RAINELLE (WVDN) – Greenbrier West head football coach Toby Harris was honored as a Distinguished West Virginian by West Virginia governor Jim Justice on Friday, Nov. 4, in a ceremony in Rainelle. The award is the highest honor that can be conferred by the governor. The honor was created to recognize those who have significantly contributed to the state of West Virginia or West Virginians who have brought honor to the state.
In attendance for the announcement were the Greenbrier West football team, the sectional champion Cavalier volleyball squad, Harris’s family, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, local dignitaries, former players and supporters in general.
Justice read the long list of Harris’s accomplishments to the assembly, drawing light laughter when he paused to proclaim, “You’re like the Energizer Bunny, aren’t you?”
After speaking for approximately 25 minutes, Justice ended by addressing Harris and the teams. “Coach, it’s a big honor for me — a big honor for me to be here with you. Keep doing great work. Guys, girls, go win the whole thing for all of us,” Justice said.
The blue-collar tradition of Greenbrier West football was born in the summer of 1968 under a young, second-year head coach with lots of ambition.
Once in Charmco, that coach put in motion the cogs of a machine that would churn out 65 wins over a 10-year span under his command. Harris wasted no time getting his first win, leading the Cavaliers to victory in their inaugural game. That win was a 6-0 nail-biter over Richwood at Rainelle’s Memorial Field. Leading a team comprised of players consolidated from four different high schools, Harris molded them into a single unit and forged an identity that endures today. Greenbrier West would steadily improve over their first four seasons, going from a four-win team in 1968 to a stellar 9-1 program in 1971. That ‘71 team would defeat Greenbrier East for the first time and bring home the Little Brown Jug, emblematic of Greenbrier County gridiron supremacy.
Harris’ Cavaliers would go on to win 20 home games in Rainelle over a six-year span, all while he oversaw the construction of Cavalier Field on the Greenbrier West campus. Once the field was completed in 1974, Harris’s Cavaliers would deliver a 22-7 victory over Richwood in West’s first-ever home game in Charmco. In 1975, Harris began to build what would become Greenbrier West’s first-ever playoff team. That playoff appearance came in 1976 following an 8-1 campaign. Harris’s Cavaliers followed up their ‘76 success with another trip to the state semi-finals in 1977. The Cavaliers would come up one yard short, in overtime nonetheless, of reaching the Class AA state championship. Nevertheless, Harris had built Greenbrier West into a state football power.
Harris resigned from his football position to serve as Greenbrier West’s assistant principal until 1983. He left Charmco to serve as Rainelle elementary and junior high principal for 11 years. He returned to Greenbrier West in 1994 and served as principal through 2004. Upon retirement, Harris worked as West’s assistant football coach for one season and head track coach until 2006.
Football wasn’t Harris’s only area of coaching expertise. Greenbrier West’s wrestling tradition was molded under Harris’ tutelage for 23 seasons. Harris built an impressive 181-75-2 dual meet record while in Charmco and coached the Cavaliers to a state runner-up finish in 1977. That ‘77 season also saw Harris guide two athletes, Mike Golden and Rodney Stidom, to individual state championships. Combined, those two feats earned Harris Class AA Coach of the Year accolades. Over the course of his stellar career, Harris produced 20 All-State wrestlers in Charmco. That prestigious group included Harris’s two sons, Joel and Chad.
Of note, Harris also started the wrestling program at Rainelle Junior High in 1983 and the Western Greenbrier Youth Wrestling program in 1984. The youth program continues to this day. Harris also spearheaded the Rainelle Open Wrestling Tournament in 1986, a state-wide invitational competition that endured for almost 30 years.
Harris’s wrestling honors are distinguished. He was enshrined in the Raleigh County Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2002 and selected as the Regional Retired Coach of the Year in 2005. Harris earned National Wrestling Hall of Fame honors with a “Lifetime Service to Wrestling” award in 2006.
Forty-two years after his last season on the sidelines in Charmco, Harris returned to Greenbrier West to restore some luster to the once-proud program in 2019. It’s no coincidence that the tradition built in that first decade of West football is still being nurtured by Harris today. Harris quickly turned around a team that had finished 2-8 in 2018 to a 10-2, Class A quarterfinalist in 2019, earning his first-ever playoff victory in the process. In 2020, Harris guided West to his first-ever undefeated regular season, and the Cavaliers set program records for first half and total points scored in a playoff game. Harris led the 2021 Cavaliers to the playoffs for a third consecutive postseason appearance.
This season, Harris has his team at 9-1 and hungry for their upcoming meeting with South Harrison.
Getting his head coaching start in 1967 at Greenbrier High School in Ronceverte, Harris has led three different programs over a span of 18 seasons on the gridiron. Harris won 13 games at Oak Hill between 2005-07, most notably securing the Fayette County version of the Little Brown Jug from Mt. Hope in both 2005 and ‘07. Boasting an impressive 112 wins over his entire career, Harris has coached 52 All-State selections, including 10 First Team and 9 Second Team picks. The Cavaliers under Harris won the New River Valley Conference in 1977 and 2019 and claimed the Coalfield Conference Class A Championship in 2020.
|Toby Harris (center) is flanked by his wife Claudia, children, and grandchildren following his award ceremony.|
|Gov. Jim Justice shakes hands with Greenbrier West head coach Toby Harris following the acceptance of his Distinguished West Virginian award.|