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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Visiting The Smithsonian Exhibition At Wayland, KY

On Saturday, April 8, 2017, my wife Candice and I took a short road trip back to my roots to visit a traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution at the old Wayland High School Gymnasium in Wayland, KY, which is about midway between three key points in my life: Lackey, KY, where I was born; Steele's Creek where my parents lived for the first six years of my life; and Dema, KY, where I lived with my parents until their deaths in 1970 and 1971.  The exhibition is titled "Hometown Teams" and will be touring a variety of small towns all over the country where high school sports have been a major part of local history, culture, and family life.  A full list of the Kentucky schedule for the exhibit in Kentucky can be found at this link.  The exhibit is supported by local volunteers and local items of interest and is well worth seeing at any of its stopping points. The exhibit will be in Wayland until April 22, 2017, and will move on to a sizable list of other sites in Kentucky.  If you can't catch it in Wayland, try to see it in another town near you. It is a part of the Smithsonian Institution's Museum On Main Street program.  I strongly recommend that you see this exhibition if it is anywhere near you.  The current illegitimate administration in Washington is attacking every kind of cultural, social, educational, and medical program within the federal government.  See this exhibition while you can.  The Smithsonian could be the next program under attack.  

Wayland High School & Gymnasium Photo by Wikipedia

Wayland High School Entrance Photo by Jamie In Wanderland


The exhibition is in two separate locations in Wayland.  The first is called the Gymnasium Annex which is a simple, cinder block building which sits on the site of the former Wayland Grade School on the same property as the historic Wayland Gymnasium and the sadly decrepit Wayland High School where many of my family members attended school.  The sight of the former high school with most of its windows shattered and obvious damage throughout is a powerful reminder that everything about consolidation was not good.  The grade school was demolished years ago when the property was first sold into private hands in order to build the building which is now the Gymnasium Annex which is another in a line of several lives which that building has had including its original purpose as a store.  My sister Barbara and nearly a dozen cousins attended school at one or both of the old schools.  I never attended school there since my parents left the Wayland area in 1957, the year in which I turned six and began school at Salisbury in Knott County.  But I did attend several basketball games in the gymnasium over my high school years both as manager of the Knott County Cardinals team for one year and simply as a spectator later.  

"King" Kelly Coleman photo by Gordon Moore


The gymnasium is a classic example of a rectangular wooden cracker box gym built all over the south more than a hundred years ago.  It is one of the few such still remaining and very few if any hold the history which that gym holds. The ground floor had no real concession area and limited bathrooms, few spectator seats by today's standards, and the playing floor ended so close to the end walls that pads were required to prevent player injuries.  But a lot of Kentucky basketball history was made on that floor.  The original scoreboard is still in place with large sign which lists the scoring records set by "King" Kelly Coleman on that beat up old hardwood floor.  The building is now being used for periodic league and pickup games as well as social events.  

Wayland High School was the home school for the most famous high school basketball player in the history of the state, "King" Kelly Coleman, who still holds many individual scoring records both in regular season and tournament games.  Kelly played at Wayland in the late 1950's when I was too young to be a basketball fan.  But during the 1960's, both of his brothers, Phillip and Keith, played basketball for Wayland High School.  Both Kelly and Phillip led Wayland teams to the Kentucky High School Basketball Tournament, the Sweet Sixteen.  Keith had a far less lustrous career but he and I became good friends after we both graduated from high school in 1968 and briefly attended Alice Lloyd College.  During this visit to Wayland for the exhibit, I learned for the first time that Keith Coleman had died in Lexington, KY, on January 14, 2017.  Phillip Coleman had died in Viet Nam in 1966 shortly after he played in the Kentucky State Tournament and graduated from Wayland High School.  Learning about the death of Keith Coleman and another dear friend of ours, Kim Watkins who had been a Wayland Cheerleader in the 1960's, was the one dark spot in that day for Candice & I.  

Phillip Coleman photo by the Coleman Family


On a brighter note, Candice & I encountered a cousin of mine, Charlotte Hicks Caudill, and her husband Ted Caudill at the exhibit also.  Charlotte writes a weekly column for The Troublesome Creek Times in Hindman, KY, and had come to the exhibit to cover it for the paper.  We also encountered retired attorney Jim Hammonds from Prestonsburg and Charlotte included a photo and comments about several of us in her article about the exhibit. I also encountered a relative of two other friends long dead, Avery Chaffins and Snap Conley, who had died in a car wreck at Garrett, KY, in the 1970's near a gas station which was operated by another cousin of mine and Charlotte's, Winfred Rice, who had died in 1988 after operating that gas station for many years.  Incidentally, we also drove past that gas station which was being auctioned off that morning and that also was a bittersweet moment.  I have no idea who the last owner of that property was and I would not have been remotely interested in owning it but I would have loved to be able to attend the auction. But the schedule for the exhibit on Saturdays is only four hours long and time was short. 

Keith Coleman photo by the Coleman Family


Getting back to the exhibition, it is housed both in the Gymnasium Annex and in the Wayland City Hall building just up the street.  It contains a multitude of sports trophies, athletic equipment, and sports letter jackets from several high schools in the area and is well worth seeing for anyone who grew up in the area surrounding Wayland, played high school sports, or simply just loves Eastern Kentucky History and memorabilia.  It is my understanding that as the exhibition moves from location to location it will change somewhat in the memorabilia shown in order to highlight the particular area it is in.  The Wayland Historical Society also has an excellent collection of high quality antiques in the City Hall building which would be worth seeing at any time even after the Smithsonian Exhibition is gone.  Pick a day and go to see the exhibit.  You will enjoy it just as much as Candice, Charlotte, Ted, and I, and you might also run into some old friends or relatives too. 

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