Building champions before championships

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Collins coach Chris Gaither talks with his team during its 30th District tournament win over Shelby County on Feb. 18.

Collins’ Gaither seeks to influence others through basketball

By John Herndon,

In its relatively short history, the Collins High School boys’ basketball program has taken in a large haul of hardware. Since the school opened for the 2010-2011 academic year, the Titans have won two Eighth Region championships and three 30th District titles.

And they could add quite a bit more in the next few weeks. Monday, Collins defeated cross-county rival Shelby County, 56-45, to advance to the 30th District final and keep the program’s string of never being eliminated in the district tournament alive. All season long, the Titans have been considered one of the Eighth Region favorites and a runner-up finish in the King of the Bluegrass tournament in December underscored the belief that Collins is capable of beating any team it plays.

For the Titans’ success this year, Collins coach Chris Gaither was named the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches Eighth Region Coach of the Year last week. “You are always surprised when you are recognized,” Gaither says. “In the Eighth Region, there are so many great coaches. There are coaches who win with talented teams and some coaches who win with less talented teams year in and year out.”

However, Gaither says he doesn’t focus on walking off with the biggest trophies.

“We don’t feel the pressure,” Gaither said when asked about having the Eighth Region’s target boldly drawn on the Titans’ jerseys. “We want to set a standard of excellence. We want to be champions and not just win championships. We come in and try to have the character of champions and the work ethic of champions and the attitudes of champions. At the end of the day, whether you win or lose, you are going to be champions. We don’t feel that pressure from the basketball standpoint. We want to come in and grow as a team. If you do that, in the end, the championships take care of themselves.”

Chris Gaither shouts instructions to his Collins team during Monday’s district tournament win over Shelby County.

Gaither should know. As a high school junior, his Grayson County High School team won the Third Region before losing to North Hardin at the Sweet 16. The following year, he was and all-state performer and named to the Kentucky All-Star team for the summer series against Indiana. Gaither went on to play a year for John Chaney at Temple University before transferring to Georgetown College, from which he graduated.

Gaither served as an assistant coach to Mike Clark at Shelby County for two years — winning a regional championship and runner-up — before going across town when Collins opened. After working as an assistant to Curtis Turley for a year, Gaither ascended to the Collins helm in 2011-12. In that time, he’s had numerous opportunities to impact young people.

“One of the reasons I got into basketball is I have always been influenced by people around basketball as a player,” says Gaither, who played for Todd Johnston at Grayson County and Happy Osborne at Georgetown. “Even as a coach I had good mentors.”

It’s a mission he doesn’t take lightly. On his Twitter account, Gaither declares, “Christ is King!” But sharing that passion in the framework of the public school system can sometimes be tricky, but the opportunities are almost limitless.

While teachers are usually prohibited from verbally sharing their faith in class, Gaither says living as Christ wants is a witness. “You have to watch what you say, but really it’s more about what you do. You can reach out in the classroom, but sports is a great avenue to meet needs. You can show kids you love them. You can show them who Christ is.”

In other words, living God’s Word presents the message better than preaching it.

Gaither says he became a Christian at Georgetown, led to Christ by a friend. His light shines through his work at Collins and through his work at Shelbyville’s Christ Community Church where his wife, Katie, is on the staff as Community Kids Director.

Collins coach Chris Gaither, the KABC Eighth Region Coach of the Year, is intense during the action at Anderson County in January.

“I have a wife who is very supportive,” Gaither says. “I am very blessed to have the family I do.” The couple has three elementary school age sons.

Like every high school basketball coach, Gaither’s life will be crazy over the next few weeks as he tries to guide Collins to the Sweet 16. That’s not changed since his days playing for Grayson County High. And kids are still the same. “I think our culture has changed,” he says. “I’m not sure you can label that as kids changing. You have social media and technology that definitely have an impact on kids today. But kids want stability and consistency.”

It’s what Chris Gaither tries to give his Collins players every day by simply loving people.


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