Vaught;’s note: Some Kentucky fans are just special. One is Kelly Harper — even if she is a long-time friend of Mark Buerger. What I like about her is that she is all-in for anything UK as this story about a recent weekend and more explains.
By KELLY HARPER
Kelly Harper and her husband with Makayla Epps.
Listening to Sunday Morning Sports Talk on WLAP last week hit home. It was a comment made by the Johnathon Hock, the Director for the ESPN 30 for 30 on Coach Cal. He made a statement about the Big Blue Nation. He said, “You hear about Big Blue Nation. No one goes all in for a team like the BBN. There’s commitment to the community and the program.” Commitment is the key.
Being a Kentucky fan is full of experiences on the field or court. Doesn’t every UK fan spend weekends in the off season waiting for the UK player autograph tours? Ok, maybe not but why do I do it? I like having a connection, a special moment or experience with the players and coaches! For me, it’s a show of support, and it makes me love those players even more. It’s a different kind of connection than just watching them play.
I have been to many signing with UK player over the past several years. Some are great interactions, and some are just ok. Some players have embraced the opportunity to meet their adoring fans and a couple maybe not much.
Recently, northern Kentucky was fortunate to have several players in town on their signing tours. As soon as I heard Makayla Epps, Derek Willis, and Dominique Hawkins were coming to town, I told my hubby to clear the calendar, we’re going. This group is one I couldn’t miss saying goodbye and thank you. To me, they’re Kentucky’s finest.
I had some high hopes at the event. Having come from Kentucky, I was hoping they’d understand or feel something like I have over the years. That feeling of idolizing a program, loving the players, and all the emotions that come with being a member of the BBN. This group didn’t disappoint. Meeting all three of them was a pleasure. They seemed to appreciate the fans coming to see them and spending money on them. They thanked me for coming which was huge in my book. It showed me that we the fans meant something to them. They are some of the best and couldn’t have been nicer.
Over the years, the best times in meeting players, players’ families, or coaches is when they embrace the connection and are willing to stop for a moment and interact with you. At the big tours or clinics that interaction is a bit difficult because of the sheer volume of UK fans. When you see them outside the tours or off the field as a fan do you interact or not? It’s always a tight line to walk.
Kelly Harper with UK football signee Lynn Bowden. (Larry Vaught Photo)
I’ve also got to meet several incoming players over the years such as getting to meet future UK football player Lynn Bowden the same weekend when he was playing in the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Game in northern Kentucky. Being able to connect a name and face with the player makes me want to cheer for them that much more. I also wanted him to know he’s important to me and his success is UK’s success.
I’ve been to autograph tours, women’s clinics, and other events where I’d find UK players. But over the years, who have I most enjoyed meeting? I’d have to say it was Andre Riddick. A few years ago, we stood in line together to get signatures of the players from that season. I was in awe. A former UK player was right there next to me telling UK stories and being a total fan just like me.
I’m a UK fan who’s committed to the program. The moment a player announces they’re coming, I’m all in! I love getting the opportunity to meet the players and build some memories. I’m forever a kid in that way. For them, it’s probably a chore. Who knows but I hope they know how much those brief connections mean to a fan like me