it comes to winning West Virginia state high school football championships, no Ohio Valley Athletic Conference school has been better at it than Wheeling Central Catholic.
When the 12-1 Maroon Knights face undefeated Williamstown (13-0) on Saturday night in the Class A final at Wheeling Island Stadium, they will be looking to gain their ninth state title since becoming a member of the Secondary School Activities Commission in 1971.
Central's eighth championship, recorded last season with a 28-14 victory against Wahama, moved the Ohio County-based parochial school one ahead of two Ohio Valley squads, Weir High and Sistersville.
Only seven other area teams have captured W.Va. championships in football. Brooke bested the big-school field three times (1987, 1987 and 1990), while Magnolia (1964, 2010), Paden City (1970, 1979) and Weirton Madonna (1987, 2009) could brag about being No. 1 on two occasions each. John Marshall (1996), Follansbee (1954) and Tyler County (1983) were state champs once each.
Sistersville, which won five times in seven years during the 1980s and garnered state titles in 1953 and 1964, closed its school doors in 1993 as did Tyler County, to form Tyler Consolidated High School.
With former Wheeling Ironmen defensive back Louie Nocida as head coach, the Tigers dominated the Class A field in 1980, 1981, 1984, 1985 and 1987.
They also reached the finals in 1982 and 1983 but lost to Duval the first time and then to backyard rival Tyler the following year.
The coach of the Duval squad in 1982 was the late Mike Linsky, who went on to lead John Marshall to its only state football championship 14 years later, when the Monarchs won a 29-22 thriller against heavily favored Capital. That game was played in front of what is the largest crowd to witness a Super Six final at Wheeling Island Stadium.
Follansbee became part of the Brooke County conslidation in 1969 along with Wellsburg and Bethany. That same year, Follansbee St. Anthony also closed and the majority of those students became part of Brooke High School.
Wheeling Central's total of course does not include the several occasions when it won state Catholic titles prior to gaining admittance into the SSAC ranks. The Maroon Knights, coached by the late Jim Thomas, finally broke through for their first championship in 1979, defeating Buffalo Wayne, 39-21, in a Class AA finale held at Laidley Field in Charleston.
Thomas later coached Central Catholic to Single-A state titles in 2000, 2002 and 2004 before passing away in the spring of 2005.
Taking over the helm at that time was current Maroon Knights coach Mike Young, whose teams reeled off three more championships in a row (2005 through 2007) and also put together a school-record 35-game winning streak that was snapped by Ohio-side rival Shadyside in 2008.
After being eliminated short of a Super Six state berth at the end of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Central rebounded for title No. 8 last December.
The Maroon Knights' standing for overall championships is also very impressive considering that many of the schools ahead of them have been SSAC members much longer than the Northern Panhandle power.
Tied at the top of the list with 11championships each are Ceredo-Kenova and Parkersburg, while Bluefield is next in line with 10. Central stands alone in fourth place with its eight titles.
Ceredo-Kenova is another school no longer in existence as the Wonders became part of the Spring Valley consolidation in 1998 along with Vinson, Buffalo and Ceredo District.
Just 15 West Virginia High Schools have earned as many as five state titles each since 1937, the year the State Sports Writers Association began naming official football champions. That procedure was followed through the 1946 season.
However, in 1947, the Secondary School Activities Commission began crowning the state champions. With only a few exceptions, the playoffs were used to determine the overall winners.
Sistersville, Weir and East Bank are tied for fifth overall with seven titles each. Poca, Bridgeport, Winfield and Moorefield have six titles each, followed by Vinson, Monongah, Morgantownand Charleston with five.
Among those schools no longer in existence are East Bank, now part of Riverside High, Vinson (Spring Valley), Monongah (North Marion) and Charleston (Capital).