Calipari talks resiliency at ARC gathering; Kentucky governor, basketball coach discuss overcoming disasters

Published 5:50 pm Monday, September 18, 2023


Kentucky Lantern

Reflecting on his Appalachian roots, University of Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari spoke of the resiliency he sees in his upbringing, his players and Kentuckians.

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Calipari, who grew up in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, and has family ties to West Virginia, spoke in conversation with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on the opening day of the Appalachian Regional Commission’s annual conference at the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland.

The theme of this year’s two-day conference, attended by government and economic development officials from a 13-state region, is “Appalachia Rises: Resilience, Strength & Transformation.”

Calipari and Beshear discussed supporting Kentuckians in the aftermath of devastating tornadoes in Western Kentucky and floods in Eastern Kentucky.

The coach, the son of a steel mill worker, said his parents taught him the value of earning through hard work as well as paying it forward. Calipari and the UK basketball team supported relief efforts in various ways, including holding special games as fundraisers.

“Part of the reason I’ve done what I’ve done in our state of Kentucky is because I could see the impact right there in front of me,” Calipari said.

ARC, a federal organization, represents 13 states and has supported economic development initiatives and public works projects in the region since it was founded in 1965.

Beshear, who was chosen by his fellow governors as the ARC states’ co-chair earlier this year, is seeking re-election in Kentucky. He addressed conference attendees and presented grant awards to Kentucky organizations and communities before speaking with Calipari, who called Beshear “a governor who cares and has done great work.”

Beshear and Calipari recalled a moment when UK fans praised Michael McGuire, a coal miner who rushed after work with coal dust still on his face to watch a basketball game with his son. The photo that the coach shared online went viral. He later gave tickets to the miner.

“It says a lot about our country that it touched a chord, hard working people, a coal miner who cares so much about his son he couldn’t care less what he looked (like),” Calipari said.

“He wanted that moment with his son,” Beshear added.

Calipari also talked about overcoming generational poverty, which he said is something he’s seen with players who go on to have NBA careers.

Beshear said ARC efforts also focus on poverty. “They’re trying to lift people up in a region that sometimes feels forgotten, that has suffered from the changing economy,” Beshear said.

The ARC conference is being held in Ashland — a town of about more than 20,000 located on the banks of the Ohio River in northeastern Kentucky.

While speaking with reporters, Beshear said the near future for Eastern Kentucky “could be special,” particularly the region around Ashland which includes industrial brownfield sites that could be used for future economic projects.

“One of the reasons I am running for a second term is to not only continue this record setting economic development, but also to make good on my promise to fully rebuild after the flooding that hit this region,” Beshear said.

ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, a former first lady of West Virginia and the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, presented ARC grant awards with Beshear Monday morning. Manchin said that within the next ARC grant cycle, funding may be allocated to rebuilding homes in Eastern Kentucky affected by flooding in 2022.

In an interview with the Kentucky Lantern, Manchin highlighted how Appalachian states are seeking to overcome hardships, including the downturn of the coal industry and responding to the opioid crisis. Annual conferences allow representatives across member states to share ideas with one another.

President Joe Biden appointed Manchin to the role in 2021. While she continues to serve with the commission, she said her goal is to see the region begin to think about itself as a whole.

“We don’t need to be 13 states doing good things. We need to be the Appalachian region doing transformative things and I think we can get there and I think the conversations are starting,” she said. “I think there are some good projects coming out and I think there will be better projects coming out.”