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Hilltopper Hall of Fame Welcomes Four to the Rank of Sports Legend

The West Liberty University Athletic Hall of Fame will hold its 33rd annual induction ceremony Saturday morning at the University’s Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex.

This year’s class includes James Branch (wrestling/football), Jim Crutchfield (coaching), Donald Jernigan (track/cross country) and Jim Schmitt (men’s basketball).

The group will be guests of honor at a social gathering in the lobby of the University’s Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex from 8:30-9 a.m. A formal induction ceremony and breakfast will follow at 9 a.m. in the R. Emmett Boyle Conference Center at the ASRC. The inductees will be recognized on the field at halftime of Saturday’s home football game against Concord. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

James Branch

James Branch

JAMES BRANCH, Wrestling/Football

A multi-sport standout during the mid-1990s, Branch was one of the leading lights of a powerful Hilltopper wrestling program and also had a major impact on West Liberty’s football fortunes.

Branch was a 3-time wrestling All-American for Hall of Fame coach Dr. Vince Monseau.  He earned NAIA All-America honors by finishing 8th in the nation at 150 pounds as a sophomore and followed that up with a third-place finish at 150 pounds in the Hilltoppers’ first NCAA Division II national meet in 1996. He finished his WLU mat career with a flourish in 1997 when he won the 150-pound national championship at the NCAA Division II meet.

In addition to his exploits on the mat, Branch also was a hard-hitting defensive back on the West Liberty football team. He led the team in interceptions as a senior in 1996 and was a 2-time All-WVIAC selection. Branch continued his football career after graduation, competing for the semipro Huntington (W.Va.) Hawks and also playing indoor football for the Huntington Locomotives and Huntington Heroes.

A resident of Huntington, he coached Douglas-Cammack Youth Football and Huntington High School. He is now coaching at nearby South Point (Ohio) High School. Branch, who works with autistic individuals in his spare time, has three children, Tyler, Aaliyah and Jayden.

JIM CRUTCHFIELD, Coach

Two-time NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year Jim Crutchfield has taken West Liberty’s men’s basketball program to unprecedented heights and is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top coaches at any level.

Jim Crutchfield

Jim Crutchfield

Coming off a third consecutive NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance, Crutchfield enters his 10th season at the helm of the WLU men’s program with the highest winning percentage in the nation among active NCAA men’s basketball coaches (241-45, .843). Last year’s Hilltoppers posted their third straight 30-win season – a school-record 34-2 – to go along with their third consecutive Atlantic Region title and fourth straight WVIAC championship.

West Liberty was a unanimous No. 1 pick in the final NCAA Division II Top 25 coaches’ poll for the second time in the past three seasons and has now appeared in 50 consecutive Top 25s dating back to the 2009-10 season. His Hilltoppers have led the nation in scoring seven times in the last eight years and have averaged more than 100 points a game throughout his nine-year run.

Before taking over the basketball program, Crutchfield had a highly-successful run as WLU’s head men’s and women’s tennis coach, leading the teams to a combined 11 league titles and earning 8 WVIAC Tennis Coach of the Year Awards.

A 5-time WVIAC Basketball Coach of the Year, he recently was honored by the West Virginia Sportswriters Association with his third straight West Virginia College Coach of the Year (All Sports) Award.

The Clarksburg, W.Va. native resides in Wheeling with his wife, Diana, and their daughters, Caroline and Allison.

DONALD JERNIGAN, Track/Cross Country

One of the top distance runners in West Virginia Conference history, Donald Jernigan was a major force on the track and cross country trails during the mid-1970s.

Donald Jernigan

Donald Jernigan

He was a 4-time first-team All-WVIAC honoree in both track and cross country, winning multiple individual conference titles in both sports.

He broke numerous stadium records across the state in the 2-mile, 3-mile and 6-mile runs, setting school records in those and other events which remain on the books to this day.

Jernigan also made his mark on the national stage. He was No. 2 in the nation (NAIA) in the 6-mile run in 1975 with a time of 29:33. He also ranked among the top 15 nationally in the 3-mile run with a clocking of 14:05.

Jernigan qualified to compete at the NAIA national championship meets in cross country and track, finishing 31st overall in the 1974 cross country meet at Salina, Kan. In 1975, he finished sixth in the West Virginia National Outdoor Hall of Fame Track Classic’s 2-mile run.

The Mentor, Ohio native is no stranger to Halls of Fame. He was inducted into the Mentor High School Hall of Fame in October 2009.

A resident of Fort Myers, Fla., Jernigan has spent the past 33 years as a teacher in the Lee County schools and is now coordinator of the Special Education/School-To-Work Program at Fort Myers High School. He and Judy, his wife of 33 years, have one son, Matthew (16).

JIM SCHMITT, Men’s Basketball

One of the most prolific scorers in West Liberty history, Jim Schmitt earned multiple All-WVIAC honors for the Hilltoppers during the mid-1970s.

Jim Schmitt

Jim Schmitt

The former Wheeling Central all-stater came to WLU after playing two seasons at nearby Bethany but wasted little time filling up baskets across the West Virginia Conference. Schmitt was a first-team All-WVIAC selection in each of his two seasons with the Black and Gold, pouring in 1,235 points to average a sizzling 22.5 ppg. for his West Liberty career – the second-highest career scoring average in school history.

At his best in big games, Schmitt wrapped up his Hilltopper career by being selected as the Outstanding First-Round Player in the 1976 WVIAC Tournament.

Following brief stints as an assistant coach at Bethany and West Liberty, Schmitt embarked on a lengthy career as a highly-regarded basketball official at the high school, collegiate and professional level.

In addition to working five West Virginia state high school tournaments, Schmitt has officiated at the NCAA Divisions I, II and III collegiate levels along with junior college. He has also called pro games in the USBL, ABA, IBL, PBL, IBA and GBA.

 Schmitt has owned and operated Blazer Lawn Service in Wheeling since 1982 and lives in Wheeling with his wife, Jennifer. They are the parents of Jim, Chad, Lee and Amanda.