Of Popcorn and Chili

By: Jeff Archer
By: Jeff Archer

Most of my time is spent talking to coaches and players about different aspects of different sports. But one of the best conversations that I have had a with a coach had nothing to do with sports.

I must say that one of the very first impressions I had of high school basketball in the Mountains came from the ESPN special "The season".  When I first arrived in the mountains Brandon Hensley gave me a copy of it and told me to watch it.  I did and was amazed.  The excitement and energy by Whitesburg.  The heart of schools like Feds Creek that was about to disappear.  The intensity of Bill Mike Runyon at Paintsville.  But one moment stood out to me much more than any other.

ESPN had made their way to the tiny school of Red Bird.  Usually small on size, but big on heart.  While ESPN talked to John D. Wilson he made a point to go into detail about the concession stand at the school, especially his chili.  And they got to one part where coach Wilson said "We've got popcorn 50 cents.  That's a bargain."  He said it so matter of factly.  Here was ESPN, the mega network in Beverly, Kentucky and what does Coach Wilson talk about?  Popcorn and chili.  And now I completely understand why.

I had the opportunity to shoot the Red Bird - OBI doubleheader on Monday.  While most people might look at that and think that isn't anything special, it was for me.  To finally get some of that popcorn and chili after 3+ years of being here, I was excited.  And it lived up to it's billing.  The popcorn was still 50 cents.  And the chili was exceptional.

Before the boys game began I sat on the bench next to coach Wilson.  We didn't talk about the game, the players or strategy.  We talked chili.  Being from Cincinnati, I know a thing or two about chili.  We discussed Gold Star and Skyline Chili.  Coach Wilson is also a fan of Wendy's chili.  But it is his own chili he is so proud of, and for good reason.  It is specially ground for him by a former player of his back in his coaching days from Cawood.

He was every bit as kind and engaging with me as he is with anyone, I'm sure.  I don't think he knows any other way to be.  That is what I learned from my trip to the tiny school Red Bird.  That is what I learned from my time with Coach John D. Wilson.  That is what I learned from someone who is so much more than just a coach.

All of that from some bargain popcorn and homemade chili.  Other schools may have may fans, more wins and a better atmosphere, but few can compete with John D. Wilson in terms of teaching.  And that is not a knock on them, simply a statement in favor of coach Wilson.

~ Jeff Archer

P.S. We also discussed cornbread and milk.  Apparently it's a crowd favorite, especially of the Barbourville cheerleaders.  Only John D. would know that one. :-)

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