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If nothing else, Sonny West finally got the validation that he needed at home when he was inducted into his high school’s athletic hall of fame last weekend in Kentucky.
West, the track and field head coach and assistant varsity football coach at Fike High, was enshrined with eight others in the Grayson County High School Hall of Fame on Friday, just before the Cougars’ season-opening football game. Of course, that meant West had to miss Fike’s season opener but he was humbled by his inclusion in his alma mater’s fourth hall-of-fame induction class.
“I was shocked. I was completely shocked,” he said when he got a call from the Grayson County athletic director in April, notifying him that he would be going into the school’s hall of fame. “I joked with people and said my school must be getting desperate.”
West, a 1988 graduate of Grayson County, certainly merited enshrinement. A three-year letterman in football, West established himself as a track star, earning five letters since he was allowed to compete at the varsity level as an eighth grader. West was the 3-A Rough River Athletic Conference Track Athlete of the Year as a sophomore in 1986. He was part of the Cougars’ 4x100-meter relay team as a senior in 1988 that still holds the school record.
West competed in the 100 and 200 dashes and the long and high jumps but he really made his mark in the pole vault. He was a Kentucky High School Athletic Association 3-A regional champion as a junior and senior and made all-state as a senior. His best prep vault was 14 feet.
Of course, West had to be reminded of all that.
“When I was competing, I tried to do the best I could but I never kept track of what I had done,” he said. “I couldn’t have told you six weeks ago until I got the list from the AD (what I had done).”
Both of West’s sons, Ian and Gage, were football and track standouts at Fike. In fact, Ian was a four-time North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A pole vault champion and currently vaults at Harvard University.
Naturally, the boys are their dad’s toughest critic.
“They always tease me how I’m so old and decrepit that when they whip me playing basketball, they ask how did they get their athleticism,” Sonny West said with a chuckle. “Now I can tell them!”
West — whose parents still live in Grayson County, located about 80 miles southwest of Louisville in western Kentucky, during the warmer months — traveled back there with his wife, Debra, and daughter, Ava. Ian flew in from Boston while Gage was unable to attend because he couldn’t miss class at East Carolina University. Still, it was an exciting weekend for the whole family, but especially Sonny West, who was being inducted with his former football coach Bill Embry and former track and field coach Arland Benningfield.
West said that Benningfield, who was his teacher in middle school, was instrumental in him becoming a pole vaulter. One of the seniors on the Cougars track team remarked during practice one day that West looked like a pole vaulter but the Grayson County track coach at the time had no experience in the event. So West sought out Benningfield after learning that he was a pole vaulter in high school. West credited his former coach for setting him on his coaching path that includes 21 state champions and two team titles.
West earned a partial scholarship to pole vault at the University of Louisville. He joked that it was for one-tenth of his tuition, which in the fall of 1988, was $1,000, so his scholarship was $100, an amount that amused both of his sons.
However, West only was a Cardinal for his freshman year and transferred to Tennessee as a walk-on. He said that he cleared 15-6 for the Volunteers, but there were other vaulters soaring over 18 feet. So he ended up going back home to Western Kentucky University, situated not far rom
West is now the third current Fike coach to be inducted in his or her high school’s athletic hall of fame. Girls soccer coach Toni Varacchi earned the honor a few years ago from Kings Park (New York) High in 2016 and, in May, football assistant coach Mark Pittman was enshrined in the SouthWest Edgecombe High Athletic Hall of Fame.
West assured that he was in good company.
“I would hang out with Mark Pittman any chance I get because Mark is the hardest working man at Fike High School!” West said.
But overall, West was grateful that his past achievements were being recognized, even if he had forgotten many of them.
“It’s very humbling,” he said.