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From the Bench: With Hoops Season in Full Swing, a Look at Harrison County's Best Basketball Venue Ever

By Jeff Toquinto on January 16, 2022 from Sports Blog via Connect-Bridgeport.com

There’s nothing more exciting on the sports front than a packed house that produces that charged up atmosphere that for some reason seems to make teams play at a level above what they’re capable of playing. To me, the most noticeable venue where that happens is the basketball court.
 
For the past several years I’ve talked to many fans about the crowds that have gathered at some local basketball games – primarily boys’ basketball games between Bridgeport and Robert C. Byrd – that up until COVID usually come about as close to shutting the doors down as any I’ve been to in years. Don’t get me wrong, some of those have seen great crowds and have helped add to what are often exciting games. The problem to me is that they just don’t live up to the greatest basketball venue I ever recall in Harrison County – the Clarksburg Nathan Goff Armory.
 
Forgive me for not knowing what year it was that games stopped being played inside that massive facility just off of U.S. Route 19 near what is now the Village Square Conference Center. To be honest, it’s probably been decades since any type of legitimate basketball game has been played inside the spacious building that, to the very best of my knowledge, surpasses all other venues in the county in attendance capacity. What that means is there isn’t a player competing in prep basketball that ever had a chance to see a game played there and, thus, can’t comprehend just how great of a place it was to have competed inside.
 
Here’s the thing: Although I may be wrong, I don’t recall in recent years any of Harrison County’s gymnasiums having the doors shut down due to crowds that would draw the attention of the State Fire Marshal. Back when the Nathan Goff Armory was the home court for Washington Irving High School and a number of unforgettable sectional and regional events you were inside early or you were outside for the entire contest.
 
My first memory involving Bridgeport High School playing there was in postseason action in the mid-1980s as I watched the late Bill Kerns coaching and Mark Dudley gracefully doing his thing up and down the floor in postseason play.  It wasn’t long after that when games were no longer played at the facility. 
 
As mentioned above, I don’t have the time that it actually stopped happening; perhaps after the opening of the “Thunderdome” on the campus of then Washington Irving High School. Perhaps it was due to insurance reasons. Or perhaps the floor’s life at the armory had reached its end date and the government didn’t see funding a new floor as a reasonable expense.
 
In reality, it’s a moot point. The games are no longer being played there. To me, it’s sad.
 
It’s sad because the atmosphere simply can’t be duplicated. I’ve been told that during that 1970s that games featuring WI great Jeff Schneider required individuals getting there a minimum of an hour before the tipoff just to get into the building. Schneider is always listed in arguments about the greatest players in Harrison County history and his scholarship to Virginia Tech is testament to his ability.
 
While I never saw him play, I had the pleasure of sitting through several regional finals involving my alma mater  (Liberty) and watching another all-time great – Julius Lockett – against Parkersburg and Parkersburg South in the mid-1980s as well as several regular season games with WI. Against the Wood County teams, the place was sold out. Both times, you couldn’t get into the game if you weren’t there at least a half an hour before tipoff. The WI games also were packed even if not a sellout.
 
I also remember a game between South Harrison led by the nation’s leading scorer – Brett Vincent – against Notre Dame and Rodney Hairston, who happened to be among the nation’s leading scorers as well. There wasn’t a seat available anywhere and was the most crowded venue at the Armory I ever took part in. You were jammed in like nothing I’ve been involved with before or since.
 
In fairness, part of the crowd size can be attributed to the era. I say that because in my early sport writing days, I was involved with probably 100 games in about an eight-year period where the doors were shut at Bridgeport, Liberty, Washington Irving, the now closed Roosevelt-Wilson, Lincoln, South Harrison and Notre Dame where they all had people – including many a disgruntled parent – told they couldn’t come into the game.
 
I honestly can’t tell you the last time that’s happened in basketball. I think there may have been a sectional or two in the early 1990s at Lincoln High School where that happened, but if so it's definitely the exception as opposed to the rule. Part of it may stem from a society that has many more options for entertainment, including video games, cell phones, and any computer-related item that can be acquired. Honestly, I don’t know.
 
What I do know is this: As good as some environments are today and as good as some have been in the past, there has never been a better place to watch a big game between two opponents battling for bragging rights or a chance to advance in the postseason than Clarksburg’s Nathan Goff Armory. It’s just a shame it’s no longer available.
 
As I often do, I invite those reading this blog to talk about some of the great games – and players – they witnessed at the Armory. Feel free to add your comments below.
 
Editor's Note II: Top photo is of the Nathan Goff Armory today, while the bottom is a video still of the crowd from a 1986 Class AAA regional final between Liberty and Parkersburg South. The bottom section shown is the Liberty student section - yes that's just the student section.


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