PAINTSVILLE — The rivalry between Paintsville and Pikeville High Schools began in early January 1922 and it is one of the longest running rivalries in the state. However, the games between the two teams have not always been pleasant and it started very early.
In 1926 there were reports that Pikeville had been paying their players and the matter was brought to the attention of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association reported that several of the Pikeville players did not even live in the Pikeville school district and that it would take the school several years to outgrow the animosity of the neighboring schools. A final warning was then issued to Pikeville High, “It appears that the school has been over-ambitious in the development of athletic teams and has possibly been indiscreet in some of its overtures to good players in other schools. Furthermore, it appears that the fans about town have possibly been instrumental in bringing about the present condition of affairs. This investigation should be sufficient warning to Pikeville High School that if its team is protested again on similar grounds in the future that it will be good reason for suspension.”
The beneficiary of Pikeville’s disgrace was Paintsville High School, who would be hosting their first ever district tournament. On Thursday, March 4, 1926 the front page of the Paintsville Herald carried the headline – PAINTSVILLE GETS DIST. BASKET BALL TOURNAMENT. The town went all out in its preparations for the tournament and as the paper reported, “Paintsville High School has one of the best playing courts in this section of the country and all teams will have an equal chance to win the district honor. A number of people in the valley have already made arrangements to be in Paintsville for the games and reservations are being made every day by out of town people. Both the Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club have made extensive arrangements to take care of the visitors and make them feel at home.” In the first game of the district tournament, the Tigers would face the Pikeville Panthers.
According to the Paintsville Herald the game was called, “one of the roughest games of basket ball played in this section of the country.” It started out with a quick Tiger basket by right forward Lee Marsh and it seemed that the two teams were on their way to playing a very good game. However, it went downhill from there. According to the paper, “Everything was displayed in this game except basket ball. First one little crooked move and then another and the game progressed like a kettle of water starting to boil. Both captains were disqualified in the third quarter for slugging. L. Morris, Pikeville’s right forward, was taken from the game with a torn ligament and Douglas Ramey, left forward for Paintsville, was body blocked in the last quarter and knocked unconscious.” It is not clear who won the fight, but Pikeville won the game in another blowout, 26-9, to end Paintsville’s season.
The Pikeville and Paintsville rivalry calmed down a bit after 1926, but it flared up again in 1930. On January 21, 1930 the following letter was sent to the KHSAA from Paintsville coach and athletic director J. Earl Walker:
“I am writing you in regards to Pikeville High School. We are having trouble with them in trying to get them to play eligible men and now have
to come to you for your rulings. Here is some of their workings – four of my eligibility lists show that one
of their boys will be 21 years of age on the 7 day of Feb. and they did not furnish me with my eligibility list last Sat. night until right before the game,
and this list had his birth date changed to Dec. 7, 1909. Here is another man that is ineligible – I think. He started school on the 12th day of Nov. and
played on an independent team on Nov. 22. The eligibility list showed that he started school on Nov. 12 but it is a fact that he did not enter school until
sometime after this independent game.”
The Pikeville player in question was Jack Casebolt and from the evidence presented by Coach Walker, Pikeville had changed his birthday on the eligibility lists from February 7, 1909 (2/7/1909) to December 7, 1919 (12/7/1909), making him almost a full year younger. To back-up his evidence Walker wanted the KHSAA to write to “Donald Bishop of Belfry, U. M. Ross at Prestonsburg, D. C. Boles at Pikeville and I have some former players of this High School that played against them and they were in H. S. five years ago.”
This was just not the only problem that the Paintsville coach had with Pikeville. In another letter to the KHSAA on February 10, 1930, Walker wrote,
“Here is another fact that should prove that they must be ineligible; Grayson [High School] played up there Christmas holidays, this Coach
[Pikeville’s] asked him if he cared if he played some ineligible men against him and the Grayson Coach, D. A. Musick, said no, but these
players appeared in the game in the latter half. When I played them in Pikeville, 18th day of January. They did not start these three men until
our teams had played 8 min. without scoring and then they sent them in. This Superintendent there, T. W. Oliver, was at Pikeville when he got
them kicked out one such time before. Here is the reason why I don’t care any thing about “A” and “B” Class schools; I am the only “A” class
school up here that can hold Pikeville alike. The “B” class schools don’t care who Pikeville plays because they know if they just win the “B”
division they can go on to the tournament and for that reason I am the only one here that will take any steps against them.”
Then, according to an affidavit from Whitesburg coach Beckham Combs, on January 24, 1930, Pikeville High allowed two players, George Reynolds and Homer Sowards, who were ineligible, to play under the assumed names of Mullins and Childers. To make matters worse, when Pikeville learned that Whitesburg had discovered the true identity of those players, they made calls to the Principal of Whitesburg High School and stated that they would forfeit the game to them if they just did not say anything about the players playing under an assumed name. Mr. J. L. Keffer, secretary of the Ashland High School Athletic Association, wrote to the KHSAA on February 27, 1930, “I would like to call your attention to the fact that this is not the first time that Pikeville has been guilty of violating our rules of eligibility. In 1926 this same charge was brought against them and after the charges were substantiated, Pikeville had one of their men disqualified by the State Athletic Association. Mr. Ligon was at that time President of the Athletic Association and advised Pikeville that any further discrepancies of this nature would result in their suspension from the Athletic Association. Inasmuch as Paintsville is a member of the Association and is trying to help clean up athletics in the Big Sandy Valley, we feel we owe them our support in this effort.”
Nothing more was heard of the matter until March 7, 1930, right before the 32nd District Tournament. On that date Coach Walker from Paintsville sent a Western Union telegram to the KHSAA which read, “Pikeville High will cause complications in my tournament[.] teams won’t play them[.] what must I do[.]” The reply from the offices of the KHSAA in Richmond, KY read, “Teams which refuse to play will forfeit games.” The teams backed down from their threats and Pikeville participated in the tournament and when Paintsville and Pikeville met there were surely many in the stands rooting for the Tigers.
“The fight between the Tigers and Pikeville High boys was the most exciting game of the whole tournament,” the Paintsville Herald reported. “The outstanding feature of this game was the sensational playing of Ed Leslie [of Paintsville]. Young Leslie’s playing was so quick and furious that it was difficult to keep up with his movements and made shots from many positions. This seemed to inspire the Tigers.” Motivated by the play of the young Paintsville forward, the Tigers were able to defeat Pikeville, 20-16, handing the Panthers their first Class “A” district tournament loss. The win advanced Paintsville to the finals of the 32nd District Tournament later that evening, where they would face the Class “B” district champions, Betsy Layne.
The Tigers were able to defeat Betsy Layne in the district finals 26-19, to win the first district title in school history. According to the Paintsville Herald of March 13, 1930, “Coach Walker’s Tigers emerged from the contest as victors in the finals and brought great credit to Coach Walker and Paintsville High School.” The article went on, “Perfect playing was not confined to any one member of the Tiger team as they all made a record for themselves and worked in perfect unison. At the end of this memorable game women went into hysterics while strong men wept for joy.”
In the twenty years from the 1930 district game until the end of the 1949-50 basketball season, Paintsville and Pikeville played thirty-five times, with Paintsville winning 19 of those games. The teams only met in the post-season twice, with Pikeville eliminating Paintsville in the 1931 district tournament and the 1932 15th Region tournament. Things appeared to be tame between the two schools until 1953. Paintsville had one of the largest gyms in the Big Sandy Valley when the current one was completed before the start of the 1952-53 season. With the ability to seat close to three thousand fans, Paintsville was able to host many “big” games with some of the best teams in the area. When Johnson County schools would have games where their gyms could not hold all of the anticipated fans, the games would be moved to the Paintsville gym. The gym was also host to many 15th Region Tournaments, the first one in March 1953.
Principal Oran Teater wrote to KHSAA Commissioner Ted Sanford in December 1952, “We would like to enter a request for the 15th regional tournament here at Paintsville. We can seat over 2500 or 3000… We feel that Pikeville should alternate the affair with us on this end.” He went on to describe the advantages of playing in Paintsville, “We are located in the center of the Big Sandy area. Some facts about our location: 25 restaurants, 4 hotels, 1 motel. 42 miles – West Liberty, 21 miles – Inez, 42 miles – Pikeville, 32 miles – Louisa, 30 miles – Warfield, 36 miles – Wayland.” The new Paintsville gym was granted permission to hold the 15th Region Tournament with the understanding that the location would alternate and Pikeville would host the tournament in 1954.
The Pikeville administration opposed the move to Paintsville, and later made complaints to commissioner Sanford of Paintsville’s handling of the 1953 region tournament. This was alluded to in a letter from Principal Teater to Mr. Ted Sanford at the KHSAA on February 15, 1955, “Paintsville and surrounding areas are indeed grateful to you and the association for placing the 15th Region Tournament here. As to the complaints from Pikeville about our handling of the last tournament, I have only this to say, ‘If we made mistakes, and I am sure everyone does, they were honest ones, and that is more than the other schools in the region will say about the financial and other arrangements in the past at Pikeville.’ Again we thank you for being fair.”
The animosity continued after the 1955 tournament held at Paintsville, John Olesky of the Williamson Daily News wrote the following editorial:
“Just a word about those “All-Tournament” selections at Paintsville. Only Ralph Gilliam of Pikeville made the team,
yet the Panthers were good enough to rout Meade Memorial 61-47. Don Jack Whitt and Jack Deskins both showed more
ability than at least two others we could name. Two were chosen from Paintsville and Meade Memorial… The fact that Pikeville
opposed the shift to Paintsville, whether rightly or wrongly, should not presuppose a ‘get even’ treatment when it comes to
the all-tournament team… Perhaps commissioner Ted Sanford should make a note of this situation when it comes time to hand
out reprimands for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
Principal Teater, obviously dismayed to have Paintsville portrayed in such a way by a newspaper, responded quickly. He wrote a letter to the Williamson Daily, which included the following, “I would suggest you get the facts before printing such nonsense. If you are so concerned about sportsmanship in Kentucky, then I suggest you make an honest effort to practice some yourself before you criticize others before you know the truth. The all tournament team was not picked by Paintsville, it was picked by the participating coaches. My final statement to you comes from Psalm 64:8 – So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away.” Apparently, the matter was settled, nothing more was complained about, and the two schools continued to rotate the 15th Region Tournament for the next few years. The rivalry between the two schools, begun with that first game back in 1922, continued with much vigor.
From 1955-1974, the Tigers and Panthers played nineteen times, usually once each season. Paintsville won ten of those games and Pikeville nine. The two teams only played each other in the post season twice. Both games were 15th Region championship games. In the 1957 15th Region finals the Panthers won by six. In 1974, Paintsville lost again, this time by four, even with Senior Bill Mike Runyon having an outstanding game with 34 points and 6 rebounds.
Over the next twenty-five years the two teams played at least once a year and neither team gained much of an advantage over the other. One of the most memorable games between these two old rivals occurred on January 22, 1988. In that game, Paintsville’s “Mad Bomber” – senior Keith Adkins, had the game of his high school career. Adkins scored 53 points in a 101-66 blowout of the Panthers at Paintsville’s Memorial Gym. The 6’ 2” guard hit 11 of 16 three-point shots, and was 11 of 12 from the free throw line as he scored a then school record in points. The teams met six times in the post-season, with Pikeville’s only win coming in the first round of the 1992 15th Region Tournament. Since 2000, the two rivals have played twenty-two times, and each team has won 11 games. They haven’t met in the post season since Paintsville pulled out a close one in the semi-finals of the 1998 15th Region Tournament 64-60. The rivalry, which began in 1922, continues to this day. One-hundred-fifty games have been played between the two schools, the most Paintsville has played against any one opponent, and Pikeville has a slight advantage in the win column with 77, while Paintsville has won 73.