Regardless of their allegiance to a particular college or university, citizens of West Virginia came together to celebrate the success of the extraordinary West Virginia University men’s basketball team and its coach John Beilein, as well as the post-season journey of the women’s team. Some already refer to the Regular 60-day session of the Legislature as “March Madness,” but with the continued accomplishments of these teams, a different wave of anticipation swept over the Capitol.
In order to recognize the extreme success achieved by both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at WVU and to thank the players for the unification and attention they garnered in this great state, both the House of the Delegates and the Senate will be introducing resolutions and presenting them to the teams on April 9, the final day of the Regular Session.
In its battle for a national championship, the WVU men’s basketball team evoked a unified spirit that had long been subdued in this state. A collective sense of pride flowed throughout West Virginia with citizens rallying around the team as they powered their way beyond anyone’s expectations. This support had no exception within the state’s Capitol. Lawmakers expressed their team spirit by donning flashing WVU pins and giving motivational remarks on the floor pledging their faith in this seemingly unstoppable team.
The state cheered as the Mountaineers advanced quickly through the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship tournament, starting among 65 other teams and advancing all the way to the Elite Eight. These players captured the state’s and the nation’s hearts with their unexpected success in a classic Cinderella story.
Their first round game against Creighton displayed the Mountaineers’ never-say-die attitude. With only seconds remaining, the WVU’s defense held strong, blocking a Creighton shot that led to the game-winning slam dunk. Many thought the team’s tournament run would end in the second round. However, the Mountaineers rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit against the region’s #2 seeded team, Wake Forest, to win in double overtime. In its Sweet 16 match-up against Texas Tech, WVU again persevered, defeating a talented team and one of the NCAA’s most accomplished coaches.
By the Elite Eight, with only one win between WVU and the coveted Final Four, all West Virginians, including state lawmakers, believed that anything was possible. However, Mountaineer fans stood in shock as the team’s lead, which had climbed to 20 points following a barrage of three-point baskets in the first half, began slipping away during overtime of its final game against Louisville. When the game was eventually lost, Final Four dreams were shattered, but no one stood displeased with the team’s efforts.
“I’m so proud of those guys and what they’ve done for us on a national basis. Finally the state is being recognized for the tremendous quality of life in WV.” -Sen. Roman W. Prezioso (D – Marion)
“Obviously it makes us a very proud state that these young athletes have put us on the map in the athletic arena. We just want to show our appreciation and our gratitude for their great display of their wonderful athletic abilities.” -Del. Scott Varner (D -Marshall)
Including their improbable run in the Big East Conference tournament, the Mountaineer men played eight phenomenal games in a mere 13 days. Their perseverance, grit and teamwork provided hope and a sense of pride to West Virginia.
Sportscasters from New York to Los Angeles dubbed the Mountaineers “America’s team” and the phrase “Pittsnogled” became a frequently used verb during the tournament to describe unexpected triumphs. Even after its defeat to Louisville, the story of WVU was highlighted by many media outlets as one of the tournament’s most inspiring.
The Mountaineer women’s basketball team also enjoyed great success in their post-season endeavors. The team is currently participating in a post-season tournament for the second consecutive year. The women are soaring through the 2005 Women’s National Invitation Tournament, having defeated Kentucky in Lexington in double overtime to advance to the championship game against perennial power Southwest Missouri State. At the time of this publication, the championship game had not yet been played.
Inside the Capitol walls, lawmakers recognized the positive impact the teams were having and even during one of the busiest months for lawmakers, they unified under the common goal of WVU success. In the midst of heated debates and approaching deadlines, lawmakers from all regions of the state set aside differences and cheered for the Mountaineers. The state came together with resounding support and delighted in the amount of national attention WVU had received.
The Cinderella story does not end here. The Mountaineers not only gave the state positive national attention, but also they highlighted the strong work ethics that are so dear to our state. These athletes may have opened the door to future students looking to attend a college or university in West Virginia. Thanks to them, institutions of higher learning in West Virginia could see an increase in enrollment. In addition, three weeks of consistent public attention to a national audience may have extreme benefits for the state’s tourism industry. The ability to showcase not only athletic talent, but also a strong will to succeed and an unwavering commitment may change any negative perceptions of West Virginia some residing outside the Mountain State might hold.
March is always a time of madness at the State Capitol. The lawmakers and staff members will be forever grateful to the 2004-2005 West Virginia University basketball teams, who produced a spirit and a success that made this the most memorable March Madness to date.