Local hardwood hero Chris Gaither, who was recently inducted into the inaugural Grayson County High School Sports Hall of Fame after a distinguished, All-State career for the Cougars in the late 1990s and early 2000s, is living his dream.
Gaither, who turned 30 on January 12, is in his third year as head coach of Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelby County, and experiencing a success similar to that he enjoyed as a record-setting Cougar basketball player. After serving as an assistant at Shelby County for two years under Mike Clark, then a one-year assistant gig under legendary Kentucky high school basketball coach Curtis Turley -- who won over 600 games in his long career – Gaither has compiled a 65-21 mark in his nearly three seasons on the job at Collins (.756 winning percentage).
And he is coaching precisely where he wants to be. Now, and forever.
“It was the only job I wanted,” Gaither said not long after accepting the Collins head coaching position. “The community here has really accepted me and has been very supportive. I only wanted one head coaching job. I want to start here and finish here. It was the only job I wanted.”
Gaither’s familiarity with Shelbyville can be traced to his days playing for Happy Osborne at Georgetown College from 2004 to 2007, where he and former Shelby County basketball star Brian Silverhorn became fast friends as teammates playing for the Tigers.
Gaither arrived at Georgetown after spending one season at Temple University, playing for one of the most successful Division I coaches of all-time in John Chaney. Even though as a freshman Gaither enjoyed significant playing time and success at the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania school, the lure of the Bluegrass was simply too powerful to ignore.
Playing for one of the top Division II schools in the nation, Gaither prospered both on and off the hardwood, and formed life-altering alliances with Silverhorn and Osborne during his time at Georgetown. And Gaither’s work ethic, high character and knowledge of basketball made a clear impression on Osborne.
“Chris Gaither is one of the finest young men I’ve ever had the privilege to coach,” Osborne once said about Gaither. “If you are a parent, he’s the kind of person you’d want your son to have as coach. He’s also got a tremendous knowledge of the game.”
That knowledge, fertilized by playing and coaching under numerous great basketball minds, has manifested itself in Gaither’s ability to take a neophyte high school basketball program and turn it into a region and state power -- posting the Eighth Region’s top record so far this season, Collins currently sits at 20-3 overall, and 7-0 in region play, while being ranked as one of the top 25 teams in basketball rich Kentucky.
”We’re going to set big expectations for our program; they are going to be big year in and year out,” said Gaither about the winning tradition he’s building at Collins High School. “We’re going to expect to win our district and our region. But we’re also going to set expectations every day in practice and work toward our long-term goals.”
As Gaither constructs a strong foundation for a bright basketball future at Collins, he found himself remembering his past as Grayson County inducted him into its sports Hall of Fame. Not surprisingly, Gaither was humbled and deflected praise to those who have taught and coached him along his journey from Leitchfield, to Philadelphia, to Georgetown, to Shelbyville.
“Being selected into the inaugural Hall of Fame class was an honor and something that you never feel deserving of, especially considering the great athletes and coaches that have came through the county,” Gaither said about his Hall of Fame induction. “The tradition of athletics in Grayson County is very good among the state (and) being honored alongside other great athletes from Grayson County High School was special.”
In typical Gaither fashion, he also opted to highlight two other inaugural Grayson County Sports Hall of Fame inductees, noting their lengthy careers and dedication to GCHS.
“What made it even more special was being in a class with (legendary baseball) coach Don Lee and (long-time K105 play-by-play announcer) Dave Thompson,” Gaither said about his fellow inductees. “As athletes we invest four years into the school but these men invested their lives into the school, and the kids that fill the hallways. As a high school kid you can take for granted the time a coach invests into your life. It’s very honoring to be in a class (with) them.”
Gaither also remembered how his passion for basketball began, and how the support he received from his family and friends aided him in his growth as an athlete and person.
“It was behind the Grayson County Middle School playing against Dan Peterson, Jim Dinwiddie, and others, that a passion to be a great basketball player started,” Gaither said about the genesis of his basketball career. “It was the relationships among the community, my friends, my teachers, and my coaches that molded and shaped the person who I am today."
Although Gaither now lives and works many miles from his childhood home, his heart remains in Grayson County.
"My mother-in-law joked the other day ‘you can take the boy out of Grayson County, but you can’t take the Grayson County out of the boy.’ In her joking she spoke a lot of truth – the years of influence from numerous people will never leave the core of who I am.”