For the Friday Oklahoman, I wrote about West Virginia’s response to the May 20 tornado in Moore. You can read my column here.
On the surface, West Virginia and Oklahoma would have little in common. But WVU athletic director Oliver Luck looks below the surface. I chatted with Luck on Wednesday in Moore, as he was in town to help facilitate a $200,000 donation from West Virginia alum Ken Kendrick to boost youth baseball in Moore. And Luck offered up his theory on why West Virginians and Oklahomans aren’t so vastly different.
“I think there’s a real bond that exists between West Virginia and Oklahoma,” Luck said. “Part of that is the Big 12. But again, we’re both kind of hardscrabble states.”
Luck meant culturally, socially, maybe even economically. And there’s some truth to what he says, even if Oklahomans would prefer to be a little less hardscrabble.
But Luck was a history major at West Virginia (1982), before going to the University of Texas Law School. So he’s found more than just similarities between Oklahomans and West Virginians. He’s found links.
“Here’s my theory,” Luck said. “I’m big on cultural affinity. West Virginians are basically Scots/Irish that came over from Scotland, Ireland. Rough, hard-drinking type folks. They were pushed up into the mountains, because they weren’t civilized like the Quakers or the Puritans. Know what I mean? Seriously. So they get pushed up and down, constantly on the move, running from the law, in a sense.
“They moved all the way through Virginia, Northern Alabama, Georgia, through Tennessee, into Arkansas. Know where they stopped? They stopped right about here.”
Luck was standing on a patch of red dirt in Moore’s Buck Thomas Park.
And why did the West Virginians stop in Oklahoma, and the middle of Kansas, and the middle of Texas? “Because you can’t move much farther west , without lots of irrigation,” Luck said. “So they stopped here. So these are our people.”
Historians — who are not to be confused with history majors — will quibble with the theory, I’m sure. Outside of American Indians, few people were pushed here. Much of Oklahoma was off limits to settlers of any descent, not that many scrambling to get here anyway. But it seems totally cool to me that Luck is looking for links to Middle America.
Luck went to school in Austin and lived in Houston, where he played five years for the Houston Oilers (quarterback) and later spent nine years in business.
“I know the area enough to really believe that we have more affinity, West Virginians have more affinity, more in common, more commonality, with people in Stillwater and Norman and Oklahoma City, up through Kansas and down to Waco and Baylor, than we did with people in UConn or Syracuse. Cause that’s a different culture. It’s an Eastern seaboard kind of deal.”
Until summer 2012, West Virginia always had been an Eastern independent or a member of the Big East Conference. Suddenly, the Mountaineers went from playing Rutgers and Georgetown and Boston College and Pittsburgh, to playing Oklahoma schools, and Texas schools, and Kansas schools.
“I found as we went through our first season, we had our struggles and I’m sure we’ll continue to have our struggles in many of our sports,” Luck said. “But one thing that’s been a constant, our people just feel like they’re at home. When fans came into Morgantown, Sooner fans, etc., people opened up their tailgates. They really felt comfortable. Which wasn’t necessarily the case with our old rivals.”
Indeed, West Virginia rated high marks for hospitality, despite entering the league with a rowdy reputation.
“We thought it was a nice opportunity, as we started fresh, to clean the slate, because we had a little bit of a rough reputation,” Luck said. “I made a point of telling people, let’s be respectful. Let’s be friendly. We got folks coming from Big 12 country that had never been to Morgantown. Texas is playing up there for the first time.. You all (OU) played up there, first time ever. Let’s open it up on a positive note. The old cliché, you only have one chance to make a first impression? Let’s not screw that up.
“Now there’s a real sense that people like Oklahomans. There’s something in common, that we feel more comfortable, with Kansans and Oklahomans and folks up in Lubbock, than we did our friends from Syracuse and Georgetown. Georgetown and Morgantown, there’s not a lot of commonality there. So I think there is a pretty strong bond based on this cultural bond.”
Cultural bond? I don’t know. I’ll leave that to the historians. Strong bond? I like to think so. The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia to the conference, and West Virginia welcomed the Big 12. The Mountaineers seem genuinely glad to be with us. And we’re glad to have them. One thing you have to admit. We’re not a bunch of Quakers or Puritans. Maybe Oliver Luck is on to something.