To Boyle County’s credit, it apologized.
To Johnson Central’s motivation, the proverbial toothpaste was already long since out of the tube.
The Golden Eagles’ football team under the direction of coach Jim Matney has long borne a chip on its shoulder, born of Appalachia’s generational struggles and born of the perceptions, both inside and outside the mountains, of how their natives compare to people from elsewhere.
Matney didn’t need Boyle County’s help getting the Golden Eagles and their community fired up for today’s Class 4A state championship game. He got it anyway.
Two men wearing Boyle County apparel made provocative comments toward Johnson Central at a pep rally in videos that surfaced on social media on Thursday night.
“I know that a lot of people in Johnson Central can’t even count to 100,” one said, before going on to predict that the Rebels would hold the Golden Eagles to less than 100 yards rushing and that Boyle County would win, 100-0.
A juvenile seated to the speaker’s right and a man to his left slightly grinned while a woman and what appeared to be another student standing behind the group reacted with apparent shock.
It’s unknown whether that shock was because they were taken aback at the (putting it mildly) brash nature of the comments, or because they were aware that fulfilling that foretelling would require the Rebels shutting down a Johnson Central offense that rushed for 519 yards in the state semifinals and is averaging 46.9 points per game, as well as hanging triple digits on a team allowing less than double digits per game.
In a second video, another man stated that the mountain region contains “hollers,” with a vocal inflection suggesting those are a novelty, and predicted the Rebels “are gonna be sending (Johnson Central) back through the holler to their mamas and daddies a little sad on Saturday.”
Boyle County superintendent Michael LaFavers apologized and said he had reviewed the matter with the employees involved in a statement released Friday morning, but the Johnson Central community was already riled up.
Were those two men joking, at least somewhat? That seems likely, just because it seems unlikely anyone would truly think a 14-0 team will be beaten 100-0.
But the “can’t even count to 100” comment landed, and not because it has any basis in truth.
Johnson Central’s academic team is the defending champion of the Governor’s Cup, and its middle school program has won that competition 15 times since 1999 — facts Matney reminded Johnson Central’s student body of on Friday, as well as the world at large, when videos of his address were later tweeted.
“You guys must be learning something,” Matney said, “up those hollers.”
He even used a Latin phrase, in vino, veritas — good luck predicting that one based on Appalachian stereotypes — to make his point.
“In our holler terms,” Matney said at a pep rally, pausing to crack a half-grin in acknowledgement of Boyle County’s use of that word, “my grandma said that a drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.”
Matney clarified immediately that he wasn’t suggesting the Boyle County duo had been drinking, but that they had accidentally let slip their true beliefs — in the form of time-worn tropes about Appalachia.
“I’ve grown up with that,” Matney said. “We understand what the rest of the world, the rest of the state, what they think about us here.
“They don’t know because they’ve not been here. They don’t know what it’s like to be from the mountains.”
It was peak Matney. For years, he has motivated mountain athletes using these same themes. Probably never, until now, had the legitimate assistance of an opponent in doing so simply landed in his lap, thanks to the wonders of the Internet.
“Here’s my response to Boyle County,” Matney said. “You don’t have to send an apology to us.”
An apology, after all, is not what the Golden Eagles are after. It’s respect — and they’ve found a little extra fuel in that quest.
Reach ZACK KLEMME at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2658. Follow @zklemmeADI on Twitter.