I didn’t see those guys again until I was walking off the court after celebrating our state championship. As I made my way back to the locker room I noticed those guys hanging over one of the railings tears pouring out of their eyes, just wanting to tell us how happy they were for us. Of course a few of us walked over to them to slap high-fives and exchange hugs with our “bitter” rivals. But that rivalry didn’t exist anymore. These guys were genuinely happy that we had won the state title. I will never forget how happy they were for us and how much it meant to me that they were there. A couple of us quickly gave them some Paintsville State Champs T-shirts that we had been given after the game and in a move that many people may have not imagined a week earlier – we invited them to come back to the locker room and continue to celebrate with us!
Once those guys came in the locker room they were greeted like long lost friends. I remember them giving all of the guys hugs, laughing and crying with us, even Coach Runyon got a hug or two as I recall! Grayson Smith remembered the encounter, “I can remember walking into the locker room as Paintsville was celebrating. It seemingly got silent with surprise. I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember saying that I was proud of them for what they had done for Eastern Kentucky.”
But that wasn’t enough, we asked them to come back to the Harley Hotel with us to continue celebrating over title. Even at the hotel, the boys from Magoffin County made it a point to again congratulate each member of the Tiger team again. Josh McKenzie recalled, “Our phone in the room rang and it was Grayson Smith calling to congratulate us individually. For a player from a rival team to call or speak to each one of us in person showed a lot of class on his part.” As Matt Ratliff later remembered, “I think it was the ultimate sign of respect when some of our fiercest competitors and most heated rivals were the first people to congratulate us… That meant a lot to me as an athlete and as an individual… We all celebrated a championship for every mountain boy that dreamed of becoming a state champion.”