Gathering of legends: Mountain Sports Hall of Fame looking toward bright future
By John Henson
WAYLAND — It was a scene that a basketball fan would probably only imagine in their dreams. But here it was, playing out in front of anyone lucky enough to be in the Wayland High School gym on Saturday afternoon.
In the same gym where former Wayland Wasps star “King” Kelly Coleman set scoring records in the 1950s, two mountain basketball legends, 1980 Mr. Basketball Ervin Stepp and 2010 Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice, played a casual game of HORSE. A few minutes later, 1998 Mr. Basketball J.R. VanHoose walked by and added brief commentary before sitting down to watch and wait for the winner. Clay County legend Richie Farmer, the 1988 Mr. Basketball, arrived a few minutes later.
Tucked away in the middle of eastern Kentucky, just inside the Floyd County line coming from Knott County on KY 7, Wayland High School still stands on a hill above the gym, but it’s not nearly in the shape it was 1956 when Coleman was named the state’s Mr. Basketball after scoring 68 points against Bell County in the state tournament on the way to setting a record of 4,337 points scored in a memorable high school career. He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s national record for points in a career and went on to play at Kentucky Wesleyan before being drafted by the New York Knicks.
The Wayland court is still in use as VanHoose and Justice have been leading summer basketball clinics for prospective young players in the Legends Skill Academy. Wayland Mayor Jerry Fultz, the founder of the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame, wants to see even more at the historical old school, one reason why mountain basketball legends were gathered together in a planning meeting.
Fultz helped purchase the school and gym seven years ago as a member of the Wayland Historical Society. The gym has been fully restored on the interior. The balcony of the gym serves as a museum and includes items for the hall, which recognizes top athletes from regions 13, 14, 15 and 16.
“We wanted to help some of the athletes from this area, in all sports, be recognized. Some of our athletes didn’t get the kind of recognition they would have received if they grew up in Lexington or Louisville or some other larger cities,” Fultz said. “You remember all the people who were recognized as Mr. or Miss Basketball, but some of the other athletes didn’t get the publicity that others did. We want to preserve those memories for future generations.
Fultz was surrounded by basketball royalty during the meeting, different generations of hoops stars talking and stopping for photos and discussing plans for the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame. There was Peggy Moore, the 1978 Miss Basketball from Breathitt County, posing for a photo along with Bell County’s Maci Morris, the 2015 Miss Basketball back from a year of professional basketball in Italy. Maci’s parents, former Cumberland star Lewis Morris and former Harlan standout Patti Myers Morris, were also in attendance, along with her brother, Vic, providing a Harlan County connection since neither Harlan County Mr. Basketball (Phil Cox 1981 and Charles Thomas 1995) made the trip.
The committee leading the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame has raised money to renovate the gym and a community center across the street that also holds some memorabilia. The next step is an addition to the gym to add dressing rooms and bathrooms, then the old high school will be renovated if funding becomes available.
“There wasn’t a whole lot to do in eastern Kentucky, and I feel sports helped bring our communities together,” Fultz said. “Sports is a big part of our history and culture. This Is a way to remember and honor many of those athletes. We want people to be aware of the importance of sports in our communities.”