Local Sports, Men's Basketball, Morgantown, Sports, WVU Sports

With a broken record and one final call, Jay Jacobs’ life-long basketball journey reached its conclusion

MORGANTOWN — It’s no exaggeration to say that Jay Jacobs has lived his life through the game of basketball.

“I started out in grade school just playing in churches and skipping Cub Scout meetings to go down and play at the school,” Jacobs told The Dominion Post in a recent interview. “My dad thought I was a real leader in Cub Scouts, but I had never even been to a meeting.”

Over the next several decades, Jacobs, 85, set the all-time scoring record at Morgantown High School, played alongside Jerry West during the “Golden Era”‘ at WVU, coached at high schools in W.Va. and Maryland and spent nearly 50 years calling games for his alma mater as a hall-of-fame color commentator.

After all those years, Jacobs’ time with the hardwood seemed to finally come to an end this past weekend, as he called his final college basketball game Saturday when West Virginia played BYU in the Coliseum. Jacobs, who called his first game for WVU in 1977, received a standing ovation from the Mountaineer home crowd during the first media timeout.

Jay Jacobs was recognized for his final broadcast on Saturday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

“It meant quite a bit because I’ve been a West Virginia guy for over 60 years,” said Jacobs, who was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame last year. “I played with (Jerry) West — or I sat on the bench and watched Jerry play — I went to school there, I got my master’s there, so it was quite an honor and quite a thrill.”

Ironically, the same weekend when Jacobs chose to end his time with WVU, his time with his high school alma mater came to an end as well. 

Less than 24 hours before Jacobs put on his broadcasting headset for the final time, Morgantown High senior Sharron Young scored 20 first-half points in a game at the Greenbrier Resort Friday night to break Jacobs’ all-time scoring record with the Mohigans.

“I never thought about the record too much any time someone would bring it up,” Jacobs said. 

Jacobs set the MHS career scoring record at 1,268 points and that mark had stood for 68 years since his graduation in 1956.

“That’s long enough,” Jacobs quipped. “My radio partner Tony Caridi had called me about a week before and he said Sharron was about ready to break that record.”

Young finished with 30 points on Friday to stand alone as Morgantown’s all-time leading scorer.

Morgantown’s Sharron Young is recognized on Tuesday for breaking the school’s all-time scoring record that was held by Jay Jacobs for years. (Benjamin Powell/The Dominion Post)

“Sharron is really a great kid and I’m so happy for him,” Jacobs said. “The thing about it that’s so great is he still has the opportunity to play and add on to that. I’m really happy for him.”

Jacobs said he was lucky to hold the record in the first place. At the time he played, MHS was only grades 10, 11 and 12 and he was the first-ever sophomore to start for the Mohigans. He also played 30 years before the implementation of the three-point line; otherwise, the self-described free shooter thinks he could have set the bar even higher.

“I was very blessed because I got it in three years and without the three-point line,” he said. “I never saw a shot I didn’t like, so who knows what I would’ve had.”

Jacobs also said it was luck for the record to stand for as long as it did.

“There have been some great players that have been at that high school,” he said. “There was a kid by the name of Nathan Adrian several years ago. He was on his way to breaking that record the first time around and something happened to him injury-wise that took him out of it so he never quite made it, but he probably would have been the first one.”

Adrian missed most of his senior season at MHS with an injury in 2012-13 and never broke the record. Like Jacobs, Adrian also went on to play with the Mountaineers.

Jacobs graduated from WVU with a degree in physical education in 1961 and then with a master’s degree in secondary education in 1962.

After graduation, Jacobs got into coaching, beginning at Union High School in Benwood, W.Va. Union High was one of the schools consolidated into John Marshall High School, after which Jacobs heard from a friend in Martinsburg about a job opportunity in Maryland at the newly formed Thomas Johnson High School.

“They called me up and asked me if I wanted to interview and I said, ‘Hell yeah,’” Jacobs recalled. “I went in and the first question the principal asked me was ‘Do you know how to coach black kids?’ I said I really don’t because I don’t have a program for black kids, I just have one program (for everyone). I left there and I told my wife when I got in the car, ‘I’m never going to smell this job.’

“They called me about three days later and told me that I had the job and I’ve been here in Frederick ever since.”

After coaching for a few seasons, Jacobs moved into administration as the school’s assistant athletic director. It was a decision that closed the door on his coaching career but opened the way for his next venture.

Jay Jacobs was recognized for his final broadcast on Saturday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

“There was this guy that was way ahead of himself who was in television with cable,” Jacobs said. “He was looking for an analyst and I had never done it before but they wanted me to take a shot at it. They taped games on Friday from four high schools and they showed them back on Saturday morning. That’s how I got into (broadcasting).”

As it turned out, Jacobs ended up being pretty good at that broadcasting thing, eventually catching the eye of his alma mater in 1977.

“Mike Parsons, the (deputy) athletic director at West Virginia, called me one evening and said Jack Fleming, the main announcer, had been struggling health-wise,” Jacobs said. 

Fleming had been calling WVU games for nearly 30 years, usually doing so as a one-man booth.

“I said one thing to Mike, I said ‘Jack has been a guy who has done this by himself, you’ve got to get him to say yes that he’ll accept me as a second guy,’” Jacobs said. “It worked out that way and we went from there.”

Jacobs had enough years in teaching at that point to retire and he joined the Mountaineer Sports Network in 1977, forming a trio of himself, Fleming and Woody O’Hara, all three eventual hall-of-famers.

Wren Baker and Tony Caridi present Jay Jacobs with a plaque during the Hall of Fame ceremony last year. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

Getting to call games for the university he graduated from in the town he grew up in meant the world to Jacobs, although he didn’t realize it right away.

“I thought I could do the NCAA Championship and all that kind of stuff and I had to come back to my level,” Jacobs admitted. “One night I was working with Jack Fleming and we were doing radio and TV and Jack said ‘I want to tell you something, Jay, that I hope will stick with you. Remember all these 10,000 people are in here not to see you. They’re in here to see two teams play.’ That really stuck with me and brought me down to a level where I knew I was so proud to take this job and so lucky to have it. I didn’t realize I’d hold onto it for nearly 50 years.”

Over the years at WVU, Jacobs was on the call for 19 NCAA tournaments, eight trips to the Sweet Sixteen, an Elite Eight appearance in 2005 and a Final Four in 2010.

Jacobs hung up his playing shoes after graduating from WVU in 1961, hung up his coaching whistle when he moved into administration in 1974 and hung up his broadcasting headset after 47 years when he called his final game for the Mountaineers this past Saturday, ending what has truly been a life-long love affair with the game of basketball.

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