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As Herd Supporter, Watts No Ordinary Joe

Joe Watts

March 12, 2013

By Jack Bogaczyk


HUNTINGTON – For decades, Joe Watts had a loving presence with and appreciation for Marshall Athletics.

Whether it was at the Veterans Memorial Field House or the Cam Henderson Center, or Fairfield or Edwards stadiums, or Dot Hicks Field, Watts was there.

It also was a family affair. Son Ken and daughter Judy got parental guidance – and college educations – tinted green. In-laws Barbara Watts and Ken Bolt added to a growing group in green.  

Joe and wife Joann would hit the road to follow the Herd in football and basketball, too. Some of their favorite jaunts were to Southern Conference Tournaments in Asheville and Greensboro, N.C.

Joe was 86 when died last April 13, four years after his spouse of 62 years passed. Yet, their support of Herd Athletics will continue to be strong.

In his probated will – originally hand-written by Watts, using some of the legalese he learned in the classes he took at night – Joe left $50,000 to Marshall’s Big Green for scholarship endowment. The Watts family has directed the Charles J. & Joann E. Watts Endowed Scholarship for basketball.

Watts was a longtime Big Green member and MU season ticket holder. And when he was in a rehab center last winter only a month before he died, Joe was thrilled one final time with the Herd’s run to the title game of the Conference USA basketball tournament.

It seems hard to overstate Watts’ devotion to Marshall, and not just in athletics. In copies of letters he wrote to state officials, he quizzed Gov. Arch Moore in 1972 because the state Board of Regents phased out MU’s engineering program. He was an avid supporter of the Drinko Library.

He wrote the higher Education Policy Commission about Marshall’s need for a pharmacy school and -- with some biting humor – MU’s lack of a home baseball field, concluding the letter with this phrase:

“Their conference games are played in Charleston, 50 miles from campus. That is a long walk for students to attend.”

It was a long walk for Joe, too. His nearsightedness took him from behind the wheel way earlier than he’d have liked. A lot of Herd fans knew Joe because of the large sunglasses he wore. And when he couldn’t get someone to drive him to a Herd game, he’d walk from the West End (11th and Madison) to a game.

“Marshall was just part of the fabric of our family, always has been,” said Watts’ daughter, Judy Bolt, who now lives in West Chester, Ohio. “Everything centered around where we were in football season, basketball season, what recruit been signed … He watched or listened if he couldn’t go. He listened to all of the call-in shows, too.

“A lot of Christmases, almost every package you opened it was something green. We had a lot of green Christmases.”

Ken Watts graduated from Marshall in 1974. He’s president of the West Virginia Credit Union League.

“There was never any question of where we were going to school,” said Ken Watts, who lives in Parkersburg. “It was never even debated. We finished high school, we went to Marshall.”

Judy graduated from Marshall in 1969. Joe Watts never graduated, but his education was very impressive. He graduated from Huntington High and then worked at the VA for almost 40 years after serving in the Navy during World War II. At the same time, Joe took 20 years of night classes at MU. Then he tackled extension and correspondence classes in law, real estate and insurance.

He was drinking in more than Marshall green.

“It was strange sitting there and your dad was doing his homework while you were doing yours,” Ken said. “He had to have been only 6-8 (hours) short of his degree, had 100-something hours I guess.”

The family encouraged Joe to get his Regents degree, figuring most of his hours would count.

“I don’t think the degree itself was as important to him as the value of the education, what he learned,” Ken Watts said.

“When I was a senior in high school,” Judy Bolt said, “Dad was taking an English class that semester at Marshall, and he had the same teacher for English that I had for Latin, Ruth Thornton. She’d say to me, ‘Your dad’s doing pretty well.’”

Ken Watts said his father had a keen interest in law, insurance and finance.

“Those weren’t only related to his job, but to his extracurricular activities,” Watts’ daughter said. “He worked in the legal division of VA, then went on to become a management analyst. He took those classes in law, even in writing his will, it’s like a lawyer prepared the document, all the terminology.

“He worked in a special insurance segment at the VA, and then in medical, evaluating claims. He also kept books for several people for years.

“He had the most analytical mind of anyone I’ve ever met. Even after he retired, going through the house, we’ve found rosters of Marshall teams. This was before computers. Dad would hand-write rosters for every football and basketball team for Marshall, have the heights, weights, position, class, numbers. He could tell you where they were all from.”

Ken said his dad “wouldn’t buy a program. He had his own program. When (Edwards Stadium) was first built, he had seats next to (late Athletic Director) Eddie Barrett. They’d sit there and talk and sometimes Eddie would say, ‘Hey, Joe, let me see that roster.’”

As a fan, Joe Watts was in deep. He was good friends with many among the 75 who died in the 1970 Marshall football team plane crash.

“He lost a lot of friends,” Judy Bolt said of her father. “He had gone to meeting (of what is now the Quarterback Club) the Wednesday before the plane crash, at the Owens Illinois clubhouse. Dad told a story about Frank Loria, the assistant coach.

“They always showed film from the previous week, and Frank had gone off and forgotten the film, and he had to come back to Gullickson to get the film. Everybody ribbed Frank about it, and then he died in the crash.

“Ray Hagley (an MU team physician who died in the crash) had grown up in the alley behind us, and Ray’s dad had a Jingle Bike business, where you pushed refrigerated carts around to sell ice cream, and that Jingle Bike business put Ray through med school. Ray’s dad rented our garage to house a Jingle Bike. There are just so many connections.”

Joe Watts was chosen as an honorary coach for one week for the Young Thundering Herd. He wrote a report on the experience:

“After all of that hard work, if the team loses as it did Saturday, it is pure agony for the team and coaches. I’m glad of one thing – that I’m not a fulltime coach. My nerves couldn’t stand it. It took me two days to recover from the game Saturday.”

Since Joe’s death, the Watts family has learned that Joe was a mentor to many more than his children and grandchildren. And while their dad was the fan, Ken and Judy say their mother was “a trooper,” Judy Bolt said. “She wouldn’t say it was too cold and stay home, she’d go.”

Joann brought blankets for the family to stay warm at November and December football games and passed out candy to those seated nearby in the stadium, minding her family, mostly Joe.

And although Joe Watts was very nearsighted, he didn’t let that stop his analysis at basketball games, where he fidgeted in his seat, sliding his feet constantly while sitting in Section 104 at “The Cam.”

“His vision wasn’t very good,” his daughter said. “However, it was good enough that there are still echoes in the Henderson Center of him yelling at officials. Dad used to yell at Ted Valentine … ‘Ted, you’re stupid.’”

Joe was a baseball catcher – and had a crinkled pinky to show for it – and played softball in his younger days. “Sports were his passion,” Ken Watts said. Judy made train trips to Crosley Field in Cincinnati with her father. Ken often ended up at the Field house three or four nights a week between Herd and high school games.

He bought bricks at Edwards Stadium for all of the family members. The family figured Joe might have some kind of contribution to Marshall Athletics in his will, but they didn’t know “until a few days before” his death. “That part of the will was dated in the early ‘90s,” his daughter said.

“He knew all the ins and outs about Marshall sports,” Ken Watts said. “He’d call and tell me about something and when I told him I didn’t know, Dad would say, ‘Well, it was on TV.’

“He enjoyed it right up the very end.”

And as far as Herd athletics goes, Watts was no ordinary Joe.