Monday, April 6, 2015

Kentucky Blue Blood

Sorry genies, I'm not going to be talking about connecting my tree to might want to look away.....I'm talking about sports royalty.

March, with a little bit of April mixed in, is the hardest time of year for me. My anxiety levels go sky high, my friendships are severely tested, and I lose sleep staying up to follow basketball scores. As a 7th generation Kentuckian who also happens to be a two-time University of Kentucky graduate, basketball season is intense, to put it mildly.

As much as I bleed blue proudly, I am usually saddened by the black and blue bruises Cats fans have to endure each year. I am well aware that "Haters gonna hate," and team spirit on all sides makes the field a hostile one, but I am really exhausted trying to be a good sport about all the negativity (except for Duke - Duke is our nemesis and always generates negativity - it's a Kentucky rivalry requirement.)

It's clear, for most, if you are not a Cats fan, you are a Cats hater, plain and simple. It can get pretty nasty out there. I am very grateful our mascot is a Wildcat - those claws of ours come in very handy when fighting back. Uh-oh, did you hear that? My claws just came out....

Why does everyone hate us so much?

Is it because of our talent on the court?
Possibly. Jealousy can be a pretty powerful negative force.

Do they hate us because our players are arrogant and have bad attitudes?
They may think this is the case, but in the field of battle, every team out there has cocky players and many need attitude adjustments....we didn't invent any of these perceived characteristics...again, cough, cough, Duke. Besides, many of our players both past and present have been sweet guys off the court. Sure, some have had bad attitudes off the court, but these are young men who have been thrust into stardom and sports royalty. It would be tough for most to ride through that experience with an unscathed personality.

Do they hate us because the fans are crazy and out of control (do I smell roasting couches?)
Possibly. We are completely nuts about our team. Most of us come out of the womb being conditioned to wear Kentucky blue at every occasion, and many can sing the fight song before they can write a sentence. Seriously though, Kentucky blue is appropriate ANYWHERE: bed, work, school, Church, Wal-Mart, the Derby, prom, weddings, etc. Trust me, the merchandising keeps up with the multi-faceted demand.

But let me point out a few things to the haters:

Like several other states in the U.S., we are sports poor. We have a few college teams that are competitive on the national level, and when they make an appearance, they usually make it count. UK basketball is by far, the largest and most successful team we have in this state (sorry Louisville,) but beyond the college level, who do we have?

I may have been born in Kentucky, but I grew up in Ohio, and still wore my blue proudly. But do you have any idea what it's like living in Ohio? There are so many successful teams, I probably couldn't name them all! I grew up with such sports icons as the Reds, the Bengals (don't snicker, they were pretty awesome when I was little,) OSU, Browns, etc....
But just across the river, is a state that has been made fun of at every opportunity. Folks love our greatest two-minute run to the nearest bourbon barrel in May, but once the party is over, they go back to slapping Kentucky around. At this point, I'm no longer talking about basketball.

I have heard every possible stereotypical insult about Kentucky, and each one actually does hurt. The insults hurt because it's a place I love dearly. It's like insulting my family.
The thing is, those who insult Kentucky do so with great joy.

They insult our Eastern Kentucky residents, with "hillbilly" being a favorite label.
Remember the War on Poverty? Every deplorable living condition that could be located was plastered on TV as an example of broad suffering. Sadly, the image stuck, despite any progress made over the past several decades.

They have insulted our accents, which admittedly can be both annoying and charming. BTW, several times lately, I have been called out for NOT having an accent when answering the library reference desk phone, claiming I "must not be from Kentucky" because I don't have a twang.

They continue to insult our intelligence.

They have insulted our history.

They have insulted our familial relationships, citing inbreeding as a rampant problem. One of my dear friends made a genealogy joke recently about Kentucky, reminding us that we don't use for research, we have our own special database called Seriously?!

They make fun of past feuding families and the deaths that occurred as a result.

In fact, one of the most jaw dropping quotes I read was from a book by one of my former UK professor: This is Home Now: Kentucky's Holocaust Survivors Speak by Arwen Donahue. In one of the interviews, a new Kentucky resident, recently transplanted from Ohio was asked about their preconceived notions of Kentucky before moving there. He said "While we were still living in Ohio, the Riverfront Stadium was the big issue. They started construction. And they said when they got done with that they were going to build the biggest zoo in the world. They were going to put a fence around Kentucky." Alexander Rosenberg p.144

Unfortunately, some of the exaggerated insults have a grain of truth. In many ways, we have been an economically and socially challenged state. When the New York Times ranked the hardest places to live by county in 2014, Clay County Kentucky got top honors out of the Nation's 3,135 counties. And sadly, the majority of our counties were painted some shade of orange - which meant "doing worse" according to their graph.
But after all the jokes subside, and the haters feel better about themselves for making fun of a state that has had some social challenges in the past, I like to revel in the beauty they cannot see for their blind and often cruel hatred.

I grew up visiting my grandparents' farm in Bourbon County. The green rolling hills represented peace, love, and grand adventures. It is true that Kentucky is land and people rich. We have some of the most beautiful and fertile land in the country. Our people are some of the most hardworking and caring you will find anywhere. A unique mixture of southern charm, hospitality, and a dash of Yankee know-how.
It is in our complexity that one can see our beauty most profoundly. Each region has its merits and quirks of personality. Even in our history, we could not quite choose a side....Officially remaining with the Union, but serving two governments during the Civil War. That's right, two governors, two governments. How's that for state rivalry? And they wonder why the Kentucky/Louisville games get a tad heated. It's still brother against brother on the court.

Oh, and don't forget: BOTH Presidents during the Civil War were born in Kentucky. #historymindblown!

It was at the end of the Civil War that the University of Kentucky was born. A land grant institution, originally called Kentucky University, it grew to be one of the most successful Universities in the region. Much of its success founded on the rich and diverse agricultural resources that had drawn settlers in the late 18th century.

So, for all you haters, that is 150 years of hard earned success that also produced an amazing basketball team as its most enduring legacy.'s our birthday this year! I know what we all wanted for our birthday...#9! Despite the tragic loss a couple of days ago, we had a raucous birthday celebration with a great season!

Speaking of future banners. One other special thing I have noticed about Kentucky basketball: its ability to inspire. When I moved back to Kentucky 22 years ago, I noticed something that I had never noticed in Ohio.

For roughly nine months out of the year, neighborhoods are full of impromptu basketball teams. As I drive down my humble suburban street, if the weather is even halfway decent, I have to stop to let the group of boys divide so I can continue to my house. The group is always there, most of the year, only changing slightly as they grow or new boys move into or out of the neighborhood. They are diverse in age, social, and ethnic background, but they all dream of one thing: playing for the Wildcats. They are usually decked out in blue and white, and playing their hardest, the competition fierce, yet friendly - building lifelong friendships founded on a longstanding sports tradition.

For those who live in Kentucky, UK is by far the favorite team. It pulls the far corners of the state together to root for a shared cause. Why does UK have that power? Because Kentucky basketball is a tangible example of success, and provides a basis for dreams in a state that has had a tremendous list of challenges to overcome.

So when we get a little crazy over our team, and put the "mad" in March Madness, please don't begrudge us our jubilation and passion. The decades of success deserve to be celebrated, and our pride for our team is unending. C-A-T-S! CATS CATS CATS!


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