Bolyard always wanted to be a Mountaineer
This isn’t a fairy tale. But it could be.
Once upon a time West Virginia University and its basketball and football teams were beacons on the hill. There was a palpable and gilt-edged mystique about those two WVU sports.
Those sports-minded people within the state’s jagged borders had emotional ties to “their” Mountaineers. Thousands of state residents could never get to Morgantown to see basketball or football games in person. There was no regular television schedule that piped games from the old Fieldhouse or old Mountaineer Field into Red Jacket or War or even Marmet.
Sometimes news concerning the teams was sparse in coming or came weeks after the fact. Radio broadcaster Jack Fleming was as much a source of information as were the daily newspapers from near and far.
No matter. West Virginia University basketball and football were always important. Children often wanted to grow up, graduate from one of the hundreds of high schools in the state, and then be lucky enough to play for the Mountaineers. Being a jet pilot, fireman, cowboy or doctor ranked down the list of objectives many West Virginians aspired to achieve. Playing for the Mountaineers often topped the list.
Both the basketball and football teams at WVU had rosters stocked with athletes from the state’s numerous high schools.
Of course, all that has radically changed in today’s world. There is no longer a veiled but positive mystique about WVU athletics. There are no longer hundreds and hundreds of high schools in the state. Information about the teams is only a computer click away.
One of those West Virginia youngsters with dreams of doing anything to help the Mountaineers win games came from the mostly rural environment and a tiny high school that epitomized the state’s public education system.
Marvin “Bucky” Bolyard attended little Aurora High School in Preston County. Aurora High was little different than nearby Rowlesburg High, Tunnelton High, Bruceton Mills High, Terra Alta High, Kingwood High, Masontown Valley High, Fellowsville High or Newburg High — all Preston County schools that would graduate from 10 to 50 students a year.
Bolyard was like many children his age that grew up in the rural environment of the state in the 1940s and early 1950s. He stayed outside as much as was feasible. He had enough brothers to be able to be active in pick-up games as often as possible.
Even before his years at Aurora High and the basketball and baseball games against Rowlesburg’s River Lions or Tunnelton’s Thunderbirds, Bolyard was involved in as much competition as he could find.
Whether it be seeing who was the fastest runner, who could catch the most fish or even involved in, he did.
He little bothered with three square meals to keep him stoked. When seen eating, Bolyard was usually on the move and downing his favorite candy bars and soda pop.
Bolyard wasn’t very tall, but he was naturally thickly muscled without lifting weights or using dietary supplements.
But before ever reaching high school, he was blinded in one eye by an accident.
Would his desire to become a Mountaineer be dulled? Would his drive to play basketball and even baseball at WVU be stunted by what had to be a hugh adjustment? Those answers on both counts were a loud “no”.
At Aurora High he became one the northern part of the state’s more well-known basketball scorers. In Morgantown, not too far away even on the state’s curved-snake lanes that served as public roads, the sports writers took to calling him the “Aurora Borealis” because his scoring light shone so bright.
Above all else, Bucky wanted to be a Mountaineer and represent West Virginia University in a winning way on its athletic fields and basketball court.
His enthusiasm and all-out hustle overrode even his scoring. Bucky received an athletic scholarship to attend WVU.
In the mid-to-late 1950s, the NCAA rules were such that athletes could only play three years (and not four like today) on varsity teams.
Even though he had to spend a season on the freshmen basketball team, Bucky quickly established a well-deservred reputation as the best all-around athlete in the program.
Even though he never played on any WVU team with Bucky, loquacious former Mountaineer basketball player Buddy Quertinmont once said of Bolyard: “He could beat you at any sport you wanted to play.”
Said basketball teammate Willie Akers: “He was the only baseball player at WVU who played every position on the field.” Paul Miller was a freshman basketball player when Bucky was a senior, but he remembers, “We would go watch him play baseball, and we would take him a six-pack of Pepsi and some 5th Avenue candy bars. That’s about all he ever ate.”
It wasn’t until his junior year in 1957-58 that Bucky was able to do enough to join Coach Fred Schaus’ regular player rotation.
Bolyard and diminutive guard Ronnie Retton were two of Schaus’ more tenacious players and their never-bend and all-out hustle were used most often when the Mountaineers employed
fullcourt pressure defenses.
WVU was ranked No. 1 in the country and had only one regular season loss during the 1957-58 season.
Bucky came to Charles Town the summer between his junior and senior years at WVU and pitched, caught, and played in the infield for the Jackson-Perks Post 71 American Legion adult team that competed against military base teams like Ft. Myer, Fort Belvoir, the Quantico Marines, Bolling Air Force Base and the Camp Lejeune Marines.
Remembered most about Bucky — even above his competitive nature and unusual diet — was that he had no ego. He just played as hard as he could for as long as Schaus had him on the floor. He was the perfect teammate. Even WVU all-time great Jerry West has mentioned at times that Bucky was so team-oriented, so WVU-oriented.
Bucky started 30 of WVU’s 34 games, averaging 10.1 points a game, as a senior. The Mountaineers reached the NCAA’s national championship game in 1958-59 — the best finish in school history.
As a baseball player, Bucky earned three letters as a pitcher and infielder, leading the team in lowest ERA all three years. As a junior he hit .413 and as a senior his ERA was 0.75.
When he graduated in 1959, Bucky played basketball for a time in the American Basketball Association with the Pittsburgh Rens, later was an assistant coach at VMI and then had a long career as a high school basketball coach at California High in western Pennsylvania.
Bucky’s brother, Larry, was able to do well enough at Shepherd to be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Larry is brought into this story because it was he who was playing golf with Bucky in late September of 2001. Bucky suffered a heart attack that day and passed away.
Everybody knew of his continued love and devotion to West Virginia University. He was buried dressed in his WVU letterman’s sweater of blur and gold.
In 2005, West Virginia University inducted Bucky into its Sports Hall of Fame. He joined five others in that class.
In 2011, the town of Aurora honored Bucky by placing a commemorative plaque in the community building. The plaque was worded with mention of Bucky’s induction into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame six years earlier.
During that ceremony, native Preston Countian Dr. Mike Teets told those gathered, “Bucky was a true son of Aurora, an athlete for all seasons. He always won, and everybody else just fought for second place.”
WVU has established a scholarship in Bucky’s name.
The Marvin “Bucky” Bolyard Scholarship is reserved for a Preston County resident enrolled as an undergraduate pre-major or major in the College of Physical Activity and Sports Sciences.
The perfect teammate. With no ego.
Pepsi and 5th Avenue candy bars.
Bucky was a product of the tiny high schools that were spread all over the state.
He was in elementary school when there was a revered mystique surrounding West Virginia University and permeating its athletic teams.
And Bucky got to play for those teams. And he became almost as revered as those Mountaineer teams of the “Golden Era” of West Virginia University athletics.