LEXINGTON, Ky. – With a growing number of student-athletes from 22 varsity sports teams now spending most of their time on the south side of the University of Kentucky’s campus where their practice facilities are located, the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS) – the first-of-its-kind support program in the nation – has successfully expanded to serve them. The CATS expansion last fall within the Joe Craft Football Training Facility is due in large part to funds raised through a partnership of UK Athletics, Maker’s Mark and Keeneland announced in 2015.
“The high level of achievement of our students requires a unique support system considering the time demands they face,” UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “The expansion of CATS on the south side of campus has been essential to that effort, and we have this unique partnership to thank.”
UK Athletics has partnered with Maker’s Mark and Keeneland with a goal of raising $2 million for the center through the companies’ own contributions and from the proceeds of sales of special commemorative bottles of the distillery’s bourbon.
This year, the third commemorative Maker’s Mark® bourbon bottle in the series will feature the 1995-96 men’s basketball national championship team, known affectionately as “The Untouchables.” Bottles will go on sale at retail outlets throughout Kentucky on Friday, April 7. The first two bottles in the series featured legendary coaches Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall, along with the 1978 national championship team.
“Our ’96 championship team was one of the best not only in the history of our program, but in the history of college basketball,” Barnhart said. “This iconic bottle is a fitting tribute to them and all they accomplished during that historic season.”
Bottles released in 2018 and 2019 will complete the five-bottle series to benefit the CATS program.
“It’s gratifying to see how well the expansion of the CATS program is working,” said Rob Samuels, the eighth-generation distiller who now runs the Maker’s Mark distillery that his grandparents founded. “Because education was so important to my grandparents, this program is a perfect way for us to give back to the community.”
Another element to the fundraising effort is a challenge for other companies to raise a matching $2 million. Keeneland agreed in 2015 to be the first to take up that cause and pledged $100,000 to the effort.
“Keeneland is committed to excellence in education, and the successful expansion of the CATS program furthers this mission,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “By bettering the lives of students, we enhance the entire Central Kentucky community.”
A bottle signing of this year’s commemorative Maker’s Mark® bottle will take place at the Keeneland Entertainment Center on the morning of Friday, April 14. Details are available on www.Keeneland.com. That afternoon, Keeneland will feature some of the nation’s top turf horses in the 30th running of the $300,000 Maker’s 46 Mile (G1).
CATS – the first center of its kind dedicated solely to student-athletes – provides primary academic support for UK’s more than 500 student-athletes. UK has posted a department-wide cumulative grade-point average of better than 3.0 in nine consecutive semesters and set or tied school records for graduation rates in every year since the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate was introduced in 2005. In 2016 alone, 88 current and former student-athletes completed their UK degrees