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Marshall veterans showcase skills at annual Pro Day

By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Fourteen Marshall football seniors who wrapped up their college careers last fall tried to impress possible future employers Wednesday when they took part in MU’s annual Pro Day inside the Chris Cline Athletic Center.

Ahead of his third year at Marshall, head coach Charles Huff says the event was a big moment for his program and the future prospects for former MU players.

“It’s an exciting day for our seniors,” Huff said. “This is something you dream about for a long time when you play this game at a high level and today, to have many NFL scouts and personnel people here was really good.”

Scouts from 10 National Football League teams had representatives in attendance in Huntington Wednesday.

Players took part in strength, speed and agility drills that translate to the next level.

Among players taking part in Pro Day were two All-Sun Belt Conference picks from the 2022 Herd team in running back Khalan Laborn and cornerback Steven Gilmore.

Gilmore’s brother, NFL veteran Stephon Gilmore, was on hand to encourage his brother and take in the drills. Stephon Gilmore was recently traded by the Indianapolis Colts to the Dallas Cowboys.

“It’s definitely a great feeling, just having everyone out there with you,” Steven Gilmore said. “We all sweated together being here, so coming out here and putting on a show and doing it all together, you want to go hard for your brother.”

Gilmore impressed those in attendance with a 4.44 finish time in the 40-yard dash. Laborn and safety Isaiah Norman were close with 40-yard run times of approximately 4.5 seconds.

Laborn and Gilmore were also standouts in the vertical jump and broad jump, while Laborn was tops in the three-cone shuttle run at 6.92 seconds. Norman led the 20-yard shuttle run at 4.16 seconds.

The top strength exhibition of the day came from offensive lineman Kendrick Sartor, who completed the 225-pound bench press 27 times.

“This is just a piece of the puzzle,” Huff said. “You aren’t going to make it or not make it in the NFL based on what you did today. The consistency of your film and what you do between now and the time that you get that opportunity is going to matter.”

Football activities will continue at Marshall as the Thundering Herd holds the first of 15 spring football practices next Monday. Spring drills wrap up with the annual Spring Football Game on April 22 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

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3 Guys Before The Game – Spring Has Sprung (Episode 451)

If you’re in the mood for a multi-topic episode, the “Guys” have you covered.

Brad, Hoppy and Tony discuss WVU spring football, women’s basketball coaching searches and a hot dog pie. (That’s right, a hot dog pie)

The crew also reveals what allowed Texas and Kansas State to reach the Sweet 16.

Listener questions and comments complete the show.

Three Guys Before The Game is sponsored by Burdette Camping Center Komax Business Systems  —-  GoMart   — and Lou Wendell Marine Sales.

Don’t forget to check out Three Guys merchandise.

Never miss an episode, it’s free, subscribe below.




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PEIA costs will go up for state workers, so board will ask which option is least painful

The agency that oversees insurance for public employees is taking three new plan options on the road because of new legislation that will raise costs.

Jason Haught

“We have to now reconvene and adopt a new financial plan based on Senate Bill 268,” said Jason Haught, acting director of the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

The main reason for the change is that a broad plan passed by the Legislature mandates a return to an 80-20 cost share between government employers and public employees. That ratio had gotten out of whack in recent years because of a reserve that state officials originally set up to hold premiums flat.

PEIA’s finance board went over the three possibilities on Thursday afternoon. Next week, public hearings will be in Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown and Martinsburg. And then next Thursday, the finance board is scheduled to meet again to decide which plan to use.

The first narrows any changes to premium increases only. For the state fund, that would mean 24.2% premium increases for employees, varying across the program’s different plans. For non-state funds, the option would mean a 15.6% premium increase. Retirees would not absorb any increase.

The second two options are described as blended approaches, raising premiums while also raising deductible and out-of-pocket costs.

The blended options also vary depending on what specific insurance plan each person has opted to take.

So, the first blended option anticipates raising premiums by 19.2% and non-state funds by 12.5%. Benefit changes would mean increasing medical deductibles and medical out-of-pocket expenses by about 25%. This would also double prices for prescriptions, a big concern that the board discussed.

The second blended option includes a 14.6% increase for state employees. Medical deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses would increase about 50%. Again, prescription drug costs go way up.

For workers in non-state plans that opt into PEIA, the second blended approach would mean a 9.7% premium increase along with medical deductible and out-of-pocket increases of about 35%. And again, prescription drug costs would go way up.

The PEIA Finance Board already took a plan out for comment last fall that had no premium increases at all. But with the new legislation signed by the governor, another plan has to be built.

Whatever change is decided will take effect at the start of the fiscal year, July 1.

Dale Lee

“Let me start by saying, I don’t envy you,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told Finance Board members on Thursday. “We’re in a difficult situation not of your choosing. We understand that. My anger will come across, but I hope you know that it’s not geared at you. You have to play the cards you’re dealt.”

Lee described the increase in out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions as “a killer.” He suggested that the increased out-of-pocket costs in the blended plans could result in painful surprises. “If you have to use it or even have to go to the emergency room one time, you are not going to like this blended approach, correct?” he said.

The PEIA Finance Board, in a meeting that lasted about an hour and 40 minutes, discussed whether to narrow down the plans or to take all three out for public comment. The decision in the end was to offer all three as possibilities.

The first hearing is 6 p.m. Monday at the Culture Center in Charleston. There are two hearings on Tuesday: 6 p.m. at the Hampton Inn at Granville Square in Morgantown and also 6 p.m. at Mountain Health Arena in Huntington. And the final public hearing is 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

Following the public hearings, the PEIA Finance Board will meet again to settle on one approach.

“Again, I don’t envy you,” Lee said, adding that next week “my guess is you’re going to see a lot of people who are going to be upset. And I will remind them that they shouldn’t be upset at you. You’re playing the cards that you were dealt. But that’s what’s going to happen.”

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The 69th Mountaineer Mascot prepared for sideline spirit patrol

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The 69th Mountaineer mascot for the 2023-24 season is Mikel Hager from Boone County, and he brings his four years of experience with the WVU Gold Cheer Team to inspire fans for the next year.

Other finalists in the competition included Braden Adkins, Christian Adkins, and Bailey Gatens.

Adkins has been designated the alternate.

Hager said he wants to use his title as an opportunity to inspire all 1.8 million residents in the state.

“I’m an exercise physiology major, so I’m really passionate about physical activity and exercise,” Hager said. “That’s something I’d like to try to emphasize and bring to the forefront, especially to show young Mountaineers that physical activity doesn’t have to be work; it can be fun.”

Hager won’t officially assume the title until the “Passing of the Rifle” ceremony, but he said the support from Mountaineer Nation has been overwhelming.

“I haven’t received my buckskins yet, but the support that has poured in from all the former Mountaineers and knowing that everyone wants the best and really wants me to succeed has really been awesome,” Hager said.

Hager said he had the inside track to win the title based on his four years working crowds with the WVU Gold Cheer Team. That experience allowed him to understand what works and how to pull it off with confidence.

“I think what helped me is that I’ve been leading crowds like that for the past four years, so I had the unique advantage of knowing when to start a cheer and when to cut a cheer,” Hager said. “You don’t want to try to start a Let’s Go Mountaineers chant when we just threw a turnover into the third row.”

In addition to having the inside track, Hager said he also spent a year watching the 68th Mountaineer mascot, Mary Roush from Mason County. During that time, Hager developed a friendship with Roush that encouraged him to follow her lead and challenge for the position.

“I’ve stood beside her on the sidelines all year, so she’s been super supportive,” Hager said. “She tells me anytime I need anything at all, even if it’s not mountaineer-related, to never be afraid to reach out. She’s been an awesome resource to have and a really great friend I’m glad I got to make.”

Hager is a Promise Scholarship recipient and serves as a non-paid assistant coach for the Scott High School football team. Hager also volunteers as a math tutor at Suncrest Elementary School in Morgantown.

“To me, that’s where everything starts, at a young age, you need mentors and role models that you can go to,” Hager said. “With kids, I do everything from helping them pass summer school, and they even ask me about girls sometimes.”

Hager will make his sideline debut April 22 during the Gold-Blue Game.

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Governor issues State of Preparedness ahead of heavy rain, high wind storm

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has issued a State of Preparedness for all 55 counties in West Virginia ahead of severe weather that could be packed with heavy rainfall and high winds.

The National Weather Service has issued a Flood Watch for the northern part of the state from late Thursday night through Saturday afternoon.

John Peck, meteorologist with the NWS in Charleston, told MetroNews winds could get up to 30-40 miles per hour and the rain could lead to localized flooding.

“I think if we’re going to flood in Charleston it will probably be during the day Friday night into Saturday,” Peck said. “The more substantial risk will be up to the north where substantial swaths of rain will fall between 1.5 to 2.5 inches.”

Peck said the biggest impact will be to rivers, creeks and streams where excessive runoff may result in high water. He said those bodies of water may rise out of their banks.

“We’ll have smaller creeks and streams coming up quickly with the vegetation still relatively dormant. A lot of this rain that fall will just run off directly into the drainages,” Peck said.

West Virginia will be on the southern end of the storm system which is set to pass through the state Thursday night.

The State of Preparedness allows the state Emergency Management Division to position personnel and resources for quick response to any emergency that may develop.

Gov. Justice is urging residents to take potential storm seriously and have a safety plan in place.

Peck said the biggest piece of advice when driving is to slow down and turn around if you encounter high water.

“If you’re out there traveling Friday night, especially Saturday, if you see water on the roadways, just turn around, don’t drown,” he said.

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Law enforcement, first responders come together for active shooter training

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dozens of first responders across the Kanawha Valley and beyond came together for an extensive 3-day course in active shooter training.

The Active Threat Integrative Response Course is conducted through Louisiana State University and certified by the Department of Homeland Security. It’s a joint effort of Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority, the West Virginia Public Safety Expo, among law enforcement, fire and emergency personnel from across the region, some as far as Hancock County.

The local training is being held at the former CASCI building along the Kanawha Boulevard, and the current course makes about the fifth one LSU has taught in the state in the past couple of years.

A spokesman for the local Emergency Ambulance Authority, Mike Oakley, says that integration is the key takeaway of the course overall, as it’s designed to improve law enforcement and first responder’s ability to effectively work together in the event of a real-life active shooter situation.

“Basically what we’re doing is teaching the agencies to work together when it comes time for, and we hope it never does, but, if it occurs, and we have some kind of active shooter, how to properly respond and get victims out and save them,” said Oakley.

Oakley added that responding effectively to a situation of such kind is crucial, and it’s not the time for second guesses or making mistakes.

“The time to practice that is not the time when the shots are being fired in anger, this is something that you should have some kind of knowledge of what it looks like, how it works,” he said.

In addition, the course provides law enforcement officers with important medical skills that help to increase the chances of victim survivability, and it provides a model to follow for everyone involved, a model that Oakley said has been working for them.

“They know, ‘okay, this is where we need to go, this is where we need to meet up with these guys, and this is how we do rescue task forces, and this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Oakley said.

Thursday marked the last day of the current round of training and the most challenging. The lead instructor on the course from LSU, James Sellers, said that despite everyone often starting off overwhelmed on day one, they are ready for the challenge by day three.

“Today we put them under a lot of stress, as much as we can in a training environment, so that when the real-deal comes, they’ll be prepared,” Sellers said.

While the course has existed since 2015, LSU has been conducting it since 2018. The course is re-evaluated and updated every three years so that it ensures the most relevant safety procedures and response efforts for any types of active threats.

Sellers said that, like any nationally funded curriculum, Congress saw a great need for the active threat response course based on the number of public shooting events that have pervaded the country in the most recent decades. He said the better prepared everyone can be, the better off.

“Having your community and having your region ready to respond to an active threat is probably one of the most important things that you can do as a first responder, whether it’s a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, dispatcher, all of those expertise come together, and the more we can prepare for it before it happens, the better off we are going to be when we have to respond to it and recover from it,” Sellers said.

Oakley said that the local training has been gaining a lot of momentum and they hope to continue it in the future.

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Photo gallery and video: WVU Spring Football Practice Day No. 2

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sights and sounds from the second WVU football spring practice Thursday morning.

(Photo gallery courtesy of Ben Queen/

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All clear given in White Hall after I-79 bridge implosion
Mike Daley

WHITE HALL, W.Va. — Crews from New Kensington, Pennsylvania-based Swank Construction Company LLC, spent Wednesday morning deconstructing the I-79 bridge between the South Fairmont and Kingmont exits.

According to DOH District 4 Engineer Mike Daley, the substructure in the middle of the north and southbound lanes was the last part of the original bridge on that side of the highway to be removed in order to make way for the new structure.

“We had done everything we could do manually to remove the parts of the bridge we could, and this was the phase to take out the concrete arch,” Daley said.

The operation required a 1,000-foot perimeter around the blast site while people commuted to work, so the explosives had to be placed strategically along the arch to create a contained clean-up area.

“Where any type of explosion would go all out, this is all designed to hold within and drop straight down,” Daley said.

Because of the span and height of the arch, additional mechanical tools were used to make sure an errant piece of concrete didn’t damage any property.

“They used large, high-grade rubber bands to hold it together, so that way they didn’t lose any of the materials away from where they wanted it to go,” Daley said.

The work is part of the $72.5 million interstate widening project that began back in 2021. Next year, Daley said, the other will also be imploded.

The replacement bridge will have a concrete and steel substructure with a concrete deck.

“Steel beam structures with concrete decks,” Daley said. “It will be the most current design that we engineer for our bridges.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in October 2024.

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Morgantown homeless advocates plan collaboration meeting

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. –Several groups providing services to the unsheltered community in Morgantown will meet Thursday to improve communications and, hopefully, the outcomes for the people they serve.

On WAJR’s “Talk of the Town,” Bartlett House Solutions Executive Director Keri DeMasi Koontz says the meeting will include representatives from Morgantown RAMP, Milan Pushkar Health Right, the Monongalia County Warming Shelter, and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.

Keri Demasi Koontz

“I think there are philosophical differences within our community, but we need to find a common ground,” DeMasi Koontz said.

The warming shelter at Hazel’s House of Hope was funded by the city of Morgantown, the Monongalia County Commission, the Mylan Puskar Foundation, and Your Community Foundation. When it opened on Dec. 1, as many as 50 people came for shelter, and at its closing 105 days later, there were an average of more than 60 people each night to escape the weather.

Still more, about 50 people with children or other circumstances, were given access to hotel rooms through Morgantown RAMP, a group from the First Presbyterian Church.

Many of the people served suffer from addiction, mental health issues, and chronic ailments.

“No system is perfect, but having a system at least gives us a guide and allows us to look at areas that we need to address, change, or pivot—whatever the case may be,” DeMasi Koontz said.

When the shelter ceased operations on March 15, some of those people had no other place to go and ended up in downtown Morgantown. The influx of people has exposed gaps in services and brought differences among agencies to the surface.

“If we’re not talking to each other and sitting down to figure out what works and finding a common ground despite philosophical differences, then we’re doing a disservice to ourselves as organizations, a disservice to our community, and a disservice to the people we assist,” DeMasi Koontz said.

The main participants in the meeting are Demasi Koontz, Morgantown Seventh Ward Councilman, RAMP representative Brian Butcher, Laura Jones from Milan Puskar Health Right, Becky Rodd from the Monongalia County Warming Shelter, and the West Virginia Coalition to End Homelessness.

“Brian is coming as the organizer of RAMP in the community; Laura obviously helped me and myself operate Bartlett; the coalition, and Becky, who helped operate the shelter this past winter,” DeMasi Koontz said.

All sides are looking for ways to get beyond the professional and personal differences that have been publicized over the last year. The hope is to develop a common goal moving forward, regardless of personal beliefs, to get more people into permanent homes.

“There obviously has to be personal accountability on all fronts,” DeMasi Koontz said. “There needs to be personal accountability among service providers, clients, and community members. There’s a lot of frustration, and it’s justified.”


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State Supreme Court of Appeals brings real cases, outreach to WVU College of Law

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals came to the West Virginia University College of Law this week to demonstrate their profession and educate local students.

On MetroNews “Talkline,” Chief Justice Elizabeth Walker explained it is part of the Legal Advancement for West Virginia Students, or LAWS, program. The program was implemented in 1999, and this is the first time it has been brought to Morgantown.

“High school students prepare and take a look at the cases before the arguments, meet with local lawyers about the cases to prepare, and then come and actually see the cases argued, so they can see what our appellate court does,” Chief Justice Walker said.

Day one was spent with students from the College of Law, and day two included sessions for high school students from Monongalia and Preston Counties. The students follow along with the arguments and learn aspects of the law applied.

“The lawyers do an amazing job of arguing the cases in a way, particularly in front of the students, that the students can follow along with what’s happening,” Chief Justice Walker said. “Sometimes the arguments are very technical, but the lawyers do a great job.”

The students have a rare opportunity to follow along with justices from the “court of last resort” or the State Supreme Court of Appeals and then even ask questions. Walker said this is rare for the justices as well to have the opportunity to talk about the profession, its importance, and why they have made it a career.

“If we have extra time, we actually take questions from the students about our backgrounds and how we came to the court, and we enjoy talking about that,” Chief Justice Walker said. “All five of us agree strongly that one of our primary missions is to educate.”

Walker’s outreach also includes a podcast called “Lady Justice: Women of the Court,” with Justice Rhonda Wood of Arkansas and former Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, where the real-world implications of the law are discussed.

“Maybe some students today will think about a career in the legal profession, will think about going to college, going to law school, and doing what we do and what lawyers do,” Chief Justice Walker said.

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