Former coal company owner donates $1 million to Harlan County Central

A former Virginia coal company owner has donated $1 million toward Harlan County High School's new football stadium and the first track and field facility in the county.

The donation toward the $3.2 million project speeds up planned construction of sports fields at the newly consolidated high school.

Richard Gilliam, who earlier this year sold his Cumberland Resources company, parent of Harlan County's Black Mountain Resources, to Massey Energy, donated the money from his private charitable foundation.

"Coal is a big contributor to the economy in the area. The sale of the company was not just a reflection of his successes; it was because of the contributions of the work force of Harlan County," said Ross Kegan, vice president of Black Mountain Resources.

The donation to Harlan County School District is an effort to thank employees.

Gilliam did not want to comment for this story, Kegan said. After Gilliam sold the company, he gave about $80 million in profits back to Cumberland Resources employees in the form of retirement plan contributions and cash bonuses, Kegan said. The company had 1,200 employees, about 650 in Kentucky, when it was sold, he said.

"The Harlan County High School project is one that touches a large number of families," he said. "A lot of employees' children go there. A lot of the graduates will become future employees."

The stadium will be named Coal Miners Memorial Stadium and include an artificial turf field and seating for 3,000 spectators in its first phase, with planned expansions later. The track and field facility will include high jump, long jump and pole vault areas, as well as an eight-lane synthetic track.

"When this is completed, it will be the best high school facility in the state of Kentucky," district Superintendent Timothy Saylor said in remarks prepared for a ceremony Friday.

The football field will be named after Saylor's father, Needham Saylor, a longtime coach, educator and superintendent.

Since Harlan County's consolidated high school opened in 2007, football players have been bused to an old field for practice. Track and field athletes in Harlan County have never had dedicated space and practice on roadsides and in parking lots.

Construction has recently started on softball, baseball and tennis facilities at the school, officials said, and a football and track facility was always in the plan but was waiting for funding. The $1 million donation means construction can start immediately.

The stadium puts Harlan County's sports facilities on par with other area districts. In 2005, Letcher County was one of the first in the state to install a JumboTron-style video screen, with a $150,000 private donation, at its consolidated high school's football field. Letcher's director of special projects, Terry Sturgill, said the district was a regional front-runner in artificial turf, too.

But the football facility, which cost around $2 million, was part of the school construction project and was funded mostly with tax and bond money.

A single donation of $1 million is a blessing for Harlan County, said Sturgill.

"I think you probably won't be finding that happening at high schools in too many places," Sturgill said. "It happens at colleges, but as far as high schools that's rare."