LOUISVILLE, Ky. – All Micheal McGuire knew was he had to drive 30 minutes Saturday evening to get from his job at a coal mine to the annual Kentucky Blue-White basketball scrimmage with his son.
He and his family didn’t expect a photo of the pair to go viral days later.
It was McGuire’s son’s first exposure to the Wildcats, but it won’t be his last. The photo drew national attention after UK coach John Calipari posted the image on his Twitter and Instagram pages, with a caption offering tickets to the family to be “treated as VIPs” on a trip this season to Rupp Arena.
“My family’s American dream started in a Clarksburg, WV coal mine, so this picture hits home,” Calipari wrote.
The game took place in Pikeville, a small city in the Bluegrass State’s eastern region near Kentucky’s borders with Virginia and West Virginia.
McGuire’s wife Mollie said her husband averages about 50 hours a week on the job with Excel Mining, a preparation plant that operates out of Pike County in eastern Kentucky, including frequent Saturday shifts to go along with his normal Monday-through-Friday schedule.
The weekend of this year’s Blue-White scrimmage, one of UK’s biggest fan events ahead of the start of the regular season, happened to land on a work day for McGuire.
But he was determined to be in the crowd with his family.
Mollie wasn’t in the photo, which drew thousands of eyes after it was shared by Calipari. But she was cheering the team on from the crowd alongside Micheal and Easton, their 3-year-old son who had his first taste of college basketball that night.
“When the guys would slam dunk or they would shoot a 3 and the crowd would holler, he would get excited and clap his hands,” Mollie McGuire said. “And every time they would have a timeout, I mean, then they turned the music on, he would get down on the floor and dance for everybody. Our entire section had a show every time the music would play.”
Like many families in the Bluegrass State, the McGuire family – including their kids, Eason and Lynlee – has bonded over basketball. But Mollie said she and her husband hadn’t been to a game in at least four years.
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The scrimmage over the weekend was a chance to introduce Easton to the team, she said, after he recently started showing an interest in sports. He just finished his first season of tee ball, she said, and will start his first season of basketball next month at the YMCA.
Her husband is originally from Floyd County, Mollie said, which was hit hard by devastating flooding over the summer. The floods in eastern Kentucky that were a result of storms in late July have left at least 43 dead people, and raising money for affected families by the disaster was a goal of the organizers of Saturday’s event.
Attending the scrimmage and helping those in need was a “true honor,” Mollie said. Their family wasn’t personally affected by the flooding, but they know plenty of people in the region who weren’t as fortunate.
“These boys are great,” she said, referring to the team. “They’re in the right mindset, wanting to help others, and it’s just wonderful that they take the time to come here to raise money for such a cause.”
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The Wildcats presented a check for $162,450 to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear at halftime on Saturday’s game at the Appalachian Wireless Area, money that will go toward the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund. It was the team’s idea to have the scrimmage in Pikeville to benefit flood relief efforts, Calipari noted before tipoff, and Pikeville Fire Department Chief Johnny Cole called the event “truly an honor” for local residents.
Calipari wasn’t surprised by the turnout. Wherever the Wildcats go, he said, fans follow.
Mollie, a former 911 dispatcher who quit to stay at home and support their two young kids, said she hopes the attention will help Micheal feel appreciated. She said she tells her husband all the time how much his job matters to their family.
“If it wasn’t for him being a coal miner and having such a good, reliable job, where it provides health insurance and you know, money to pay our bills and money to live on … I couldn’t stay home, she said. “I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom, raise our kids and do everything that they need. It’s a true blessing.”
The support, she said, extends beyond his wife and kids.
“It’s not just his immediate family that appreciate him. It’s everyone,” Mollie McGuire said. “It’s all of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee. Everyone. He is appreciated. And I’m hoping that he feels that appreciation and that love once he realizes, you know, everything that’s happened.”
Contributing: Ryan Black, Louisville Courier Journal.
Follow Rae Johnson on Twitter at @RaeJ_33.