During the mid-80s until the school’s closure in 2002, you could count on the Oceana Indians being a force on the basketball court. The man directing those teams that demanded respect and often fear across the coalfields was none other than Jim Hopkins.
Oceana won West Virginia’s Class AA titles in 1963 and 1965. The 1965 team also finished with an incredible 26-0 record. Hopkins grew up near the school and saw those great teams from the 60s and the subsequent victory parades.
“Those guys were who I looked up to,” he said. “Oceana is a special place. The school was the basically the community’s center, and they all made us proud.”
Hopkins began his coaching career as an assistant at Glen Rogers and was part of the staff when the Owls defeated Gauley Bridge, 69-65, to win the Class A state title in 1977. He then went home to serve as an assistant at Oceana in 1980 before taking over the head coaching duties a few years later.
The Indians hadn’t been to the state tournament since its undefeated 1965 campaign, but that all changed in 1986 when Oceana made it to the semifinals. The Indians returned to the tournament again in 1987, but playing in a very strong section and region made state tournament appearances a bit infrequent.
Oceana returned to Charleston in 1993 and fell in a hard-fought championship game to Bridgeport, 59-50, to pick up the Runner-Up trophy. However, the Indians were setting the table for something bigger.
1994 proved to be a special year for Oceana. The Indians came into the season with high hopes, but after a slow start, Hopkins needed to have a talk with his players.
“I told them that if they didn’t get this thing going that I was going to start some of the younger guys,” recalled Hopkins. “That seemed to work, because we went on a long winning streak after that. They really started playing well.”
The Indians played their way back to Charleston and bathed the Civic Center in a sea of red. They defeated a strong Winfield team in the opening round before beating Valley (Fayette) in the semifinals to set up a rematch with defending state champion Bridgeport.
This time, the story would be different as Hopkins and his Oceana squad got the 68-61 win to capture the school’s first state title in 29 years and capping off a 21-5 season.
“It was sweet revenge,” said Hopkins. “Those guys really liked each other and really enjoyed being around each other. When we got back home, they met us at the county line and paraded us all over the county just like they did with those teams back in the 60s.”
Oceana reached the state tournament one last time in Class AA in 1999 before dropping down to Class A.
The Indians found themselves back in Charleston in 2001 and faced the Williamson Wolfpack in the championship game. Even though Oceana had beaten Williamson twice during the regular season, this would not be the day for the Indians. Williamson won, 59-49, but the Indians were able to add another Runner-Up trophy to their storied legacy.
Oceana High School was set to close in 2002. Oceana and Baileysville were set to consolidate and create Westside High School.
The Indians once again made it to the state tournament and bowed out during the semifinals, but the defining moment of that campaign came in the regular season finale at home against the top-ranked and undefeated Class AA Tug Valley Panthers.
In a scene that couldn’t have been scripted better by writers in Hollywood, the Indians had the ball with a chance to win in the closing seconds. With the gym packed beyond capacity and spectators’ toes on the edge of the court, magic happened.
“We had a play set up for point guard Ryan Maynard to penetrate,” said Hopkins. “They cut him off, and our only senior Matt Price went to the elbow. He got the pass and put it in.”
The gym erupted as fans rushed the floor, not just celebrating the win over an undefeated team from a higher classification but also with the sheer emotion that the Indians had given them one last amazing moment on their home floor.
“We beat a superior team on our floor,” recalled Hopkins. “The emotions of the crowd and the community. It’s a memory that will stay with me forever. It was a special moment for everyone.”
When Westside was formed, Hopkins was the choice to lead the Renegade program in its early stages. The Renegades made it to the Class AA state tournament in 2003 and then reached the semifinals in 2004.
Westside then made it to the state title game in 2005 before falling to the Logan Wildcats, 60-56, to finish a 24-3 season. Hopkins retired from coaching after the 2006 season.
Hopkins’ legacy at Oceana and later Westside was marked by consistent success over two decades with many amazing moments and teams. From that 1994 state title to the buzzer-beating emotional win over a heavily favored foe in the school’s final regular season game, Hopkins’ Oceana teams truly were good to the last shot.
Photos Courtesy of Coach Jim Hopkins