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High School Legends: Poor Pupils of Rich Heritage

Years ago, the KHSAA awarded all post season participants with a metal basketball as a keepsake.

Wearing her dad’s postseason basketball medals in a custom made necklace — Mary Jo (Williamson) Holloway is the original Coach’s Daughter. As we stood and marveled at the 1954 Inez High School State Basketball Championship Trophy, she named off each player in the 1954 team photo displayed at the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame. She knew high school basketball inside and out. Her dad, Russell Williamson, was a State Champion coach in 1941 and was Principal of Inez High in 1954, where I’m told he still had a presence in the program led by Claude Mills.

1954 Championship Team Photo Courtesy of Kentucky High School Athlete archives.

“Is Pikeville still a huge rival with Inez?” Mary asked.

That’s when I had to explain that most rivalries are dead. When I told her about the attendance at basketball games, she was shocked. “That’s heartbreaking. The gym is where everyone was when the Indians were playing. Sometimes you couldn’t even get a seat.”

“I want to thank you for bringing that trophy for display. It’s just wonderful to see it again,” she said as she hugged my neck.

In the Russell Williamson era, all roads to a State Tournament victory ran through 8-time Region Champion: Inez High School. Nestled in a sleepy coal town so far East it borders West Virginia, the town of Inez didn’t have much to offer its visitors, other than a nice beat down on the basketball court — and the community loved witnessing it, providing packed houses night in and night out.

Hoisting the 1941 Championship Trophy after the win. Photo courtesy of the Kentucky High School Athlete archives.

Today, across the state, attendance has declined dramatically. What has changed? Those of us still passionate about the game have this discussion regularly with the usual reasons thrown out: “The consolidation of schools has killed us,” will be one opinion. “The trophies aren’t special anymore,” they’ll remark. “Kids just don’t care,” someone will say. Another will blame the electronics: the TVs, PS4s, and iPhones. While those things may play small roles on a percentage of those who attend, the root of our problems lie much deeper…

The kids no longer know what they’re playing for. The fans no longer know what they’re watching. My generation has failed to teach them about the Russell Williamsons, about the King Kelly Colemans, and all the greats that paved the way for the sport they play or watch — but they don’t love it and they don’t know why they should.

Back in April, the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame held a Local Exhibit in Wayland with all the relics of the 15th Region’s past: a plethora of State Championship trophies, Mr. Basketball awards, rings, jackets, and medals. Gary Wayne Cox, alumni of Warfield High, brought his young Grandson Knox Maynard to see the exhibit and meet some local legends. Knox was thrilled and enamored by the history in which he was taught that day. Knox will grow up to love and take pride in the sports he plays — simply because his Grandfather is one of the few that took the time to light that spark of interest.

Youngster Knox Maynard learns from his Grandpa about the burning rivalry between Inez and Warfield High Schools

Today, Russell Williamson will be inducted in to the final “Centennial Class” of the Kentucky High School Basketball Hall of Fame. Today, only a handful of people in Inez know who he is or why he was so deserving of this honor. Today, I will be one person of four from Inez who will witness the ring presentation as this huge honor is bestowed on this family and community.

Tomorrow, we should change that. This is my plea for you, Dear Reader — as a father, mother, or grandparent — teach your children about the greats. Teach them about what we have accomplished. Light that spark for your child to become a lifelong learner and historian. We are all looking for ways to connect with our youth: let this rich heritage be the joy you both share.


Kayla Moore VanHoose
Proud Inez Indian
@BluegrassBball on Twitter


  1. Beverly Hayes Richards says:

    I remember as a young girl going to basketball games there it was packed and remember when Russel Williamson was my principal my mother taught school there I remember her saying he was a though ole bird lol

  2. Lee Mueller says:

    Very cogent, accurate assessment of the rise and decline of mountain basketball, Kayla. Thank you.

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