As a native West Virginian, Mitch Vingle brings a keen insight into the sports mindset of this mountain state. He knows how all the cultural elements tie together.
There is a beautifully insulating quality to this part of our Footprint. Their ways are unique. From college and high school football to the beloved "pepperoni roll," Mitch Vingle's West Virginia is a place to visit just as often as he writes about it.
Swampland Sports Interview
Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I was born a poor white boy in... OK, not really. I was, though, born in a middle-class family in Fairmont, West Virginia, home of the first Father’s Day observance (supposedly), the pepperoni roll (definitely) and Mary Lou Retton. Marion County, by the way, also produced Rich Rodriguez, Nick Saban and Sam Huff.
I was not only born in “The Friendly City,” I was raised there as well. Was a proud Polar Bear of Fairmont Senior High. Had a blast growing up there.
What was your definition of "big time" sports as a kid?
As a kid, the Polar Bears, the local high school team, were a big deal. My father was a referee and he’d take me to some games. I’d sit on a team bench and look up what I thought were massive human beings. (Of course, compared to the athletes I cover now, they were pipsqueaks.)
I did, though, follow pro ball. Jerry West was my hero. Read his book “Mr. Clutch.” Even snapped a picture of him when he was on the tube in the playoffs. He was my guy. Now it’s weird when I get a voice message from him.
When did you decide you wanted to write about sports?
Early in high school. I sure as heck wasn’t handy around the house. And I loved sports. But what pushed me over the edge – I swear this is true – was watching the Odd Couple. Jack Klugman’s portrayal of Oscar Madison blew me away. I thought he was the coolest dude since Dean Martin. Wanted to be him. Some close to me say I at least got the slob part right.
What writers inspired you to become a writer? Who are the writers that inspire you now?
Tough question because it’s been so long ago. I remember, though, O. Henry made a big impression. I loved his plot twists. The Gift of the Magi was wonderful, different to me at the time. As an adult I enjoy John Patterson, David Baldacci, etc. But I’ve connected with writers that run the gamut from Dave Barry to Tony Kornheiser. (Quick story. I was once covering a WVU-Miami game. Of course, I was eating beforehand. Man asks me if the seat across from me is taken. It was Barry. I didn’t say a darn thing that made a lick of sense.)
Can you compare the allure of pro vs college sports inside the markets you've covered?
I’ve never really felt the allure of professional sports. I’ve seen it firsthand. I covered the Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins a bit. But covering a professional team is a 24-7 deal. And with that goes contracts, labor negotiations, drug testing... Yecch. Give me the pageantry of what’s in front of me on Saturdays any day.
As a sports columnist vs a beat writer, what do you see as your duty to the sports fans in your market (West Virginia)?
To comment and inform my audience on topics that are relevant to them. As a West Virginia native, I believe I’m fortunate enough to be in tune with them.
West Virginia has a football passion and intensity that belies it otherwise small population base. Despite some fine recent basketball play under John Beilein and the recent hiring of Bob Huggins, West Virginia ’s history is as a football school. Considering the basketball-heavy focus of the Big East, the BCS berth seems to be the only appeal to Big East schools that are more football-centric. If it were up to you, would you rather see the Mountaineers in another conference where they might be a better fit?
I truly believe the Big East is a great fit for West Virginia – with the exception of the security issue. What the ACC did to the Big East opened a lot of eyes – mine included.
The perfect scenario for WVU would be a membership with Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, etc. What I’d really, really like to see, though, is for the NCAA to take over, eliminate conferences and schedule games in districts. Why is WVU playing Connecticut and South Florida? Why is Marshall playing Tulsa in Oklahoma? It’s crazy.
Have 15 teams per district. Have eight districts. Then have playoffs like high schools. Win your district, go to the regional. How difficult is that?
That said, I know I’ll never see such logic in my lifetime.
Would you like to see West Virginia and Marshall play in the same conference to further enhance their rivalry?
I believe Marshall needs to grow its program a little more before trying to step up in conference affiliation. Since MU joined Conference USA it hasn’t experienced much success. As of this writing, the Herd had yet to win a game this season. So another jump up would be tough to imagine.
Also, I don’t think a conference affiliation is needed to keep a light under the rivalry. It will always be big brother trying to keep little brother down. It will always be little brother trying to knock off big brother. Good drama to us who cover the teams.
Please visit Mitch Vingle at the Charleston Gazette's website: