Huntington Prep Looking For Recognition By WVSSAC - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Huntington Prep Looking For Recognition By WVSSAC

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Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford
CHARLESTON, WV -

In its short history of just five years, Huntington Prep has become nationally recognized as one of the premier high school basketball teams in the United States.

But gaining recognition in its own state, by the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, has proven to be a much more difficult task.

That may change soon, but not because the SSAC has warmed up to the Irish.  It may be mandated by law. 

Senate Bill 540 passed on Feb. 19 and is on its way to the House of Delegates.  It would include college prep programs as members of the SSAC, but with some built in competition restrictions. It would prohibit the prep teams from playing in sectional, regional and state tournaments.  The bill also states that prep teams must be comprised of members from the same school and must not have members who are fifth-year seniors or post-high school graduates.

Gary Ray, executive director of the WVSSAC, did not back the bill.

"I'm not in favor of it," said Ray. "It's hard to comment on it right now until I see where it goes."

"We need recognized," said Rob Fulford, the head coach at Huntington Prep. "If your own state association doesn't recognize you, if makes it pretty easy for other state associations to not allow their teams to play you. We run into that in some major tournaments, because there are some states that won't allow their teams to play non-recognized members."

"We run into problems with scheduling," he added. "So far, to date, it's probably cost us six or seven ESPN games. That's just positive, national exposure for West Virginia. I don't see that as being a bad thing." 

Fulford insists that the recognition from the SSAC is all that Huntington Prep is asking. Nothing else would change.

"We're not asking to play in the (West Virginia) state tournament," he said. "We're not asking to be in the state rankings. It's very simple – if they just recognize us, they'll probably never hear from us again."

"We've done a really good thing for Huntington," Fulford added. "We've given West Virginia and Huntington a lot of positive national and statewide exposure."

Huntington Prep student-athletes attend classes at St. Joseph Central, a private school in Huntington. St. Joseph Central is a member of the SSAC, and has boys and girls participating in basketball and 13 other SSAC-sanctioned sports in Class A.

"At St. Joes, they're getting a great education," Fulford said. "It's one of the best schools in West Virginia. I work at the school and I'm there all day. It's been a great setup because they get the best of both worlds."

Fulford has his own ideas as to where the opposition from the SSAC comes.

"I think initially, their hang up about us was that we're not a school," he surmised. "But that's not the case anymore. We're the St. Joes prep team. I think they may have a fear that if they do this for us, that it may set the precedent for someone else to come in and do it again. But the way the bill was written, you have to be with a member school. Maybe it's personal against me, I don't know. I haven't spoken to them. I haven't even met Gary Ray."

"It's frustrating for our kids because they deserve to be treated fairly," Fulford added. "They deserve to be recognized by the state that we're in. It's long past due. I wish the SSAC felt better about us than they do. Hopefully the government sees that, then we'll be in good shape."

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Huntington Prep is consistently attracting some of the nation's top talent, which recently featured Andrew Wiggins in 2012 and 2013.

Wiggins was named the 2013 Naismith Prep Player of the Year and the 2013 Gatorade National Player of the Year.

He is currently a freshman at the University of Kansas and could be the top pick in the next NBA Draft.

Fulford admitted that Wiggins' presence at Huntington Prep definitely helped the team's exposure.

"He's made recruiting a little easier," Fulford said. "He helped put the Huntington Prep brand on the national map. He'll be a huge supporter after he goes to the NBA next year. It's a good thing."

"He's appreciative of the time he spent in Huntington and the people he met," Fulford added.

"He's always going to give back and be there. Our tournament will be his after he gets out of college. Our tournament will become the Andrew Wiggins Classic."

For additional interviews and video, check out our media partner coverage on WOWK.