When Michael McGuire left his shift working in a coal mine in Pike County in Eastern Kentucky, he had only one goal: to make it to the University of Kentucky Blue-White scrimmage basketball game, an annual fan event that raises funds for a cause. He didn’t expect to go viral that night, but as he sat on the sidelines in his uniform, face covered in dark dust, holding his 3-year-old son, Easton, that’s exactly what happened.
It was Kentucky coach John Calipari who posted the photo of Michael and Easton to Twitter, where it quickly spread.
“My family’s American dream started in a Clarksburg, WV coal mine, so this picture hits home,” Calipari wrote. “From what I’ve been told, after his shift, he raced to be with his son & watch our team. Don’t know who this is, but I have tickets for him & his family at Rupp to be treated as VIPs!!”
USA TODAY caught up with Michael and his wife, Mollie, who was also at the game, and learned the heartwarming story behind the viral photo, starting when this year’s Blue-White game landed on one of the days that Micheal works during his usually 50-hour weeks in the mines.
The game was going to be Easton’s first, and the family was determined to be there to enjoy it together.
“When the guys would slam dunk or they would shoot a 3 and the crowd would holler, he would get excited and clap his hands,” Mollie said. “And every time they would have a timeout, I mean, then they turned the music on, he would get down on the floor and dance for everybody. Our entire section had a show every time the music would play.”
It was also Mollie and Michael’s first game together in at least four years, even though, like many families in the area, they bonded over Wildcat basketball. It only made it sweeter that the team was using that night’s event to raise money for flood relief in Eastern Kentucky, where devastating rain over the summer left at least 43 people dead. Michael is originally from Floyd County, one of the areas that was hard-hit by the flooding.
“These boys are great,” Mollie said about the University of Kentucky team. “They’re in the right mindset, wanting to help others, and it’s just wonderful that they take the time to come here to raise money for such a cause.”
Not only did Michael make it to the game, spend that quality time with his son, and unexpectedly go viral — but at halftime, the Wildcats presented a check for $162,450 to Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to benefit the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund.
It was just icing on the cake for the McGuire’s that Michael was also recognized for the hard work that he does.
“If it wasn’t for him being a coal miner and having such a good, reliable job, where it provides health insurance and you know, money to pay our bills and money to live on … I couldn’t stay home,” said Mollie, who is a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s two children. “I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom, raise our kids and do everything that they need. It’s a true blessing.”
She continued, “It’s not just his immediate family that appreciate him. It’s everyone. It’s all of eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee. Everyone. He is appreciated. And I’m hoping that he feels that appreciation and that love once he realizes, you know, everything that’s happened.”