By Grant Traylor, The Herald Dispatch, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — As Chapmanville head coach Brad Napier took the podium following the Tigers’ 69-60 win in the Class AA Championship, he couldn’t help but smile.
That which was important to Napier, he all had within arm’s length.
Napier had his family surrounding with son, Brenden, nestled on his lap.
To his left, Napier had his basketball players, who had just earned the Tigers the title.
In front of him sat the championship net and trophy, which represented the culmination of a long process.
For many, the trek toward a basketball title starts in early November.
For these Tigers, that trek started just a few days following a disappointing loss in the previous year’s Class AA Championship game.
Napier made sure that each time his team took to the court in any capacity, that loss to Fairmont was on their mind. That approach and the culmination of a 27-1 season resulted in Napier being named the 2018 recipient of the Van Meter Award, given to the High School Coach of the Year by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
“It’s an unforgettable moment to do something that so many people in our community had looked forward to,” Napier said. “I was really happy for our players because our players had put in an extreme amount of work and worked so hard to get to that point. I was so, so happy that all their hard work paid off and they were able to get over the hump.”
The approach was unique and a bit gutsy on Napier’s part due to the nature of it.
Chapmanville led by double-digits late in the third quarter of the previous year’s title game loss to Fairmont Senior, who used a 14-4 run to close out a 59-54 win in the 2017 Class AA Championship.
The Tigers were devastated by the loss, having their first title in their grasp and letting it slip away.
To constantly have that echoing in their mind was a risk, but Napier knew it was one he had to take for his players to reach their potential.
They had to embrace that defeat and learn from it. It would make them better players and, more importantly to him, teach them a lesson that they could take throughout life about dealing with adversity.
At each open gym, each workout, each team gathering, Napier made sure that Chapmanville’s returning players for 2017-18 never forgot about what happened.
It was the driving motivation behind everything the team did.
“I believe in being tough and reminding them,” Napier said. “Sometimes, you learn best from your mistakes and when you aren’t successful. You learn more in losses than what you do in wins.”
Chapmanville senior Drew Williamson recalled having that on his mind from the onset of workouts for the 2017-18 season.
“All year, that’s all we talked about whenever we were practicing over the summer or whenever everyone was working out, working hard,” Williamson said. “That’s all we talked about. I thought that really helped us out, honestly.”
After months of hearing about it, the stars aligned for the Tigers to get the chance to reset history, in a sense.
For the second-straight year, Chapmanville and Fairmont Senior would meet in the Class AA title game.
“I thought we were the two best teams all year and both of us were looking forward to getting back to that game,” Napier said.
Again, the Tigers would jump out to a large lead and take momentum into the fourth quarter, only to see Fairmont Senior make a run late.
That’s where the experience of the previous year and that constant reminder paid dividends as the Tigers got to celebrate the title with the massive throng of fans that made the trek up Corridor G to the Charleston Civic Center.
When asked what the difference was between the two seasons, Napier didn’t even hesitate.
“Our experience and our toughness,” Napier said. “We were tough tonight. Physically, mentally, everything about us was tough.”
That toughness started with Napier’s tough love once the loss occurred.
It was a coach who knew his players and knew what it would take to get them to the next level as a team.
“They’re great teammates,” Napier said. “They love each other, they play for each other…It’s a total team effort. That’s what makes these guys special.”
Napier beat out a competitive cast of coaches to earn the 2018 Van Meter Award.
Martinsburg’s Dave Walker finished second in the voting after leading the Bulldogs to a 14-0 season and the team’s fourth Class AAA football title in six years.
Wheeling Central girls basketball coach Penn Kurtz ended up third in voting after his Maroon Knights finished 26-2, defeating Huntington St. Joe for the Class A championship.
Bluefield’s Fred Simon (football) and St. Albans’ Rick Whitman (baseball) were fourth and fifth respectively.
Napier will be honored at the 72nd annual Victory Awards Dinner, which takes place at 4 p.m. on May 6 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston. Tickets for the banquet can be purchased for $22 through the local newspaper’s sports department.