West Virginia Boys Basketball State Tournament has Buckhannon roots

Harry Stansbury, the man largely responsible for the foundation of the West Virginia Basketball State Tournament was a pivotal figure in the state’s sporting history. He is both a Wesleyan alumnus and a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. PHOTO COURTESY OF WVU SPORTS

GLENVILLE — Dr. Leland Byrd, one of the most influential coaches and administrators in Glenville State College (GSC) history passed away last week. He was 94.

Byrd served as Glenville’s head basketball coach from 1955 through 1966 and ended his tenure in the #2 spot on the school’s all-time list with 116 wins. To this day, some 56 years later, he remains in the #4 spot. He was also an Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Glenville during that same time. During his final five years as coach, he also served as Glenville’s Director of Athletics. Byrd was elected to GSC’s Curtis Elam Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012.

Before Glenville, Byrd had established himself as an iconic basketball star in the Mountain State. He starred at Matoaka High School in Mercer County, and went on to star at West Virginia University, where he was an All-American in 1947. Amazingly, WVU won all 57 home games at the old Mountaineer Fieldhouse during his four years and recorded an amazing 72-15 record. He was teammates with Fred Schaus, who also became a legendary head coach at WVU and the Los Angeles Lakers. Byrd was WVU’s first star to top 1000 career points. 

His first coaching stint was at Hinton High School in the early 1950’s before he was hired at Glenville State in 1955. Between WVU and his coaching career, Byrd served in the United States Army.

During his time at Glenville, he coached a total of ten future GSC Hall of Famers. This included Pioneer basketball stars Tim Carney, Larry Gandee, Bob Minnieweather, Rudy Poole, Bob Reynolds, Russ Shepherd, and Bob Turner. Although better known as football stars, future Hall of Famers Gary Blake, Ralph Holder, and Doc Stanley also were in the rotation on Coach Byrd’s basketball rosters.

Of note, Byrd’s recruitment of Minnieweather and teammate Sam Burns integrated not just the GSC Athletic Department, but also the college itself. Minnieweather would become a star, and quickly became one of the league’s top rebounders.

Carney and Shepherd later returned to Glenville as coaches with each eventually assuming the role of Athletic Director. Poole remains the school’s all-time scoring leader in basketball.

Byrd brought back GSC alumnus Jesse Lilly as his assistant. Lilly would step in as head coach for one year in 1962 while Byrd pursued an advance degree at WVU and would serve as his successor in 1967. Lilly would go on to a Hall of Fame career himself. 

Dr. Byrd also coached Don Nuckols at GSC. Nuckols went on to coach five state championships as head coach at Mullens High School.

Byrd’s influence on the landscape at GSC, both athletically and culturally was immense.

After GSC, Byrd would return to WVU as their Athletic Director from 1972 through 1979. He was Athletic Director during the final four years of Bobby Bowden’s coaching tenure in Morgantown, and also during the playing career of Coach Bob Huggins. The groundwork for the new Mountaineer Field, which officially opened in 1980, was developed during his time as Athletic Director. He was elected to WVU’s Hall of Fame in 1991.

After WVU, Dr. Byrd became Executive Director of the Eastern Eight (which later became the Atlantic 10). His final stop before retirement, was a successful stint as the Athletic Director at Western Michigan University.

Glenville State College is proud of Dr. Leland Byrd and all of his accomplishments.

A celebration of his life will take place at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the WVU Foundation, Inc. earmarked for the Dr. Leland E. Byrd Scholarship Fund, PO Box 1650, One Waterfront Place, Morgantown, WV 26507-1650.

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