Cumberland Times-News

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December 1, 2013

Keyser residents share decades of support for WVU football

KEYSER, W.Va. — A lot of people show their support for their favorite football teams by attending every game faithfully, donning anything with their team’s logo and cheering their team on from the comfort of their own couch. However, not many fanatical football fans can say that they have faithfully, without fail, supported their team for 56 years.

Tom and Thelma O’ Connor of Keyser have dedicated 56 years of traveling to see their favorite team in action. They are true blue and gold West Virginia Mountaineers fans. The O’Connors, both of whom are 90, have attended West Virginia University football games both home and away for the last 56 years and for at least 37 years they didn’t miss a game.

“It’s fun going to the games. You get to meet a lot of people,” said Thelma.

For the O’Connors, who were season ticket holders, the other fans they sat with became like family.

“You get to know people going to the games and a lot of the people become like family,” said Tom. “They can’t wait to see you and you can’t wait to see them.”

As season ticket holders, the O’Connors sat close to the 40-yard line.

Tom’s passion for football led him to play football for Keyser High School in 1940 to 1941. During that time Tom got to know former teammate Jonah Edward Kelley. Sgt. Kelley was a member of the 311th Infantry of the U.S. Army 78th Lightning Division. Kelley died in the process of saving his men; as a result, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

That passion has taken the couple all over the United States from New York to Texas. The O’Connors were part of the Potomac Valley Chapter of the West Virginia Alumni Association, which traveled to away WVU football games at least once a year. Thelma recalls traveling all night on a bus from Morgantown to Texas for a bowl game. One of the most memorable games for Tom was in September 1993 at College Park when WVU beat the Maryland Terrapins football team 42 to 37.

The O’Connors no longer attend as many games because it’s become harder for them to get around and instead they watch every game from the comfort of their couch, according to Thelma. Both Thelma and Tom agree that their beloved team isn’t doing very well this season.

“I thought they would do better this season but they are in tougher conference this season,” said Tom. “The Big East (conference) was not as tough as the Big 12 (conference). I think they will do all right as time goes by.” 

The last game the O’Connors attended was the Mountaineers vs. the Georgia State Panthers on Sept. 14 at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. The O’Connors watched the game from the president’s box, which sits over the 50-yard line. The president’s box seats were offered to the O’Connors because they are such dedicated fans and because of their $1,000 (Thomas and Thelma O’Connor) scholarship that’s given each year to a Potomac State College student who graduated from Keyser High School.

 In addition to teaching math at Ridgeley High School, Tom was football, basketball and track coach. Tom taught math at Keyser High School, was also an assistant football coach and a head basketball coach, before retiring in 1983.

“We never had children but when I was coaching I felt like I had a family,” said Tom.

In 1986, Tom was awarded the Coca-Cola bottling works Golden Helmet for being an All Star coach and for his outstanding contribution to the great game of football.

In 2001, the O’Connors were award honorees for the Alumni Distinguished Service Award for PSC of WVU. Tom and Thelma served Potomac State College as both employees and as volunteers. Thelma began her 29-year career as assistant librarian to Mary Shipper in 1955 and Tom served as a teacher and a coach, according to the PSC website.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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