Written by John Antonik
Harry Stansbury gained nationwide fame during his 22-year tenure as West Virginia University’s Director of Athletics from 1916-38.
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Stansbury was appointed athletic director Dec. 16, 1916 two years after graduating from West Virginia Wesleyan, where his Bobcat teams frequently beat the Mountaineers on the gridiron. Stansbury was also a pitcher on the baseball team and performed the pole vault in track.
At the beginning of his tenure at Wesleyan, Stansbury was practically a one-man department, serving as publicity director, athletic manager, book keeper, program director and then star player. Greasy Neale, Stansbury’s teammate, recalled Stansbury frequently working late into the night on his typewriter filing a story for the next day’s paper or writing a letter to other schools seeking games.
But it was at West Virginia where Stansbury really made his mark. The Mountaineer football program, first under Mont McIntyre, and then under Clarence Spears enjoyed a Golden Era. McIntyre’s 1919 team defeated Princeton 25-0 with Ira Rodgers leading the nation in scoring and becoming the school’s first consensus All-American.
Three years later, Spears led West Virginia to the school’s first undefeated season and a trip to the East-West Bowl game in San Diego, Calif, which the Mountaineers won 21-13 over Gonzaga.
Stansbury helped shape West Virginia University’s athletic department through the construction of Mountaineer Field in 1924, and the construction of the Field House in 1929.
Of the approximately $740,000 cost to build the football stadium, nearly $500,000 of that was collected through private donations, primarily through Stansbury’s zeal and promotion.
Five years later, Stansbury spearheaded the construction of the Field House on Beechurst Avenue that was the home of Mountaineer basketball for 40 years. Again Stansbury used his efforts and influence to push the West Virginia Legislature into appropriating the necessary funds to construct the old Field House, now known as Stansbury Hall. He received $125,000 the first year and the same amount the next year to finish the job in 1928. The facility gave WVU the biggest and most modern athletic arena in the tri-state area and it also housed the School of Physical Education.
Besides building stadiums, Stansbury was also active in the development and initiation of new sports at WVU. Wrestling was added to the WVU sports program in 1921 and nine years later boxing was created in 1930. With names such as Sam Littlepage and Ashby Dickerson, boxing quickly took off at WVU soon rivaled football in popularity. In fact, a triple-header card of wrestling, basketball and boxing were big money makers for the athletic department in the 1930s.The sport produced three national champions before being dropped during World War II.
Stansbury was instrumental in organizing the Eastern Basketball Conference that survived for six years until 1940, and the Eastern Boxing Conference that lasted until the sport was dropped.
Stansbury used his influence to begin the first state high school basketball tournament while he was still at Wesleyan in 1914 and later the first state track and field meet in 1918. He directed that first meet on the campus of WVU and continued to direct the meet well into the 1940s.
He also sponsored and directed the WVU Indoor Track Games that brought some of the nation's greatest track and field athletes to the WVU Field House from 1929-39. The list included Olympic sprinters Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Eddie Tolan, Olympic 800-meter champion John Woodruff and broad jumper Eulace Peacock.
It was during a track meet in the 1920s when Stansbury was struck in the side of the neck with a javelin and calmly walked to the medical center under his own power to have it removed.
Following his WVU tenure, Stansbury served as the executive secretary of the Charleston Chamber of Commerce before retiring in his native Beckley.
In 1965, Stansbury received “The Order of Vandalia” from the University for his distinguished service to the WVU and the state of West Virginia. He is also a member of the West Virginia Hall of Fame. Stansbury died August 8, 1966 in Beckley.