My column this week brings good news to you. I am here to report that we survived our three-day stay in Appalachia and made it back to western Kentucky safely. I do have a few details of the trip to share with you, along with some tips.
THE CELL PHONE ISSUE
I discovered that we have some very ingenious senior athletes. Our room of senior players – Jalik Alexander, Javin Grubbs, Mitch Rogers and Zeke Wright – figured the phone problem out, sort of.
If you want cell phone service in Williamson, West Virginia, you have two choices. One, you can buy a plan through Appalachian Wireless. Of course, you need to go on and move to the mountains to make it fiscally smart.
If you don’t like that option, then try what our seniors did.
Go to room 412 at the Sycamore Inn and press both your cell phone and face against the window simultaneously. If you hold both just right, you will get half a bar of service. It was hilarious to watch our players go through this process. There must have been some pretty important people on the other end of the line. As a matter of fact, maybe they were both pretty and important.
CELL PHONES GO WILD
Once we neared Pikeville on the way back, our cell phones came back to life. All of the text, voice mails and so forth sprang out of cyberspace and into our phones. It is a wonder the services didn’t overload with so much activity at once.
EVERYTHING IS COAL RELATED
Almost everyone you talk to in the Belfry area is connected to the coal industry in some way. After one of our games, I was making small talk with the referees when they ended the conservation by saying, “Coach, great to meet you. We have got to go to work now.” I asked them where they were going to work at that hour of night. They responded, “We both work at the mines.”
I talked to people that worked as switch operators, railroad men, safety inspectors, night watchmen and about everything else.
The saddest conservation was the one with Mrs. Mildred May, the lady in the hospitality room. She shared with us the story of how her first-born son had died in a mining accident. She did give us the reassurance that her son was in heaven now. It is great to witness someone who has great faith even in tragedy.
We took our players into downtown Williamson, where they got to view a store constructed out of coal. Our players could not help but notice the coal culture due to the fact that there was a railroad within 50 feet of our hotel. Trains ran 24 hours day and night taking coal from the mines and returning to get more.
ANGELS IN THE MOUNTAINS
We were so fortunate to make the acquaintances of two wonderful ladies while in the mountains.
I guess I had better explain that quickly.
Mildred May and Libby Elkins headed up the hospitality room for the tournament. They fed our team after every game. When I would ask what was on the menu, they would reply, “Coal Miners Steak.” We folks in western Kentucky know that as bologna sandwiches.
They would have our sandwiches, chips, drinks and desserts ready for us every day. The food was good, but the company was excellent. These ladies quickly became out favorite people on the trip, and I think they felt the same about us.
Mildred and Libby told us about their families and just took our players in. They even threatened to keep Jalik and Zeke and not let them return home to Cadiz. They felt like their coaching dads were being too hard on them.
They finally let them come home with us, but we had to promise to be easier on them. It is people like Mildred and Libby that make me yearn to travel to the Appalachia with my teams. There were hugs all the way around when we left.
We played the first game of the tournament against the host school, Belfry. We had a 12-point lead in the first half but the Pirates of Belfry came fighting back and eventually made us walk the plank.
As the game wound down, Belfry’s coach called time out after time out. We had a wonderful white-haired referee calling our game. His name was Wendall, and he had several years of calling under his belt.
I asked him how many time outs he was going to let them call. Wendall cracked a sly smile and said, “Coach, each of you got the same number of timeouts. You have five and they have eight.”
NEVER UNDER-ESTIMATE A MOUNTAIN MAN
After losing a tough two-point game to Belfry, we played Cordia the next day. Before the game, one of our entourage noticed Cordia stretching outside their locker room. He said, “Coach, is there a middle school game before ours?” He was poking fun at their lack of height. Then their center came out of the locker room. He was 6-foot-3 tall and 6-foot-7 wide.
The most startling thing about their team was that their starting five all had beards. A couple of them even had Abraham Lincolns. You just don’t see that every day in western Kentucky.
They beat us 93-66. They literally hit shot the lights out. They have won five of their last seven games. Never underestimate a mountain man or team.
The last day, we did defeat Morgan County. Our team gave a great effort and it made the trip home much sweeter.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY COACH CHIDESTER
Coach Rick Chidester celebrated his birthday on our last day of the trip. Our players took up a collection and rounded up enough money to send him and his wife out to dinner and a movie.
Earlier in the day, Rick had made two in-game suggestions that helped us to the victory.
NEVER TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE BUS DRIVER
While I took a short nap on the way back, our driver turned north and we were headed for Huntington, West Virginia. I awoke to see a sign welcoming us to Lawrence County, Kentucky. We quickly corrected and took the Bert Combs Mountain Parkway to Lexington and then headed home. It allowed most of us, including me, to travel a stretch of road we had never traversed. Just for the record, I would not swap our driver for any other in the world.
WORLD’S MOST DEDICATED FANS
I can’t close until I thank Jerry Gonzales and his daughter Shelby for making the eight-hour trip to watch us play. They were our only two fans in attendance. An effort like that qualifies them for super fan status.
OT: Thanks so much for the many positive comments on the columns. It fuels my energy and motivates me to continue writing.
Double OT: Working on Keys to the Gym: The Life of a Small-town Basketball Coach.
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.)