CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Much has been said of the increased travel for West Virginia University sports teams since leaving the Big East and going to the Big 12 Conference in 2012.
Perhaps no one knows the issue, and lives it vividly each fall, more than Gene Papa, president of Central Van & Storage.
His Putnam County company has moved football equipment for the Mountaineers from Morgantown to every away game for seven years. Commentators often talk of a team’s strength of schedule, but Papa looks at the difficulty of the schedule in a different way.
“WVU has had the longest average away game mileage (1,150 miles one way) of all NCAA DI football teams for the past four years,” said Papa, from his office at the Rock Branch Industrial Park near Poca. “It is the hardest transportation schedule in the country, within the 48 states.
“In seven years, we’ve never missed a deadline. We’ve never had any issues. We have a perfect, on-time performance with them.”
Papa, a WVU graduate, also picked up the Marshall University football equipment moving business and has served the Herd for two seasons, though he said the two deals are vastly different. He is a fan of both schools, Papa said, with children attending both WVU and Marshall.
So now, Central Van & Storage has the distinction of being both the Official Mover of the Mountaineers and the Official Mover of the Thundering Herd, Papa said proudly.
Up to the challenge
Bowl season will be especially challenging again this year, with WVU headed to the desert of Arizona and Marshall heading to the gulf coast of Florida.
For this year’s Motel 6 Cactus Bowl in Phoenix, Arizona, the WVU truck will travel 4,200 miles, with 84 hours of driving round trip. The 10:15 p.m. kickoff from Chase Field Jan. 2 against Arizona State will be available on ESPN.
For the St. Petersburg Bowl, the Marshall truck will go 1,840 miles with 32 hours of driving round trip. The Herd will take on UConn at 11 a.m. Dec. 26 at Tropicana Field in a game also televised by ESPN.
But trips like that have happened on the same weekend this year, and Central Van & Storage pulled it off splendidly, Papa pointed out, with WVU playing in Texas and Marshall playing in Florida.
“We went to Waco, Texas and Boca Raton, Florida that weekend,” Papa recalled. “That was 4,700 miles in 85 hours and burned 780 gallons of fuel in one weekend.”
David Steele, associate athletic director for Marshall University calls the relationship between Marshall and Central Van & Storage, “a great partnership,” adding, “Their drivers have been tremendous. We consider them a part of our team. They’re a key part of what we do.”
The average fan may spend hours preparing the perfect tailgate, but likely has little idea of the amount of preparation that goes into an away game for a college football program.
For a typical WVU regular season game on the road, a trailer is loaded after practice on Wednesdays. It hits the road sometime between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. that evening and arrives at the destination on Thursday, ahead of the team arriving on Friday before a typical Saturday game.
Two Central Van & Storage drivers are used each trip, because of the distance and the time crunch, Papa said. They also help load and unload the equipment.
“They’re not just drivers - they’re functional members of the (football) staff,” he said. “With dual drivers, we are typically (arriving) anywhere in the Big 12 in 20 hours or less.”
When the team gets to its locker room, everything is set up in the room waiting on them.
Helmets, shoulder pads, game uniforms, the coaches’ communication system, heaters, exercise bikes, training tables, whiteboards, cold weather gear - it’s all in the truck.
“It’s full, and it’s 53 feet long,” Papa said.
Within an hour of the end of each game, the truck is loaded back up and ready for the return trip to Morgantown, according to Papa.
“We are very grateful that both universities trust us with something so important,” Papa said.
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Those thousands of miles and hours on the road equal prime billboard time across the country, as the trailers decked out in old gold and blue, or in green and white, provide for rolling advertisements.
It is wrapped in school colors with eye-grabbing graphics and photos.
“It’s another recruiting tool,” Papa said. “It’s really something to see. Kids love it.”
Photos of fans posing in front of the trailers frequently show up on social media pages.
“A couple got married at the WVU-Texas game a couple of years ago, and they took some of their wedding photos hanging off of the truck,” Papa recalled. “I saw a picture of it in the WVU Alumni magazine and I said ‘Hey, that’s my truck!’
“We always make sure it looks good when it’s sitting at the game or hotels.”
There will be a brand new wrap for the Mountaineers’ trailer for 2016, Papa promised.
“From a branding standpoint, (the tractor and trailer) is very important to us,” said Matt Wells, WVU assistant athletic director for external affairs. “It sends a message, ‘The Mountaineers are in town for a big game.’ We get a lot of positive feedback and it creates a lot of excitement.”
Mountain State proud
Originated in 1996, Central Van & Storage currently has 110 employees, but the number varies between 130 and 95, depending on time of the year. About 60 percent of its moves come in the four summer months, Papa said. It has 50 pieces of moving equipment, ranging from 16-foot box trucks to 80-foot tractor-trailers.
Central Van & Storage will handle approximately 4,000 household moves this year, local and long distance, both private pay and corporate relocations, according to Papa. It will also handle approximately 170 office and commercial moves this year from its locations covering the areas of Beckley, Parkersburg, Clarksburg, Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown and Pittsburgh. Its website is centralvan.com.
“We service all 55 counties in West Virginia,” Papa said.
Affiliated with Allied Van Lines, Central Van & Storage has been a top ten finalist for the company’s Agent of the Year the last two years.
Information from: The State Journal, https://www.statejournal.com
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