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Steve Novotney Says, "This Should Be National News"

It's a fun slogan to chant – "38 is Great!"

But it's much more than just great.

It should be national news.

The Wheeling Park Speech and Debate Team captured its 38th consecutive state title this past weekend in Morgantown, and that means I was 12 years old when the streak began.

In fact, when the students won the first title in 1980, it was during the fourth year of the high school's existence; the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII; and Mardi Gras was cancelled in New Orleans because the municipality's police officers launched a strike.

That very first win took place just after the U.S. Voyager space probe discovered the rings around Jupiter; the first functional space shuttle was delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center to prepare for its first of 27 missions; and it was during the same month when the country's worst nuclear power plant disaster occurred at Three Mile Island near Philadelphia, Pa.

Yes, it's been a while.

The high school's speech and debate team has, coincidently, 38 members this year, and the squad has featured an average of about 35, and that means at least 1,000 alums have been involved with the streak. There is a plethora of different competitive categories during the annual event, including salesmanship, humorous interpretation, broadcasting, student Congress debate, and Improvisational Duo.

Each of the 38 students was honored, and head coach Bill Cornforth and assistants Joshua Fromhart, Lauri Mathieu, and Kayla Nelson guided the kids during a total of six competitions during the school year.

And they all should be honored as much as a state champion athletic team is when those students bring home the hardware.

Restaurants should offer them a free dinner; the Wheeling Nailers should welcome them to the ice of Wesbanco Arena for recognition; city officials should make a proclamation in their honor; and local media outlets should utilize what connections they have to force this story to the national stage.

Is it a national record?

No one seems certain that it is, but have you ever heard of such a string of championships?

Locally, the only streak I have discovered that kind of compares is when Wheeling Central Catholic's football team claimed four straight Class A state titles from 2004 to 2007.

Although unconnected to high school athletics, American Legion Post 1's baseball team dominated the state during the 1980s, winning eight titles in a row for the first time in the program's long history.

But there's not much else, and that's because it's very difficult to repeat. Only seven NFL teams have won consecutive Super Bowls, and only one of them – the Pittsburgh Steelers – did it twice. The New York Yankees hold the record for consecutive World Series titles with five, and the Boston Celtics dominated the NBA Finals for eight straight years (1959-66).

But 38?

I don't care how small the state of West Virginia is, and I don't believe population figures measure in when a streak reaches this incredible level. Eight high schools advanced to the state event, Wheeling Park won by a whopping 400 sweepstakes points, and Huntington High School finished a distant second.

So let's celebrate them.

You never know; it may help the city of Wheeling with the retention of our young people. Sure, these speech makers and debaters likely will go off to college, but perhaps being appreciated and not ignored might make returning home afterward an option.

And that hasn't been the case in Wheeling for decades.