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Students, staff adjusting to spring semester at Marshall during pandemic

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The spring semester is underway at Marshall University and President Jerome Gilbert couldn’t be happier with having students back on campus, even if it is significantly less population due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Freshman, graduate students and those students in labs and clinical studies, around 25% of the normal density of campus, began in-person courses Tuesday in Huntington while the rest of the students enrolled for the term started virtually.

“It is great to see the students back. It is positive, the students have a great attitude. The campus is alive again,” Gilbert told MetroNews Wednesday.

Jerome Gilbert

“Without the students, it’s not quite the same. I am delighted to have our students back.”

Students began moving back onto campus Friday in a phased-in period that went to Monday. Each student was tested for COVID-19 upon return and according to Gilbert those tests, done by PCR based saliva, are completed.

Gilbert reported that Marshall is seeing a similar rate of infection to the fall, which hovered between 2.5% and 3%.

“We are seeing about the same rate of infection. That could go up as the test results come back. We are seeing up to a 2.5% infection rate, which remains fairly low,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said next week Marshall will begin testing those students coming in for labs and clinical work. Nearly two dozen students are currently in isolation at the university’s ‘quarantine facility’ Holderby Hall due to testing positive or being apart of contact tracing. Last semester, there were around 300 virus cases on campus.

Students in nursing are helping the Cabell-Huntington Health Department with COVID-19 vaccine distribution on campus, Gilbert noted. Those students are among the first after staff to receive doses themselves.

As of Wednesday, Gilbert said Marshall has vaccinated 598 employees and will give doses to another 150 on Thursday. He said out of the 1,800 employees in Huntington, more than 1,700 want a vaccine. Next week Marshall will begin giving second doses to those staff members who received the Moderna vaccine the last week of 2020.

The distribution for staff members began with those 65 years of age and older with comorbidities then everyone else 65 years old and above. Individuals 50 years of age and older with comorbidities were next, followed by anyone else 50 and above.

VIEW: Marshall’s Return to Campus Plan

Gilbert said staff is being protected in the classrooms at Marshall with class sizes being cut in half and plexiglass in most offices and classrooms. Masks also remain required in all buildings at Marshall and students must use a health app daily.

By cutting class sizes in half, a hybrid model of learning continues. For example, if a course has 60 freshman enrolled, 30 students will receive in-person instruction at once and 30 will watch the same lecture virtually. The groups of 30 will rotate instruction daily.

Marshall will proceed with a normal grading mode in the spring. There was a 10-15% decline in freshman enrollment from the fall to spring but Gilbert said that is a normal rate.

Gilbert is planning to host an in-person spring commencement at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on May 1, something that could not be done in December. The university is welcoming any graduates who missed an opportunity to walk the stage because of the pandemic to do so this spring, should the event remain on as scheduled.

“We had to be adaptive, we had to be patient and we had to persevere,” Gilbert said of the plans put into place. “It’s been a long run, it’s been almost a year now. Going into March is when we started all of this a year ago.”

Welcome back to campus #MarshallUFamily 💚
We hope you have a great spring semester! 💻 📝 #BackToMarshallU #MaskUpMarshallU pic.twitter.com/vhuaY4oj6V

— Marshall University (@marshallu) January 19, 2021

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Patience urged as COVID-19 vaccination demand outweighs supply

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Thousands of West Virginia’s older residents are growing more and more frustrated with the busy signals they’re getting when they call to schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination.

Robert Roswall

There have routinely been more calls than doses available for any one clinic. Waiting lists have thousands of names on them and most clinics this week are being filled with those names.

West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Robert Roswall told MetroNews Wednesday it’s not an easy time for senior citizens.

“I understand the frustration. I have family members that are in that same category. They are on a waitlist in other counties,” he said.

The state has now opened vaccination clinics to those 65 and older. Clinics are scheduled to be held in 16 counties Thursday and Friday.

Roswall said his best advice is for seniors or those who are helping them is to keep calling to get a spot on a list.

“Don’t give up on that. (Health departments) are working on that as quickly as they can. As they always say, it depends on how many vaccine doses come into the state. When they come in they go out,” he said.

Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday the state could have all of its residents 65 and older vaccinated by Feb. 7 if the federal government would provide more doses of the vaccines.

The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg is now helping the Greenbrier County Health Department answer its vaccination-related calls.

Dr. James Nemitz

WVSOM President Dr. James Nemitz said those with the school’s Center for Rural and Community Health have helped the health department create a hotline and a data management program.

“Any calls coming in–we can accept those calls. We can get people on the list. That’s what was so confusing to people, they weren’t sure they were getting on the list,” Nemitz told MetroNews Wednesday.

More than 700 residents called during the first three hours the hotline was set-up Tuesday.

“For those people who want vaccine, they want it now. They want it as soon as they can get it and so we’re trying to do our best to help that process,” Nemitz said.

The Greenbrier County vaccine hotline number is 304-664-4147.

State Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Roswall said the state hotline is also a good option at 1-833-734-0965. He said seniors can receive information there about scheduled clinics and how to get on a waitlist.

His advice for seniors is not to give up and not to get frustrated.

“Get on the list as soon as you can and continue to distance, wear your mask and stay six feet away from people,” Roswall said.

Bill Crouch

State Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said Tuesday the state would soon rollout a new system that will allow residents to call or go online to register for a vaccination. He said it will include a mechanism that will contact the resident with an appointment time and location.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said Wednesday that he’s talked with the new administration about getting more vaccines to West Virginia.

“I am working with the incoming Biden Administration to get more vaccines to West Virginia, so that state and local leaders can plan for the appropriate vaccines they should have had all along. While it may take some time to right the ship, help is on the way,” Manchin said in a statement before Biden was sworn-in Wednesday.

Roswall said the Bureau of Senior Services is currently working with the state Joint Inter-Agency Task Force to develop a network that will create ways for home-bound senior citizens to be vaccinated.

“We have a large in-home service clientele that we deal with. Some of them may be (getting their vaccinations) in home, some may be transported to the sites. It’s going to vary. It’s not going to be one-size-fits-all on how they will be vaccinated,” he said.

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Justice names environmental protection chief from agency’s ranks, Harold Ward

Gov. Jim Justice is promoting from within the state Department of Environmental Protection to name the agency’s new chief.

Harold Ward

Justice announced today that Harold Ward, a longtime employee of the agency, will now lead it as cabinet secretary.

He replaces Austin Caperton, a longtime coal mining industry executive who announced his retirement last month. The change coincides with the start of the second term for Justice, whose family owns extensive coal and timbering properties.

Ward recently served as DEP’s deputy secretary of operations and director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation, where he oversaw all operational components of the agency, as well as the agency’s mining regulatory program.

Gov. Jim Justice

“Harold Ward has been a superstar in the WVDEP for a long time and the work he’s done during my administration, leading our Division of Mining and Reclamation, has been truly incredible,” Justice stated today. “I have all the confidence in the world that he will do a fantastic job as our new secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection.”

Ward said he is honored to be chosen.

“The WVDEP has thrived under the leadership of Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton. I hope to maintain that momentum as we continue to serve the people of West Virginia and protect our state’s air, land, and water,” he stated.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from West Virginia University, Ward started his career in state government in 1989 as an inspector-in-training with what is now called the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. After a brief, six-month tenure with DNR, he transferred to the state Division of Energy as a surface mining reclamation inspector-in-training.

After the Division of Energy was incorporated into the DEP in 1991, Ward continued his career in the Division of Mining and Reclamation and was assigned to the agency’s Logan office. There, he advanced from inspector to inspector specialist to inspector supervisor, before serving as the deputy director of DMR in 2011. Ward was promoted to director of DMR in 2013.

In 2017, Ward was asked to take on additional duties within the agency and oversaw the DEP’s Division of Land Restoration. That role was expanded in 2018 to include all DEP operations.

His long history with state government gave Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition reason to believe he’ll bring expertise, willingness to listen and broad perspective of the state’s environmental challenges to the role. She compared the selection to Randy Huffman, a longtime agency employee who was DEP secretary right before Caperton.

“It’s an agency that affects all of our lives every day. It affects the water we drink and the air we breathe. It doesn’t get more personal than that,” Rosser said. “I’m pleased it’s someone who brings experience, and I hope he gets the support he needs to advocate for the agency and its mission.”

Some of the current challenges emanate from the many bankruptcies of coal companies that operated in West Virginia. Others are challenges brought on by natural gas activity.

Angie Rosser

“I hope what Harold Ward will be able to do is bring his knowledge and experience to really solve some big problems,” Rosser said.

“We have got thousands of miles of impaired streams that need cleaning up; a lot of minelands and probably more on their way to clean up. And this is going to take major investments, major commitment and a way to look at where the structural failures have been.”

She hopes Ward will bring a spirit of cooperation to community groups, including being open about communication.

“Ultimately this agency works for us. It works to protect us. To see a commitment to transparency and better relations with the public would go a long way,” Rosser said. “I’d like to see more of that and more public involvement in agency decision-making.”

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association praised the choice of Ward to lead DEP.

Rebecca McPhail

“Harold Ward brings years of experience and a high level of familiarity with the agency to his new role as Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. It has been our experience with Mr. Ward that he is receptive to input from all sides of the issues that are confronted by the DEP,” stated Rebecca McPhail, president of the Manufacturers Association.

“He works to build consensus among stakeholders for the protection of the environment and responsible growth of industry in West Virginia. We look forward to working with Secretary Ward in his new capacity.”

This past December, Governor Justice announced that Caperton, the previous DEP secretary, would be transitioning to a new role outside of state government.

“I’d like to once again thank Austin for his four years of incredible service to the people of West Virginia and for his many, many years of friendship,” Justice stated today.

“He has been a shining light in my administration since day one and, while I’m sad to see him leave, I know he has some wonderful opportunities in front of him, and I wish him nothing but the best.”

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Three years and three schools later, Horton finds home at Pikeville

It hasn’t quite been three full years since Taevon Horton was named the Bill Evans Award winner as West Virginia’s top high school basketball player.

The former Fairmont Senior standout is now at his third college since his Polar Bear playing days ended, though he’s continued to excel on the hardwood.

After spending his freshman season as a walk-on at West Virginia University and his sophomore campaign at Missouri State-West Plains, Horton settled on the University of Pikeville — a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) located 4 hours south of Horton’s hometown.

“I love the program and what they’ve done in the past,” Horton said, referencing a rich history that includes a 2011 NAIA Division I National Championship. “I plan on spending my next year-and-a-half here.”

How Horton got to Pikeville is unique in itself. After a stellar career at FSHS, which included being the leading scorer on the 2017 Class AA state champion and the state’s top player the next year on a runner-up squad, Horton walked on at WVU. He appeared in 11 games for the Mountaineers during the 2018-2019 season, playing 34 minutes and scoring 10 points.

Horton then embarked on a new journey in the midwest, averaging 13.1 points at Missouri State-West Plains and scoring double digits in 23 of 29 games for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I program.

With several West Virginia connections on the Pikeville coaching staff, however, the Bears were able to land Horton prior to his junior season. Pikeville assistant coach Sid Crist was on Fairmont State’s staff from 2013-2016, while associate head coach Evan Faulkner was previously the head coach at Ripley High School as well as an assistant coach and player at University of Charleston.

“Coach Crist had been at Fairmont State and helped run their basketball camps I went to in middle school and high school,” Horton said. “He reached out to me after last season and there was something about this connection.”

Horton was then introduced to Tigh Compton, a longtime Pikeville assistant now in his first year as head coach. 

“The first time we spoke to each other, he FaceTimed me,” Horton recalled. “Having been recruited by a couple different coaches out of high school and JUCO, that really stuck out to me. Then I learned about the history of this program and the championship in 2011 and that’s kind of what drew me here.”

Thus far, the results have mostly been positive for Horton.

Horton is one of four Bears averaging double figures at 11.7 points per game. He is second on the team with 24 3-pointers while shooting better than 38 percent from beyond the arc. Horton is also adding 4.3 rebounds and more than one steal per game on average.

“Where he’s been most impactful for us is with his ability to shoot the basketball, his ability to defend and his toughness,” Compton said. “Obviously playing any amount of time for Bob Huggins adds toughness and he competes really hard. But his biggest impact for us has been his shooting ability.”

Horton has started in nine of his 12 appearances and is playing an average of 28.3 minutes. His two best performances came earlier this month when the 6-foot-2 junior had 29 and 27 points in consecutive contests against Cumberlands and Freed-Hardeman. Horton made 18-of-31 field goals and 11-of-19 triples over the two games.

However, in Pikeville’s next game, Horton was scoreless and missed all seven of his shots against Bethel. He has sat out the Bears’ last two games while rehabbing a hamstring injury, though he’s hopeful to return soon — perhaps as early as Thurday’s game at Life.

“He had two really good games in a row and then kind of a dud, and he was playing through the injury and trying to gut it out,” Compton said. “We figured it was best time to give him some time off.”

As Pikeville (6-8) strives for continued progress, Horton has been asked to provide leadership for a team with 11 juniors and seniors on its roster.

Compton has seen what he’s looking for from Horton on and off the court.

“We really challenged him academically and he finished the first semester with over a 3.0 GPA,” Compton said. “There’s no reason to think he won’t continue on that path. He’s buckled down, taken things seriously and we couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Horton says the trust from his coaching staff and teammates makes him feel at ease.

“My coaching staff trusts me and it’s outstanding to have the trust of my guys,” Horton said. “That goes a long way with me trying to lead. It’s not hard, but it’s not easy because we all are in the same class or close to it. As a leader, you also have to sit back and take advice given to you, especially when it comes from guys that have been in the fire themselves.”

Although most of Horton’s time is spent in the Bluegrass State these days, he says he regularly keeps up with former WVU teammtes, including James “Beetle” Bolden, Esa Ahmad and current players Derek Culver and Jalen Bridges. Bridges and Horton were teammates in high school.

“I learned so much at West Virginia,” Horton said. “What I took from there was all about preparation. When you have a game Saturday, it’s how you prepare all through the week that matters. It’s unbelievable how much we prepared not just for games, but for practices. There’s nothing like that.”

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Teachers unions file suit, while state board pushes for all counties to return to classrooms

Two West Virginia teachers unions filed separate lawsuits over the state’s return-to-classrooms mandate today, while the state school board weighed possible actions against counties not already in compliance.

It’s a push-and-pull on the state’s education system, up against the imposing backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

West Virginia is working through a return to classrooms even as covid-19 levels have remained elevated. The state’s map shows all but nine counties as orange or red, the highest virus levels that previously would have prompted school closures.

The two lawsuits were filed by American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association. Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster has been assigned AFT-WV’s case.

WVEA named the state board along with Monongalia and Kanawha counties in the lawsuit that demands school employees have the choice to work remotely until all have opportunities to be vaccinated.

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia seeks a temporary restraining order and/or injunctive relief to halt in-person teaching in Kanawha County until all education employees have the opportunity for a second vaccine dose. That’s likely to be provided in the first and second week of February.

The teachers union also wants a court ruling for the authority of local boards of education “in protecting the health and safety of the community and their students and education employees.” The union suggested such a ruling would protect the constitutional rights of teachers and service personnel statewide.

“While it can be argued that the new (state school board) policy is fraught with inconsistencies given past adherence to the map and current discarding of the same for most school students, it is particularly troubling that the map is being abandoned in some instances (but not others) while pandemic conditions in this state are getting worse,” lawyers for AFT-WV wrote.

One of the union’s claims is that by allowing some counties to divert from the state’s guidance up to now, state school officials have allowed unequal enforcement. The union says that undercuts the “contention that in-class instruction is a constitutional imperative for the next several weeks to meet its obligation to public school students.”

Earlier today, the state school board weighed possible actions on West Virginia counties not in compliance sending students back to classrooms. But members decided to watch and wait until next week.

Miller Hall

“I think next Tuesday we’ll decide exactly what to do based on what they do,” state board President Miller Hall said.

Gov. Jim Justice has repeatedly urged a return to classroom instruction. State board members are appointed by the governor, and they select the superintendent.

In an emergency state board meeting today, Superintendent Clayton Burch said all but three counties meet state guidelines for either a full return to classrooms or a hybrid schedule option.

But Burch described three counties not yet meeting the standard that state officials set last week: Marion, Gilmer and Taylor.

Clayton Burch

“Two of the superintendents have cried out for help,” Burch told the state board.

“I do not believe there’s much more than their local boards who are not there to support and get this in place.”

Harrison is not yet meeting state guidelines, he said, but plans to by next week.

The state board’s general counsel, Heather Hutchens, laid out several legal options the state board could choose, including a court challenge or withholding state funding. The most extreme possibility would be a state takeover of a county’s schools.

A final option she described was making it clear to the three counties that if they don’t return to class they could sacrifice their school athletic schedules.

Hall made an emotional speech saying students need to return to classroom. He said some students are being treated as “throwaways” because they don’t have the access or guidance they need. “If I wasn’t here for kids, I’d quit today,” he said.

But Hall said he was not ready to implement the most stringent of the options presented. Instead, he suggested the three counties should move to comply.

“We’re going to give you an alternative to do what’s best for kids,” Hall said.

Debra Sullivan

Board member Debra Sullivan suggested locally-elected leaders have the best feel for the situation in their communities. She proposed talking to them before taking action.

“I am not in a position to know the depths of information that our local boards of education know,” Sullivan said. “Every school is different and every county is different They all have different situations.”

Marion County has opted for a hybrid schedule with half of the students in classrooms two days a week and the other half in classrooms two different days. The off days have online learning.

That’s within the state board’s guidance, but Marion has also decided to close classrooms if the state’s map of coronavirus spread is orange or red, the highest levels.

The state’s guidance keeps high school-aged students home if a county is red, but lower grade levels continue to go to school.

Marion County board members made their decision with the guidance of local health officials.

Lloyd White, administrator of the Marion County Health Department, warned that more people enclosed in classrooms would increase the risk of covid-19 transmission.

“I cannot in good faith recommend anything that is going to increase the risk of COVID transmission,” White said in Fairmont’s Times West Virginian newspaper. “When we increase risk, we increase cases. When we increase cases, we increase death. And public health is about risk reduction.”

On Monday, Burch provided a report to state board members tallying seven counties that were not in compliance with the state. In just a few days since then, though, several had adjusted.

Monongalia County was one of those. The county had decided to use a hybrid schedule but also applied for a waiver with the state to remain remote. The waiver request was denied.

“This week we’re anxious to see all of our students,” Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico said on “Talk of the Town” on WAJR Radio.

Listen to “Dave & Sarah | January 20, 2021” on Spreaker.

Two Eastern Panhandle counties also changed their plans in recent days.

Jefferson County, which was another county considered out of compliance earlier this week, voted today in an emergency meeting to use a hybrid schedule next week and then five-day-a-week instruction on Feb. 1.

Berkley County, yet another, voted Tuesday night to approve a blended schedule with the number of days in classrooms potentially increasing as the local covid situation improves.

“We must take steps now to have the school district in a better place so our students can have the possibility of enjoying the milestone moments that are typical at the end of the school year,” Berkeley Superintendent Patrick Murphy stated.

Tom Campbell

When the state board gathers again on Tuesday, it will be another emergency meeting. 

Tom Campbell, the vice president of the state board, said he will be ready to act by then if necessary.

“I am prepared to take action on the 26th,” Campbell said.

“I personally have not heard a justifiable reason at this point that those counties should not be open.”

Dale Lee

WVEA President Dale Lee attended the state board meeting and noted the social distancing precautions in place.

“It was ironic that the state board meeting was limited to eight people for social distancing in a room this size, and they expect 25 second graders and teachers to be safe in a room much smaller than this,” he said.

“Decisions to teach in person, remotely, hybrid and online should be a local decision, made by those who are the most impacted.”

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West Virginia reacts to swearing-in of Joe Biden

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The swearing-in of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States Wednesday generated reaction from members of the state’s congressional delegation and other interested West Virginia groups.

The following are a sample of those statements:

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

“Today begins a new chapter for the United States of America and her people. I extend my most sincere congratulations to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on their inauguration. Every American should want our President to succeed because if our President does well, our nation and state do well. I will do everything in my power to work with President Biden to help heal our county and to govern in the most bipartisan way because it should be about our country, democracy, the rule of law and saving our republic. We must come together to heal this political divide. God bless America.”

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito

“Today, I congratulate President Biden and Vice President Harris on their Inauguration. As we have since 2000, Charlie and I had the opportunity to witness this transfer of power. I stand ready to work with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and their administration to improve the lives of West Virginians. Our country faces many challenges ahead and we cannot let the issues that have divided us keep us from making progress. As we begin this next chapter, I hope that President Biden and Vice President Harris will work with Congress in a way that unites us so we can bridge these divisions and create a better future for all Americans.”

.@SenCapito and I are getting set for the #inauguration of our nation’s 46th President pic.twitter.com/BEYZhGJrVO

— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) January 20, 2021

West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Belinda Biafore

“Today we walk through the door to a new day, leaving behind a dark chapter in our history. We have waited four years for the moment when a team would take the White House and restore honesty, decency, and integrity. That moment is today.

Belinda Biafore

Today Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States. While we walk through that door and onto better days, we cannot truly shut the door behind us until we do the work to reflect and repair who we are as America.

Under the leadership of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, we will do just that.

Vice-President Kamala Harris became the first woman, Black American, and Asian American to serve as Vice-President of the United States.

Monumental steps forward such as that shattered glass ceiling make us proud and hopeful to be Americans.

We will begin to heal the wounds of our past and our present. We will begin to restore the soul of America, just as President Biden has vowed again and again.

As President Joe Biden said earlier today, democracy has prevailed. Today is America’s day.

I look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration to move our country forward and make West Virginia a better place for our children and their futures.”

West Virginia Republican Party Acting Chairman Roman Stauffer released the following statement on Inauguration Day

Roman Stauffer

“We thank President Donald J. Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and members of the Trump Administration for their service and tremendous accomplishments on behalf of the American people. Today we will witness a peaceful transition of power, and Joe Biden will become President of the United States of America. We will pray for him, his administration, our country, and wish them God’s grace.”

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Wheeling Park unveils new-look roster for 2021 season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — 51 weeks after defeating Morgantown in the Class AAA Region 1 co-final, the Wheeling Park boys basketball team will be back on the court to open up a shortened 2021 season at Parkersburg South on March 6. Veteran head coach Michael Jebbia will begin to put the pieces together for the Patriots when preseason practice opens on February 15.

“I have been able to talk with them and text with them some,” Jebbia said. “But it has been difficult. You are so used to routine, practice and game prep. It has been a difficult time. I am not minimizing what is going on. Decisions have to be made. I think this is the most confident we have felt as coaches with the February 15th start date. If we can get back to school in-person and it goes well, I feel like we will be okay.”

.@WPHS_Athletics boys basketball coach Michael Jebbia talks to @TonyCaridi, @BradHowe07 and @HunterWvu88bgn about preparing his team to start the season in March. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/lE91UqMRww

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) January 19, 2021

Like many coaches around the state, Jebbia has compiled a ‘Version 3.0′ of the Patriots’ schedule. Although teams can schedule and play up to 18 regular season games in a six-week window, most schools are aiming for 12-18 games.

“I usually enjoy doing the schedule. But I can tell you trying to hammer out the freshman schedule today has been really tough to do. Right now, we are at 15 games and I think that is right around where everyone is.”

While Wheeling Park and all West Virginia basketball programs have been shut down, maybe of the Patriots’ traditional rivals from eastern Ohio have been underway with their seasons for almost two months. Per MaxPreps, West Virginia is one of just five states east of the Mississippi River that haven’t begun their high school basketball seasons.

“We play St. Clairsville and Steubenville in Ohio and they are right across the river playing right now. So they see that on social media and on the news. So that has made it a little more tough on our kids.”

Wheeling Park went 19-7 last winter and they earned the No. 6 seed in the Class AAA state tournament before the pandemic canceled the remainder of the season. Park must replace last year’s leading scorer Alex Vargo, who has earned major minutes in his freshman season at Youngstown State.

“We are going to be a little bit quicker with D.J. Saunders (7.9 points per game) back at point guard. And we have Beau Heller and Shaheed Jackson, who had all-state type football seasons, they are very good athletes. We have a very good senior group of six or seven kids. We are not going to be as tall or maybe as explosive on offense but I think we will be quicker. We’ll try to press more.”

Jebbia has compiled a 233-113 in 14 seasons leading his alma mater. He remains Park’s all-time leading scorer with 1,651 points. Jebbia went on to score 2,067 at West Liberty. Now 41 years old, Jebbia says he still tries to jump into practice drills with the team, with varying levels of success.

“Sometimes when we are doing a close-out drill, they won’t know I am going to do something, the last guy will close out and I will try to go around them and score. The kids go nuts and stuff. But sometimes I will get my shot blocked.

“Two years ago, when we were walking through on game day against Parkersburg South, I hopped in there and I threw my back out. It ends at some point.”

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Huff begins to put a familiar coaching staff together

HUNTINGTON –  Passion, experience and familiarity are among the traits new Marshall Football Coach Charles Huff is looking for as he sets out building a brand new coaching staff.

Huff confirmed Wednesday on Metronews Talkline, reports that surfaced on Tuesday that the majority of Marshall’s coaching staff was not being retained.

.@CoachHuff joins @HoppyKercheval to discuss becoming @HerdFB Head Football Coach and his past experiences he brings with him. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/dmfchsE0Tx

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) January 20, 2021

“There’s some really good coaches that were on this staff but you’ve got to have guys around you that you know. It’s not like working at Pepsi or any other major corporation where you hire based off resume,” Huff explained.

“We spend a lot of time together in this profession. You’ve got to know the guys you’re working with. You’ve got to know how they are when the heat’s on in the fire. You’ve got know how they are when they’re laid back,” said Huff.

Tim Cramsey has been Marshall’s Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach for the last three seasons.

One of the guys Huff happens to know is Marshall Offensive Coordinator Tim Cramsey, who will be the lone holdover from former coach Doc Holliday’s staff. Cramsey, who is coming off his third season as Marshall’s offensive coordinator, and Huff had a relationship prior to either of them coming to Marshall.

The two coaches crossed paths during Huff’s first ever job interview, which happened to be at the University of New Hampshire, where Cramsey was serving as the offensive coordinator. Huff, who did not know anyone on the UNH staff at the time, got the help from some friends to get the interview. Cramsey ended up conducting the job interview with Huff.

Ironically, Huff didn’t get the job back then, something he jokingly reminded Cramsey of.

Cramsey and Huff maintained their relationship after their initial meeting, which provided the familiarity that Huff emphasized is necessary for a cohesive coaching staff.

“Tim and I have had a relationship. When you build a staff you’ve got to blend it the right way,” explained Huff. Me having a relationship with Tim prior to here really helped.”

As for filling the current vacant positions on the coaching staff, Huff said he’s working through the potential candidates and indicated bringing some Marshall alumni back is being considered.

“I think it’s important to bring some guys back that have a passion for this place that I can’t imitate based on their past history here. It’s important to have some guys with some Marshall history.”

The first-time head coach also said he’s considering assistants who could bring valuable head coaching experience with them to the brand new staff.

“Building a staff is not necessarily picking who others would perceive would be the best guy or the hottest name, its picking the right pieces to the puzzle so the organization runs efficiently.”

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DHHR: Red counties dropping on daily COVID-19 map

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — There were only 15 West Virginia counties denoted as ‘red’ on Wednesday’s COVID-19 alert map released by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

That’s the lowest number of ‘red’ counties in weeks. The counties moving down to lower levels of coronavirus spread are doing so mainly because their daily percent positivity test rates have decreased. All 55 counties have at least one red metric, most associated with infection rate which is calculated based on population.

There are 31 counties in the ‘orange’ position, three in ‘gold,’ five in ‘yellow’ and one, McDowell, in ‘green.’

The state confirmed 857 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday. The daily positivity test rate is 7.7% West Virginia continues to have the lowest estimated rate of virus spread, Rt Value, in the nation at .85.

The DHHR reported 21 additional deaths Wednesday including a 92-year old male from Fayette County, a 46-year old male from Raleigh County, a 78-year old male from Pleasants County, an 82-year old male from Wood County, an 86-year old female from Wyoming County, a 55-year old female from Mercer County, a 72-year old male from Mercer County, an 85-year old female from Jackson County, a 75-year old female from Berkeley County, a 79-year old male from Raleigh County, a 90-year old male from Putnam County, a 59-year old male from Cabell County, an 87-year old male from Mercer County, a 92-year old male from Harrison County, a 92-year old male from Fayette County, an 81-year old male from Mercer County, a 71-year old female from Fayette County, an 89-year old female from Mercer County, an 88-year old male from Preston County, an 81-year old male from Upshur County, and a 65-year old male from Marion County.

“We take the reporting of these deaths very seriously,” state DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch in a statement. “As we extend our deepest sympathies to the loved ones, we also encourage all West Virginians to recognize the continued need to take every possible step to slow the spread of this disease.”

Hospitalizations did increase slightly in Wednesday’s report. There are now 655 COVID-19 patients across West Virginia, 17 more than Tuesday’s report.

The DHHR report also covers the latest on the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program.

DHHR reports as of January 20, 2021, there have been 1,784,787 total confirmatory laboratory results received for COVID-19, with 111,677 total cases and 1,836 total deaths. https://t.co/GNsJvpkXCw pic.twitter.com/wi8fi7TVBU

— WV Department of Health & Human Resources • 😷 (@WV_DHHR) January 20, 2021

Overall confirmed cases per county include:

Barbour (1,018), Berkeley (8,227), Boone (1,315), Braxton (694), Brooke (1,801), Cabell (6,556), Calhoun (191), Clay (306), Doddridge (369), Fayette (2,204), Gilmer (539), Grant (932), Greenbrier (2,083), Hampshire (1,257), Hancock (2,344), Hardy (1,107), Harrison (4,114), Jackson (1,510), Jefferson (3,059), Kanawha (10,439), Lewis (737), Lincoln (1,054), Logan (2,160), Marion (2,977), Marshall (2,593), Mason (1,405), McDowell (1,145), Mercer (3,737), Mineral (2,331), Mingo (1,795), Monongalia (6,574), Monroe (834), Morgan (830), Nicholas (957), Ohio (3,154), Pendleton (492), Pleasants (732), Pocahontas (521), Preston (2,266), Putnam (3,578), Raleigh (3,769), Randolph (2,008), Ritchie (508), Roane (410), Summers (641), Taylor (920), Tucker (422), Tyler (515), Upshur (1,307), Wayne (2,149), Webster (223), Wetzel (924), Wirt (303), Wood (6,192), Wyoming (1,449).

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Wayne County authorities continue investigation into fatal shooting

FORT GAY, W.Va. — The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office continues its investigation into a fatal shooting Tuesday morning.

Authorities said the shooting occurred along Webb Cemetery Road in Fort Gay around 4 a.m.

The sheriff’s office confirmed the death of James Fitzpatrick from a gunshot wound.

More information about incident will be released at a later time.

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