Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sports Talk: A Bittersweet farewell to Casey County's Finest

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Feb. 19, 2014.  
In his second to last regular season home game last Saturday, parents, players, alums, fans and friends celebrated the career of 19-year Lady Rebel Coach Randy Salyers. For those who missed it, I encourage you to be there this Friday in his final regular season home game.
Photo Credit: Carpe-Imago/Chris Zollner
It just so works out that Coach Salyers gets a couple extra (hopefully two!) games in the Rebel gymnasium since CCHS is the host of this year's district tournament.

For me, Coach Salyers has been everything from a coach to a middle school P.E. teacher to a friend, and, like many, I have never really known Lady Rebel basketball without him.

My relationship with Coach Salyers began around 1998. As a sixth grader, many of my peers and I stepped up to the play with the middle school basketball team. While Coach was already working at the high school level, it was obvious he had great interest in the up and coming Lady Rebs and developing them. (I also ran track for the first time this year and, for those who don't know, he was the track Coach in those days and oversaw numerous state contenders and even state champions.)
Presenting Coach with a quilt made of
Lady Rebel Tshirts from throughout his career.
I was too young to think a lot about the fact Coach Salyers was showing such interest in the youth of the Casey County girls' basketball program, but looking back, it's obvious he was already in it for the long haul. The summer after sixth grade he was already encouraging us to attend his open gym practices and working with the middle school coaches, including Coach Darryl Barlow. He was the eighth grade coach at the time and now sits proudly alongside Coach Salyers on the high school level and has for a number of years.

1998 would have only been two years into Coach Salyers' career with the Lady Rebs, but that detail was unbeknownst to a youngster like me. By the time I was in eighth grade, several of my classmates were dressing on his varsity squad that won the 12th Region tournament and competed in the KHSAA Sweet Sixteen. I had no idea I was riding in on the building of something historical for Casey County sports. I'm not talking about the program's first trip to the state tournament, but Coach Salyers' career that would see so many accomplishments and make Casey County a regular top contender in the 12th Region.

I did not finish my high school career as a basketball player for Coach. I gave it up my junior year to focus my efforts on running, but having dedicated so many years--summers included--to the basketball life, I could not so easily walk away. You see, Coach Salyers has a way of creating a family out of his basketball team and leaving that was impossible for me, so I stayed on as a manager for the next two years and happily saw my classmates capture back-to-back district titles in 2003 and 2004.

It's a rare exception that a parent is completely OK with someone besides themselves yelling at their daughter and it's a rare exception that a young lady can handle a grown man yelling at her, but, again, Coach Salyers has a way of making his team a family. In a family you genuinely care about each other and have a special understandings and every player under Coach Salyers understood how much he wanted to see us thrive on the court. We've all seen Coach Salyers yell at his players pretty intensely during games (that or we've experienced it first hand AS one of those players!) But Coach also always has his players' backs. He is the kind of coach that made you want to work your tail off for him, and when you did that, he would go to battle for you. If you were at last Saturday's Mercer County game, you saw that first hand.

Aside from being my coach, in both track and basketball, Coach Salyers has been a dear friend in my years since graduation, and like many I will sorely miss his presence in the county when he is gone, but could not be happier for him during this change in his life.

Two of my good friends whom I played ball with under Coach.
I have to add a fun fact to this article. I am sure many wonder why in the world my by-line includes "Peat" and I will not go into where the nickname originated. Honestly I don't even know, as I have had it since before I can remember and it began as simply a family nickname used by my parents and relatives. Coach Salyers, however, having heard my dad call me "Peat" at sporting events was the first person outside of my family to publicly call me "Peat" (embarrassing the dickens out of me!), but from there I began to embrace the name and more and more people called me "Rita Peat". By the time I was in high school few people did not know the nickname and some even confused "Peat" as my last name. If it were not for Coach Salyers, my by-line may only read "Rita Harris".

I still have not wrapped my head around a season of Lady Rebel basketball without Coach Salyers. The girls playing today were not even alive when his career began 19 years ago. But, without a doubt, girls' ball at CCHS will continue and it will likely continue to thrive on the foundation Coach Salyers spent so much of his life building.For that, he will never, ever be forgotten in Casey County. I like to think that one day my daughter, born only four months ago, will also know of Coach Randy Salyers' reign over the Lady Rebels and the name he brought to the program across the 12th Region.

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