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Time to Give the Friends of Big Coal the Boot

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER

It was such a blast watching the Berkeley Springs High School soccer team win the state championship in Beckley, West Virginia this weekend.

The boys cranked it up and defeated Weir 8-6 on Friday and then cruised past Pocahontas County 5-2 on Saturday morning for the title.

Here was the downside to a great weekend: The mountaintop removing, air polluting, all powerful and arrogant coal industry sponsored the championship trophy and sponsored each one of the individual plaques given to the players.

Like their brothers — the tobacco and alcohol industries — the coal industry should be prohibited from sponsoring high school athletics. All three are a bad influence on children and young adults.

All state high school sports tournaments are organized by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

The Commission is funded primarily by tournament game ticket sales.

About seven years or so ago, the Commission started accepting corporate sponsorships.

The coal industry — through its front group Friends of Coal — started kicking in.

The Commission’s executive director, Gary Ray, says that the group will never accept corporate sponsorships from tobacco or alcohol companies.

Then why coal?

“I’m not in a position to debate or argue the political part of that,” Ray says. “We’ve never received any complaints about taking money from the coal industry.”

Well, Gary Ray, take note.

Ken Hechler, the former West Virginia Secretary of State, says taking money from the coal industry to support high school sports is inappropriate.

So does Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

Keating says she would put coal in the same category as tobacco and alcohol — none of them should be allowed to sponsor high school athletics.

“Rather than deal with the real problems they are causing, the coal industry spends their money on public relations,” Keating said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people fall for that. Here you have coal companies blowing up some of the oldest mountains in the country to get coal. West Virginia is supposed to be the mountain state. What are we going to be now — the plateau state? People who live near coal mining have a number of different serious coal related health issues. Life expectancy in West Virginia is lower than the average life expectancy in the country. And life expectancy rates in coal dominated southern West Virginia are some of the lowest in the country.”

Keating says that she remembers, as a child, going to school in Cabell County and being hit with coal industry propaganda. She never learned — until much later — about the history of the mine wars or the negative effects on the environment.

Lorelei Scarbro, a community organizer for Coal River Mountain Watch, agrees that the coal industry should not be involved with high school athletics.

Coal River Mountain Watch is trying to stop Massey Energy from blowing off the top of mountains. And they are trying to move the Marsh Fork Elementary School — which sits right below a two billion gallon toxic waste pond.

Scarbro wants Massey to pay to build a new school far from the waste pond.

“Instead of donating money to build that small group of kids a new school that is out of harm’s way, the coal companies will write a $10,000 check for a new playground,” Scarbro says. “They do a lot of community relations stuff. But that doesn’t right the wrongs that they do. With these public relations donations, they keep sending the message to West Virginia that the only way to make a living is through coal.”

The coal industry has inflicted a lot of serious damage on West Virginia.

At the least, it should not be allowed to sponsor high school athletic tournaments.

Time to give Friends of Coal the boot.

RUSSELL MOKHIBER lives in West Virginia.

 

 

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Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..

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