Tri-State Treasures 4: The McDonald’s Criterium

bike race

Friday, May 29 I hopped in my Kia Sportage, threw in a Tom Petty CD, and headed toward Jeff’s Bike Shop.  For a moment I was teleported back to 1989, only then I would have been hopping on my smoky purple Diamond Back mountain bike, neon pink water bottle in tow, Full Moon Fever blaring in my head.  The destination would be the same.  Of course, in the late 80’s I would wheel from Burlington to downtown Huntington to clock in at my first real job.

On this particular Friday in the present I was driving my five year old son down to meet with some other Joys, his grandfather, uncle, cousins, to what I will consider to be his first press conference.  Two news stations were there to interview four generations of Joy men that would be racing in the 5th annual McDonald’s Criterium, of which Jeff’s Bike Shop is a founding sponsor.  My father represented the oldest member of the Joy clan, while my brother, his son, grandson, and my boy all took part in the festivities.  At 3, a full seventy years younger than my father, Levi’s cousin Enzo, was to be the youngest racer.

It was all pretty cool.  One of the newscasters referred to it as a family reunion of sorts, and it was.  It was also a blast from the past, present, and future, all in one shot of the five riders lined up from youngest to oldest.

bike race 2

My son jumped up and down with excitement when I asked him if he wanted to be in a bike race.  He has two Specialized bicycles to choose from and chose the smaller one, not fully comfortable with the weight of his newest yet.  We practiced riding up and down the street, his mother and I close by.  When it came time to race, he lined up with a dozen or so other three to five year olds, all sweaty and thrilled on the humid May day.  The race began, and in a blink of excitement and pride, it was over.  Levi’s only complaint was that it didn’t last longer.  He was ready to keep going and going.

bike race 4

Beyond the obvious family pride, I was also proud of my community.  Huntington is often derided for its lack of focus on fitness, a false ridicule proven wrong by days and events like this.  In addition to the focus on fitness such an event brings, it also has a big impact on the downtown economy.  Over five hundred racers and spectators packed Pullman Square.

The Criterium is host to tons of local bikers, as well as racers from all over, who descend on Huntington once a year to bring the joy of cycling to our downtown streets.  This year’s race was also designated as the West Virginia State Criterium Championship.  (And Jeff Joy won the West Virginia Criterium Championship.)

The race is a really bright feather in the Tri-State’s cap, one that I hope to see continue for many years to come.  I know Levi Joy is already counting the days until next year’s race.


21 Fantastic Things About Huntington, WV

camden park

Huntington, WV has been labeled the fattest, unhealthiest, most miserable, even ugliest town in America on many occasions in recent years.  The national spotlight has not been kind.  Recent drug and crime statistics haven’t helped either, and paint a pretty bleak picture of our river port city.  But for every Money-ton crack, obesity slight, endless lament that there’s “nothing to do here,” complaint about over taxation, or the desperate need for more and higher paying jobs, there are a LOT of often overlooked positives.  Here are 21 fantastic things about my hometown.

-Ritter Park has been ranked by Child Magazine as one of the ten nicest parks in the country.

-The city’s downtown arena, the Big Sandy Superstore Arena is, according to Venues Today, the , “11th top entertainment venue worldwide among venues with seating capacities between 5,001 and …10,000.”  That same venue was also recently nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award for Venue of the Year (Medium capacity) for the second year in a row.

-Huntington offers a ton of free activities for kids, most notably the Huntington Museum of Art’s Saturday KidsArt program, which offers kids Pre-K through 5th grade free art classes every Saturday afternoon.

-Our area’s focus on fitness rivals many areas its size.  From the PATH to Critical Mass to the Marshall marathon to the high number of 5K races (including the annual WV 5K Championship), and a YMCA that has basically tripled in size over the past two decades, Huntingtonians should be proud of the improvement made in this category.

-From musical theatre to Pulitzer Prize winning work to the best in children’s theatre, Huntington boasts a wide variety of stage works with something for everyone.  It is rare for a weekend to go by without some play being brought to life for Tri-State audiences.

-How many communities can boast an amusement park among the many things to do?  Not many.  Huntington can.  Camden Park!

-Be it Greek Fest or a Marshall football game day or a Halloween block party or a Hot Dog Fest, Huntingtonians are never at a loss for coming up with an excuse to party with their neighbors – thousands turn out for these events and many, many more.

-Speaking of food, and we know good food, did you know that Cam’s Ham sandwich was ranked one of the Top 50 sandwiches in the USA, according to the Food Network’s “50 States, 50 Sandwiches”?

-While too many communities our size were tearing down their Keith Albee or Jeslyn theatres/performing arts centers, ours was focused on restoring them and ensuring the quality arts programming and educational outreach that comes from both.

-While many communities our size have let their downtowns die, ours has held on better than most with Pullman Square and other small businesses.

-A recent Movoto survey of 34 West Virginia cities ranked Huntington the ninth best place to live in the state.  Two of the positives this piece pointed out was that our town has both the lowest cost of living and lowest student to teacher ratio of any other city in their top 10.  (I would argue that either one of these most vital factors should bump us up to the top spot.)

-Becker’s Hospital Review recently ranked Cabell Huntington Hospital, one of the area’s largest employers, as one of the Top 150 Great Places to Work in Healthcare in all of the United States.

-Cooking Light named The Wild Ramp as one of the Top 50 (out of over 8,000!) farmers’ markets in the country.

-Heritage Farm, a 25,000 square foot collection of Appalachian history, recently became West Virginia’s first Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

-Marshall University has racked up a number of impressive accomplishments, including, but not limited to an award winning radio station, a top notch fine arts program, one of the best H.E.L.P. programs around, and a Forensic Science Graduate Program recently ranked #1 in the nation.

-Central City is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, but it’s also one of the most unique shopping outlets you’ll find.

-Huntington Prep has been ranked among the Top 10 basketball programs in the country.  Current NBA player Andrew Wiggins, the top high school basketball player in the country in 2013, leads an impressive list of Express players.

-Huntington High School’s new Wellness Academy recently received national recognition in District Administration magazine.

-Huntington was named as one of 50 quarterfinalists (out of 347 communities evaluated) in the 2015 American’s Best Communities competition.

-Nationally renowned podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me and hit web series Things I Bought at Sheetz both have roots in Huntington.

-Calliope magazine’s 2013 Clown of the Year, Tom E. Boy, is a Huntington resident.

On Drama


Most of my plays are comedies, at least I like to think of them that way.  I’m guessing about twenty to thirty percent of folks would disagree.  Comedies come easier to me, for reasons that I will explore in another blog.

I have made a few attempts at drama.  Likely my most successful of these was the 2004 play The First Day of Summer.  It was written as a part of a nature writing class that I took during a May intersession to complete my MA in English from Marshall University.  As a part of the course, six students spent a week tucked deep in the West Virginia mountains at Twin Falls doing little else but hiking and writing night and day.  It was one of my all-time favorite classes, and by the end of the week, a two character, thirty minute, dramatic play was born.

I was trying to write about an easier time, when something as simple as an oncoming summer thunderstorm could thrill and where something as innocent as holding someone’s hand was a profound gesture.  Below is a one minute scene from the play:


(Older Ron walks slowly to CS as the lights come up on older Laney, sitting. Ron sits next to her but neither one acknowledges the other.)



It was pitch black and I could barely make out Ronnie’s face from only inches away.


There was supposed to be a full moon that night. We sat next to each other for a long time just talking and staring up at the sky. Every once in a while the wind would whip the trees so that you could just see though to the sky and catch a glimpse of the moon or the stars.


It was nice. I think it was my favorite night that whole summer and we didn’t even talk that much. We just sat there looking up at the sky trying to see the full moon.



After a while it started to cloud over.



We heard the thunder and wind and rain in the distance, but it was moving fast right toward us.



The rain marched toward us. It sounded like an army.



It was kind of scary with the sound of the wind getting louder and louder. I’ve never heard the forest sound angry before, but that night it sure sounded angry all right.



We just listened. It was coming for us. We’d be soaking wet in seconds.



Then it hit. Barrels of rain poured all over us.



And then we laughed.



I remember being really scared and then I remember laughing and laughing.



We’d both been scared listening to the thunder and rain and then all of the sudden we were both laughing hysterically.



Then Ronnie reached over and held my hand. Suddenly, we were silent.


(Blackout. Lights up SL on Ron.)


The original two character play was performed at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio in the summer of 2005.  I consider it to be one of my most successful productions, thanks in large part to terrific performances by Nathan Wheeler and a talented young actress whose name escapes me, an amazing lighting plan by Vivian Robson, and an encouraging full house audience.

A one hour version, with an expanded cast of a dozen characters was produced by First Stage Theatre in Huntington, WV in the spring of 2010.  This was a most special production to me, as it reunited me with a children’s theatre company that had a great impact on me as a teen.  Special thanks to the entire First Stage board at the time, most especially Chuck Minsker and Amy Browning, for seeing it become the theatre’s first original script produced in its twenty plus year history.

The First Day of Summer (one act version) is available for sale at:

To the Class of 2015: 10 Tips for Success


Congratulations to the class of 2015!  Be you a high school senior about to transition to college or work, or a college graduate about to fly from the nest of academia, or a five year old leaving preschool on his way to Kindergarten (okay, that last one hits a bit close to home), a few of these may just apply to you.

Here are ten tips to the recent graduate:

1)  Study compound interest.  You likely haven’t talked about it much, or you slept through that lesson in some math class, but it is the single most important math you’ll ever need.  From car payments, to credit card and student loan debt, a mortgage, your retirement plan, and more, Einstein was right on when he described it as the most powerful force on Earth.

2)  Be kind to each other.  You’re not better than anyone else, and no one else is better than you.  We spend too much of our lives looking for and justifying reasons to hate other people, which does nothing for anybody.  Love is all you need.  Be it the Bible or the Beatles that lead your way, it’s true.  Love thy neighbor.

3)  For those of you transitioning from high school to college:  There will be people set up on campus asking you to sign up for a credit card and offering you a two liter of pop in return.  No commitment.  You can just cut up the card if you want.  You still get that two liter for free.  WRONG.  That credit card has a $60 annual fee.  Congratulations on your $60 two liter of Mountain Dew.

4)  Don’t party…too much.  I mean you got to let loose every once in awhile.  However, if you find yourself at your fourth quarter pitcher night in a row, you’ve probably made some poor decisions along the way.  That’s probably okay, as poor decisions are some of life’s best teachers.

5)  Do something that scares you.  Audition for a play.  Sing karaoke.  Jump out of a plane.  Step out of your routine every so often.

6)  You don’t know everything yet.  That doesn’t happen until you turn 40 and start your own blog.

7)  Go to class.  Go to work.  Just being there will put you ahead of some of your peers.  As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Oh, and if you don’t go to class, don’t go to see your professor and ask if there’s anything you missed.  Of course, you missed something.  This is especially important if you have been absent more than six consecutive class sessions.

8)  Live in the moment, reflect on the past, and stay hopeful for the future.  And write down as much of your journey as possible.

9)  Everyone has a story.  Make yours the best damn story anyone ever told.  There will be moments to celebrate, lots of laughter and joy, but also many tears and tragedy.  When it is the latter that strikes, walk over the hot coals full of the knowledge that your path will cool once again.

10)  Stay positive.  This is ball game, for we become what we think.

The Good Old Days When Dad and I Would Throw Knives at Each Other


Blast from the Past:  Crazy games edition

My father and I used to play mumblety-peg in our backyard.

For those of you not familiar with the game, it involves standing face to face with your opponent, arms length apart, and throwing sharp knives in the general vicinity of each other’s feet.  If the knife your opponent throws sticks in the ground nearby, you have to move your foot to where it landed.  Repeat, taking turns, until one of you is off balance and falls.  Think of it as Twister, but with pocket knives hurled perhaps just a bit too close to your opponent’s lower extremities.

This is the safest variation of a game that has many versions.  It is referred to as the “Stretch” type of mumblety-peg, since the goal is to stretch your opponent until he loses his balance.  One of the other versions encourages players to land the knife as close to the opponents foot as possible, which is clearly asking for trouble.

Mumblety-peg was an old schoolyard game in the first half of the twentieth century, but for some reason (safety concerns and liability, I’m sure) it went out of favor.

No one was ever hurt in our backyard.  The fact that my dad would play so often with me shows that he had incredible trust in my knife wielding abilities and my pre-teen mood swings.

The world would probably be a better place if more fathers would spend more time playing mumblety-peg with their sons – provided, of course, that those fathers have good aim with a knife.

On Teaching


My desire to teach was a seed likely planted in my dad’s lab at Marshall University in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  He took me to school with him often, and his job always fascinated me.  My desire to teach was developed even further by a great many teachers that influenced me.  (I wrote a blog about them, too, of course.)  At some point, by the time I reached my early thirties, I realized there was nothing else I would rather be doing.

Recently, I was asked to write a narrative describing my teaching philosophy or my why and to relate it to specific course goals, examples, etc.  Below is the short version (that’s right, the short version is over 800 words).  It’s difficult to sum this all up in words, as so many intangible things happen in the classroom and in the life of a teacher.  Regardless, this is my best attempt to do just that.


I read and write because I love the written word.  I love the excitement that comes with creating a character and seeing it come to life and find its way in a story of my own making.  I equally enjoy getting caught up in the stories of others.  One message that I share with my students is that, “Everyone has a story.”  Unfortunately not many of us take the time to write our story.  Putting our thoughts, beliefs, histories down on paper is great way to preserve them for ourselves and for future generations.  Beyond that, I also share that oral and written communication is consistently the number one job skill sought by employers.  It is also a necessary skill for success at the college level.  Therefore, my students journey each semester to become better writers for these three reasons:  to express our experiences, to succeed in college-level coursework, and to someday get a good job.  Success in written communication can build a bridge to all three.

One of the course goals in ENG 101 is to, “plan, draft, revise, proofread, and edit to produce well-written essays.”  I use a variety of assignments to accomplish the three goals listed in the first paragraph, as well as this particular course goal.  Students enjoy narrative works like the This I Believe essay or a Literacy Narrative essay, both parts of national writing projects that allow them to explore their own experiences, backgrounds, and beliefs.  They are challenged by writing a Critique of an artistic work that forces them to not just summarize, but deconstruct some work using a series of analytical questions I provide.  They are taxed with research strategies to compose the perfect, academic, argumentative piece that works to both inform and persuade the reader (and simultaneously understand both sides of an issue).  These are just a few examples of essays that I regularly use to capture the imagination and test the wits of our students.  They have succeeded beyond measure.  One student recently e-mailed to let me know that her This I Believe essay was published on the TIB website.  Another informed me that the research he conducted on an argumentative piece had caused him to rethink his stance on a particular issue.  A third student, age 47, shared that he enjoyed my class and found himself reading and writing more than ever before.  These students, and many others like them that attended class regularly and really accepted the spirit of the course, excelled in every step of the writing process from topic selection to rough drafts to revision.  This course goal is at the heart of ENG 101 (“to plan, draft, revise, proofread, and edit to produce well-written essays”) and I hear, read, and see proof of its success every week.

I begin the semester with a grammar review.  This is often conducted as a 25-30 question quiz that tests knowledge of parts of speech, punctuation, sentence structure, research strategies, citing sources, and more.  This is an important part of the class because it gives me immediate feedback regarding the strengths and weakness of each student and allows me to develop an action plan.  Another course goal is to, “write in Standard English that is appropriate for purpose and audience.”  In order to do that, students must get the fundamentals.  This grammar test and activities that follow are designed to do just that.  For the 2013-14 school year, my ENG 101 students averaged a 66% on this test at the beginning of each semester.  By the end of each term, those scores improved dramatically, in every class, with an 80% being the average end score.  That’s a jump of fourteen percentage points on a relatively difficult exam and that’s just the average.  Many students improved more than that.  It is difficult to judge English and Writing by the numbers, but in this case, I’ll definitely take those numbers.  I have also worked on an ENG 101 assessment on Blackboard that is used in all 101 classes.  That test is even more difficult than the one previously mentioned, yet we have seen (as an entire department) dramatic improvement in those numbers, as well.

While the two previous examples deal directly with goals in ENG 101, I have also had the exciting task of testing out a new playwriting course on campus this year.  ENG 207 saw students write monologues, short scenes, ten minute plays, and one acts that will be performed as part of an annual New Play Festival of student and faculty written work in the campus theatre.  “Create” is at the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and that is exactly what this group of students did.  Their written creations, these new plays, will find a voice on a stage and speak to an audience in a venue that few writers (much less college students) have.  And I get to lead, or at least be a part of, their creative journey.

I love to read and write, and I love to teach.  I am blessed to have the classroom as a place where my enthusiasm for the written word can meet the needs of a group of students and community, as well as the goals for the College.

ACTC Theatre Recognized in The Dramatist Magazine

new play fest actc

Our little theatre is getting some big attention.  The March/April issue of The Dramatist magazine features a bit on last month’s 2nd Annual New Play Festival at Ashland Community and Technical College.  Nancy Gall-Clayton’s piece describes ACTC’s young fest, and explores like events in Kentucky, such as the well known YES Fest at NKU, Somerset Community College’s Sketches, UK Theatre’s new works, and more.

ACTC’s New Play Festival features student written work, developed in the fall semester playwriting class and staged during the spring semester.

The Dramatist magazine is the only national publication devoted to playwriting.  It is published by the Dramatists Guild and reaches readers from coast to coast.

For more information about new works at ACTC contact Jonathan Joy at

For more information about the Dramatist Guild check them out online at