Top Sports Stories — 2017
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS - Hard work, dedication pays off for small-town girls
PIKEVILLE — There were plenty of smiles when Pikeville High School's (PHS) varsity cheerleaders returned home earlier this week after competing on the national stage in Orlando, Fla.
The girls captured a second straight national championship and fourth in school history.
"Our theme this year was to believe in ourselves," second-year head coach Kandice Branham said. "We wanted to stay focused on our routine and not worry about what the other teams were doing."
Competing in the national spotlight has become routine for PHS. The squad also won national titles in 2001 and 2002.
The future is bright for the squad, which loses only seniors Christen Ousley and Catie Rowe.
"It's just an unbelievable feeling to go out as a national champion," Ousley said. "It doesn't seem real…it's just the greatest thing."
Rowe said to go out her senior year with another title was a dream come true.
"To know that I'm a two-time national champion is really special for me," Rowe said.
Coach Branham said her team handled the pressure well, especially after having the lead following their opening floor exercise.
"I thought our girls really were focused," she said. "We went in as the favorite and did everything we had to do to win."
Pikeville's journey to Orlando began last July when the group attended UCA camp at the University of Kentucky.
Branham said her team's practice schedule can run anywhere from five to six days a week, and even Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks sharpening their skills for the nationals.
"Once we get closer to nationals we try and compete or perform somewhere every weekend in January.
Branham said having a strong support staff of coaches and trainers is an added bonus for the program.
"Any time we learn a new stunt we have one group go and the rest of the team will stand around closely spotting ready to catch the top girl if needed," she said.
Branham said the highlight of this year's winning routine was the tumbling and end pyramid.
The final two squads were both from Kentucky. Branham said waiting to hear the runner-up school announced was heart-wrenching.
"To put on the white jacket for the first time was a wonderful feeling, but it was such a relief to know that everything we had worked on for so long paid off," she concluded.
Unrattled Panthers bounce back to stun
•PIKEVILLE — Pikeville first-year coach Elisha Justice never felt his team was out of the game despite facing an 18-point deficit with just over five minutes remaining before halftime.
The Panthers cut the deficit to eight at the break and took control in the third period to rally for an improbable 95-84 win over 15th Region perennial power Johnson Central at the Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center on March 6. It's their first title since 1999.
"We never concerned ourselves with anyone else," Justice, who led Shelby Valley High School as a player to two All "A" Classic championships and a Sweet Sixteen title in 2010, said. "We just wanted to continue to work hard and get better and make a run."
Make a run they did.
Cade Byers, who was playing his first year of varsity basketball, hit all 11 of his shots from the floor and finished with a team-high 28 points.
Junior Wyatt Battaile was outstanding all night long, finishing with 25 points while grabbing 15 rebounds, including 10 defensive.
Evan Rhodes added 22 points, including a pair of clutch three-pointers late in the game to seal the win.
Smithsonian comes to small-town Wayland
•WAYLAND — The small community of Wayland is nestled away deep
in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.
This once booming coal town was home to more than 3,000 people. Wayland's population today has dwindled to about 400.
Despite many changes over the years, the Floyd County community remains home to one of the greatest high school basketball stars of all- time, "King" Kelly Coleman.
Coleman, who legendary University of Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp called, "the greatest high school player who ever lived," is taking a backseat to a new Smithsonian exhibit called, "Hometown Teams."
The exhibit will be on display now through April 22 at the Wayland Historical Society. The interactive exhibit leads visitors on a journey through local sports history. Artifacts from the 1920s to present day are displayed.
The exhibit site is adjacent to the Wayland High School gymnasium, where Coleman guided the Wasps to the Sweet 16 in 1956, earning him the
honor as Kentucky's first-ever Mr. Basketball.