There was no way Micheal McGuire was going to miss his 3-year-old son's first trip to see the University of Kentucky men's basketball team in person, even if it meant showing up to the arena covered in soot from his job in a coal mine.
A photo from the game shows McGuire with his face and clothes covered in dust and soot as he watches his son, Easton, beaming at the players during the Wildcats' annual Blue-White scrimmage on Oct. 22 at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville.
The viral photo caught the eye of legendary Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who shared why it was particularly special to him.
"My family’s American dream started in a Clarksburg, WV coal mine, so this picture hits home," he tweeted. "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!!"
The photo has received an outpouring of support from fellow parents and Kentucky fans.
"Much respect for this man making time to be a Dad!" one man commented on Calipari's tweet. "I’m a union worker myself and know the struggle of trying to balance family time and work. Sometimes you have to make the hard choice to provide for your family but when you do get time make it truly count."
McGuire works long hours six days a week at a coal mine about 40 minutes away from the arena, and he was determined to get to the game even if it meant not having time to wash himself off.
"Didn’t want to miss it," he told TODAY's Jacob Soboroff. "I’ve had to miss quite a few stuff.”
McGuire grew up as a diehard Kentucky basketball fan watching games with his own father, so he was excited to carry on the tradition with his son.
"Easton has taken a huge interest in sports, so it was the perfect time to buy tickets for Micheal and Easton to start that," his wife, Mollie, said on TODAY.
It didn’t take long for his son to be hooked on the excitement of Kentucky basketball.
“Easton was dancing and everything!” Micheal said.
“It’s been a fun experience for us as a family,” Mollie said.
While McGuire may have stood out in the crowd at the game, it’s not unusual to see coal miners covered in soot and dust at their kids’ sporting events in eastern Kentucky, considering the prominence of the industry in that area.
This year's Blue-White game was especially important to the region because it raised more than $162,000 to help victims of this summer's deadly floods in eastern Kentucky. Floyd County, where the McGuires live, was one of the worst-hit areas.
"We had some friends who lost a lot," Mollie said. "That’s when we looked at each other (and said), 'All right, let’s do what we can.'"
Calipari is now doing what he can for the McGuires, as he has given them VIP tickets to a game at Kentucky's famed Rupp Arena in Lexington. Mollie and Micheal said they will be taking Easton and their 1-year-old daughter, Lynlee, to the big showdown with fellow legendary college basketball power Kansas on Jan. 28.