Special Report: Coal and football - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Coal and football

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Hundreds of coal mining jobs left the region in September alone. And while many claim coal keeps the lights on, others might argue coal also fuels something else: Friday night lights.

Welcome to Delbarton. Population: barely 500. But it wasn't always this way.

"When the layoffs come, people come where the work is, whether it's out of town, out of state," said Llvel Estep, a miner who lives in Delbarton.

Any county where almost 90 percent of people work in the coal industry will feel the blow of two decades' worth of mine layoffs.

"We've lost so many jobs here in the area," said Yogi Kinder, the head football coach at Mingo Central High School. "People's moving away."

When jobs leave, families leave. And when families leave, potential athletes leave.

"We probably had three good football players move away because they dads don't have jobs," Kinder said.

Kinder became head football coach at Mingo Central in 2011. But before that, he coached Matewan High School, even helping them clinch the championship in 1993. But the Mingo County schools that made it to state finals in the nineties--Burch, Matewan, Gilbert--they don't even exist anymore.

"Since Matewan won their last state championship, I'm sure a lot of families had to move away because of coal layoffs," said Joe May, a senior at Mingo Central who plays running back.

In 2011, the Mingo County Board of Education consolidated four area high schools. Some say profitable coal companies always helped those local teams succeed.

"We never rode the school bus, we never stayed at the Holiday Inn, we always ate at the nicest restaurants," Kinder said. "It was always first class, and it was all because of coal."

And some say the impact runs deeper than football. No local business escapes a dying town.

"We can talk about the mining industry, you can talk about athletics, but it all boils down to one thing: hope," said Curtis Crum, who owns several businesses in Delbarton. "We have the least amount of hope of anywhere around here."

Crum said struggle is part of life in Delbarton and its surrounding areas. His restaurant, Heritage Family Diner, barely makes profit. But he said a winning team might be the one thing that could get the heartbeat back in town.

"If we could take a state championship and make something of those teams, then that would lift spirits here," Crum said.

It's a long road to victory. But those on the sidelines seem hopeful.

"Yeah, eventually they gonna win," said Homer Blankenship, a Gilbert native.

"This community's really coming together," said Erica Hill, who attended Matewan High School. "And we love our football. I envision a championship within these next four years. I really do."

"I have to go to playoffs, it's my senior year," May said.

And what better mascot for this Mingo team than the Mingo Miners.

"They are the miners," Blankenship said. "Especially when they come out of the locker room and you hear that siren like out of the deep mine. Everyone in West Virginia is rooting for miners."

Gilbert High School was the last school in Mingo County to win a state football title in 1996.

The Miners have a shot at making the playoffs this year, but they need to win the next six games to qualify.