Son of Hawley Field Namesake To Be Here on Sunday
Bill Hawley, the son of Hawley Field’s namesake, Roy “Legs” Hawley, will be in Morgantown this Sunday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the final game at the 43-year-old facility when West Virginia plays host to 19th-ranked Texas.
Bill, a longtime teacher in Preston County who is now retired and living in Wilmington, N.C., was just two days shy of his 14th birthday when his father died of a massive heart attack in a Pittsburgh hospital on March 20, 1954.
“It was quite a shock,” he recalled. “I wasn’t even aware that my father was sick.”
Legs Hawley was West Virginia University’s athletic director from 1938 until his untimely death at age 53 following a period when he guided Mountaineer athletics through the Great Depression and a major world war.
The elder Hawley’s association with WVU began in the early 1920s when he played baseball for coach Ira Errett Rodgers and basketball for coach Frances Stadsvold. Hawley was a center on the Mountaineer basketball team and was the backup catcher for the diamondmen, hitting the only home run of his college career when a weak fly ball that he somehow got ahold of was lost in some tall grass out in right field.
“I stopped at second base because I had never been that far, but when I saw them still hunting for the baseball in all that tall grass, I just kept right on running,” Hawley loved to joke.
Another popular story of Hawley’s hitting prowess that circulated around town for years was his willingness to put down a drag bunt against a one-armed pitcher once during a game in order to keep his batting average above .200.
But Hawley proved to be a much more effective athletic administrator, first at Marshall and then at WVU when he succeeded Harry Stansbury in 1938 as West Virginia’s second full-time director of athletics.
Hawley may have been known as Legs, but it was his right hand that almost always got things accomplished. Hawley’s outgoing personality and a strong, firm handshake that went right to the back of the thumb - accompanied with a long gaze into the eyes - made him likeable and respected by his peers.
“He shook hands with everybody and he even passed it on to my mother,” Bill said. “When people would shake hands with my mom they would look at her because she really put the squeeze on them.”
It was Hawley who cultivated West Virginia University’s relationship with New York City that still exists to this day, and it was Hawley who worked the phones and called in some old favors from his sportswriter friends that helped get the Mountaineers into the 1942 NIT, which they won.
Hawley became great friends with New York City basketball promoter Ned Irish and he always encouraged his basketball coaches to continue to play games at Madison Square Garden on a regular basis throughout the 1940s and early 1950s.
Even when Irish came under fire in the early 1950s for his associations with known gamblers, Hawley stuck by his friend and continued to send his WVU teams to New York City to play when other schools were no longer willing to do so.
“As a young boy dad took me everywhere,” Bill said. “I was in Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was a scout for the St. Louis Cardinals and when I was 10 years old he took me to Forbes Field to see the Pirates play the Cardinals.
“Before the game, he took me down to the Cardinal dugout and he called over one of the players and they began talking. After two or three minutes of being in awe of looking around Forbes Field, he introduced me to the player he was talking to – Stan Musial. Stan signed a baseball for me that day and I’ve been a Cardinals fan ever since.”
Perhaps Hawley’s biggest achievement at WVU was his seizure of the state high school boy’s basketball tournament from Buckhannon. By the late 1950s, the state high school tournament at the Field House in Morgantown was one of the premier athletic events in the Mountain State, and it provided West Virginia with a means of attracting the best high school players in the state – most notably Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley and Rod Thorn.
If not for Hawley’s foresight in bringing that event to Morgantown, some of those great Mountaineer players who formed the Golden Era of West Virginia University basketball may have chosen other schools.
Hawley also played a big role in West Virginia earning a bid to face Georgia Tech in the 1954 Sugar Bowl. It was Hawley who worked the phones by calling all of his friends in the press to make sure that they were voting West Virginia high enough in the polls to ensure that his one-loss football team remained appealing enough to the Sugar Bowl selection committee, which later came under fire for picking the upstart Mountaineers.
It was during this period when Hawley’s health really began to deteriorate, requiring him to be hospitalized in Pittsburgh where he died two weeks later.
“At that time, treating heart disease meant you were on the mend for a period of two weeks,” said Bill. “Then after two weeks they thought maybe he might make it and it was two weeks to the day that he had another massive heart attack.”
Two years after Hawley’s death, in the summer of 1956, the West Virginia University Board of Governors approved a recommendation that the WVU Baseball Park located where the WVU Coliseum now sits be renamed Hawley Field.
“When I went to West Virginia University from 1958-63 and I played in ’61, it was already named for my dad,” said Hawley. “I was never sure when they named it for him.”
Hawley Field remained in its first location until Sept. 23, 1967, when the State Legislature approved the funding to construct the WVU Coliseum.
For three years, the WVU baseball team played games at Father Flynn Field at St. Francis High until the present Hawley Field was constructed in 1971.
Prior to the start of this Sunday’s game, Hawley’s only son said he plans to be there to throw out the first pitch. It will be the first time he’s ever seen a game at the field that bears his father’s name.
“I told them I want to be real close to home plate, because I can’t throw a ball like I used to be able to,” Bill joked, showing the same disarming sense of humor for which his well-known father was once known.
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