Our destination was Belfry High School and we were scheduled to participate in the Mountain School Boy Classic basketball Tournament. Little did we know that we were just seven hours and 45 minutes from absolute terror in the Appalachians.
What terror would we come face to face with? Would it be snow, ice, a rock slide, a coal truck that failed to yield, a black bear that forgot to hibernate or a cast member from the movie Deliverance roaming our motel hallways? No, the terror was much more horrible. But first, lets backtrack to the trip’s innoncent beginning.
With Assistant Coach Guy Strang at the wheel, we quickly began to put western Kentucky behind us. First it was Hopkinsville, then Elkton, Russellville and Bowling Green in the rearview mirror. After passing Glowgow it was on to the Cumberland Parkway. After a few stories from Rick Chidester and Charles Alexander, we had traveled by Columbia, Russell Springs and Somerset. I might have been guilty of telling a couple myself.
Then we arrived in London, where we had a late lunch at Pizza Hut. After a post-meal picture in front of the Hut, we boarded yellow submarine No. 17 and headed for Belfry.
The next towns we put behind us were Manchester, Hyden and Hazard. Please understand that our student/athletes were not just sleeping as high school students usually do on a long bus ride. They were being educated on the history of eastern Kentucky. Coach Chidester and I were reveling in teaching them about the geography, coal industry and culture of the Appalachians. I was also quick to inform them about every famous athlete that had come our of every county we passed through on the way.
Some of the topics we discussed were glaciers, mountains, coal mines, coal trucks, Tim Couch, Johnny Cox, the politics of eastern Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln, black bears, strip mining, the Company Store, violence in eastern Kentucky and much more. Our students were taking in every mountain and gorge along the way. In all my many trips over the years, I have never had kids sleep so little.
After seven and a half hours on the bus, we made a quick stop for gas in Pikeville. Belfry was now in our sites. Just 25 more miles and we would be in Belfry. From there it was just another eight miles to our hotel in Williamson, West Virginia.
We rolled out of Pikeville and steamed toward Belfry. Coach Chidester kept noting, correctly so, how we were constantly going downhill in the bus yet the river beside us was flowing the opposite way. It appeared to be going uphill. Go figure. The direction the river was flowing was the least of our problems. We were just minutes away from sheer panic and terror. Now for the unthinkable.
We descended into the wonderful and beautiful mountain town of Belfry. Belfry is completely surrounded by large mountains. It was then and there that it happened. We had 15 people on the bus – 10 players, four coaches and a filmer.
What was the terror? All 15 cell phones had no service. I mean no bars – zero. None of our services worked. Nine with Cingular, four AT&T and two Verizon were all showing no service. Blackberrys and iPhones alike were all put out of commission.
You talking about panic.
Players couldn’t communicate with their girlfriends, conversations were cut off in mid-sentence. Relationships may have ended. Who knows? We may not find out till we start back!
Apparently, most of our young people had never had a moment in their lives where cell phone communication was completelty cut off. And guess what? We found our that it will not get any better as long as we are in Belfry or Williamson, West Virginia. Unless you have Appalachian Wireless, you simply can’t get a signal here.
The moral of the story seems to be this. Our goal on this trek is to become a better basketball team, bond with each other and learn lots about the land and culture of eastern Kentucky. However, a new candidate has emerged as a worthy goal for the trip. We may have learned that we can do without cell phones.
Scratch that. I really need to call Justin McGill and talk about this column. Wish my cell phone had service!
– Lost thrilling 74-72 game to host school Belfry tonight.
– Beautiful snowfall has come down all night but none on the roads.
– Thanks to Adam Bankston, at the Brass Tree Restaurant, for loaning me the laptop to type this column on ... at 2 a.m. Eastern Time.
– Thanks also to the wonderful ladies of the Belfry Hospitality Room, Mildred May and Libby Elkins. They graciously loaned OUR coaching staff their cell phones to call our wives. (They have Appalachian Wireless!)
– Belfry has a new $43 million school with a gym that seats nearly 4,000 people – state of the art! They literally built it on a reclaimed strip mine area and paid $98, 000 an acre for 43 acres.
Enthusiasm Makes the Difference
(Mike Wright is the head coach of boys basketball and cross country at Trigg County High School. Emails concerning Coach’s Corner can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)