Twice is a habit.
Three times might create a tradition.
Martinsburg started Phase Two of what many hope will become as much a part of December as Christmas. It was the second straight year the Bulldogs faithful turned out to celebrate a West Virginia Class AAA state football championship.
The Bulldogs were greeted by a crowd of 500 along with school, city and state officials who turned out Thursday in the school’s gym to publicly congratulate the team that defended their championship in a 35-27 win over George Washington last Saturday in Wheeling.
“This is a good habit to get into,” said Matt Miller, the emcee of the 90-minute program.
It is a great habit by even the least of standards.
In essence, the second straight title means the championship trophy has spent the entire second decade of in the 21st century in the Eastern Panhandle. The Bulldogs accomplished the feat in dominating fashion with a 14-0 record for a second straight year, giving them a 28-game win streak.
It was the school’s fourth major sports title in three years. Martinsburg had won the boys basketball and baseball titles in 2009 before the football team won its first two championships ever. This title was the 12th in school history.
Coach David Walker indicated he’d be partial to keeping that trophy, too.
“I’m always thinking about the future,” Walker said. “I’m always worried about getting better ... doing the work to improve. I don’t think about the past, but these guys are a product of the work they put in.
“I never let them talk about last year’s state title,” Walker said. “It was important not to be looking behind, but to look forward. You can accomplish great feats, but always look ahead.”
Yet, Thursday was set aside to remember the recent past as a culmination of so many factors — Walker, his staff, the departing seniors who were the cornerstone of the run and the rest of the team — that have placed Martinsburg in an envious location on the state map.
These Bulldogs were a group which were heralded for the accomplishment as much as how they have handled themselves while on the journey. Berkeley County School Superintendent Manny Arvon and Martinsburg principal Regina Phillips told the crowd about how the team has been the focal point of a positive impression left around the state.
“An old television show used to start talking about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and the human drama of athletic competition,” Arvon said. “On Saturday, we all saw the thrill of victory. And we saw the agony of defeat as we beat an undefeated team from Charleston.”
“The human drama of athletic competition came when you stood and watched from the sidelines. The players on the field were solid as a rock. They took a 13-0 team’s best shot and then walked across the field to shake their hands. I’m so proud because you were winners on the field, but everyone talked about how great yo were as people. That’s the biggest honor.”
The celebration was a Christmas pageant and graduation commencment rolled into one.
Martinsburg’s gym was decorated with orange, black and white balloons and with five panels with photos highlighting the season around the slogan “Back-to-Back State Champions.” Meanwhile, a film loop of highlights ran on a large screeen.
The students honored Walker with a film of the senior players talking about playing for him and his program. Martinsburg’s choral group serenaded the coach with their version of R. Kelly’s “The World’s Greatest.”
Government officials stood before the orange-clad team, presenting proclamations.
Rick Wachtel represented Martinsburg Mayor George Karos with the city’s proclamation while State Senator John Unger — a former Bulldog player himself — swelled with pride as he presented recognition from the state senate and a letter from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
“You will be remembered as one of the greatest teams in West Virginia history,” said Unger, in reading a passage from Tomblin’s letter.
Each player was called to the podium to be recognized while receiving the three governmental congratulations.
“Martinsburg is 30-0 this year on all levels of football,” said atheletic director Greg Reed. “This year, Martinsburg was ranked No. 77 in the country by rivals.com and No. 7 in the East Region by ESPN. But in West Virginia, we are definitely ranked No. 1.”
With fondness, all the thanks ended. But before the party retired to the cafeteria for cake and an autograph session, Walker took one last look ahead.
“I remember seeing a guy wearing an old WVU T-shirt from when Don Nehlen was coaching,” Walker said. “It said ‘The winning is just beginning.’ I need to get one of those made. This has been an outstanding ride, but we are just getting started.”