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Guest post: 60 years of Family Tradition with Kentucky basketball

photos by Lauren Colwell

Vaught’s note: As Kentucky gets set to start another basketball season, here is a reminder from UK fan Lauren Colwell about how the Cats can bring generations of family members together for the season reason — supporting UK basketball.

By LAUREN COLWELL

We cheer. We yell. We jump with elation at a win, and we pound our fists in the air at a loss. We tear up when we hear replays of Cawood Ledford’s voice or watch old tapes of Happy Chandler singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” The pomp and circumstance of Big Blue Madness each year makes us proud to be a part of the Big Blue Nation. To us, Joe B. is a living legend; Adolph Rupp is immortal. We are UK basketball fans, and I come from three generations of them. For over 60 years, my family has laughed, cried, and bled blue.

It started with my grandfather on my mother’s side. The Cincinnati Reds and UK basketball were his favorite teams. Games were only on radio for them, they didn’t own a television set yet. My granddad sold tobacco each year and bought a battery for the family radio, and it had to last a year until another one could be bought. Radio time in the house was sacred, but the Wildcats were a priority. He listened to the play-by-play of The Fabulous Five in 1948, Rupp’s victories in 1949, and probably heard every shot Cliff Hagan made in the 1951 game.

In 1954, my dad came home from serving in the Air Force in Germany, and enrolled at UK as an agriculture major on the G.I. Bill. Mom tells of a much different Lexington back then when they lived in married housing on UK’s campus. Central Baptist Hospital, next to their married housing, was only one building; Circle 4 was an unpaved road with cattle farms that we now know as New Circle Road. The Parkette was their favorite place for Saturday night dates, and I’ve heard strange stories from her about UK basketball games at Memorial Coliseum not selling out. Hard to imagine Rupp Arena left with empty seats in lower arena for games in my lifetime, but that was common back then. When they could, Mom and Dad would move down from the student section to seats closer to the floor. They never missed a home game while Dad was a student there, and he met Coach Rupp several times as a student when he would come in the agriculture building.

During the 1958 Championship game, my dad, a UK senior, lay in the floor of my grandfather’s house beside the radio. They had a television, but the game wasn’t televised for them, so they listened. He would beat his fist on the floor when things were tough, and cheered for the Cats when baskets were scored. I’m sure everyone in the house breathed a sigh of relief when UK won over Seattle, 84-72.

After graduation in 1958, my parents moved from Lexington to Princeton, Kentucky. The move west (before the Bluegrass Parkway was built) and the three children that followed made attending games impossible, and they gave up their season tickets. They relied on WHAS out of Louisville to bring the games to them, but the signal was sometimes weak. They would drive to nearby Dawson Springs and park on a hill where the reception was clearer. Dad’s 1954 Ford had a noisy heater, so in order to hear the game they had to turn the heater off. During breaks in the game, or when their teeth started to chatter louder than the game, they’d turn the car back on to warm up. With no floor to beat on, Dad would give the dashboard a sound thumping with each missed shot.

My grandfather passed away in 1975, three years before the next championship win. The family once again planned to watch that game at my grandmother’s house. Various aunts, uncles, and cousins all crowded into the tiny living room and gathered around the floor model TV set. My uncle’s mother-in-law, from Ohio, didn’t quite have the same appreciation of our beloved Wildcats, and was subsequently relocated into the kitchen. (In my mom’s words, “She wouldn’t hush during the game, so we ran her out of the room.”) You didn’t create unnecessary noise during a UK game, something I struggled with as a child in the 1980s. I learned to get anything I needed from the kitchen (which involved a trek in front of the TV screen) before game time. Once Cawood was on, I stayed out of sight. I could tell how each game was going by the cheers or stomps I heard coming from the family room. Even to this day, when a game is close, one of my nephews will send me a tweet saying, “I dare you to call Mamaw right now.” And I always tweet back, “I’ll give you $5 if you try it.” No one has yet to take the offer.

By 1996, I was a college student at Morehead State University. I watched the championship game in my dorm room, and walked to the front of my 6th floor room afterward to watch the chaos on campus below. Several groups of friends were heading out at the buzzer to revel with the UK students in Lexington. In 1997, Kyle Macy became coach of the Morehead State Eagles. I was in the cafeteria one day and turned around and almost bumped into him. No doubt he saw the stunned look on my face, so he said hello – I did the only thing I was capable of at the moment – giggled and ran back to my dorm to call my mom.

I had gotten engaged two days prior to the 1998 game, so my soon-to-be husband and I watched it together. When I started my teaching career, I would turn on the radio broadcast online and let my students listen to it as they did their computer assignments. One year during the SEC Tourney, one of the administrators came to each room and tuned the classroom TVs to the game. It was a fuzzy picture, but it was our Cats nonetheless. The principal came by 15 minutes later, threw open the door, stared at my TV and the eyes glued to it, and slammed the door. Evidently every classroom had the game on, and he knew this was a battle he wouldn’t win. We all got the watch the game.

By 2012, we watched the game with our two daughters. I spent part of the game with my UK blanket over my head when the score got too close… the other half I spent sitting in a chair pulled directly in front of the TV with my family yelling, “Get out of the way!!” It’s a wonder I didn’t get moved to the kitchen.

We went to a UK fan store yesterday and my 8-year old daughter spent part of her birthday money on her first UK basketball. She says she’s going to use it if Coach Cal ever holds a Father/Daughter Basketball clinic. Ah yes, the family tradition continues.

 

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16 comments

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  1. BD WELLS

    Great post.

  2. Love SEC F-Ball

    Another good article. Thanks Larry.
    Wonderful family memories. Thanks for sharing, Lauren!

  3. Juan4UK

    Well, Cal ever gets wind of the Father/Daughter camp, then you can tack that on to his schedule. Maybe Mitchell and Cal can do a joint effort!!
    These stories are really cool. Stories like this exist all over the state I’m sure (great bit of writing by the way. Lauren should do something with it. I could feel the ebb and flow of the story. I hope she considers it, she is a story teller)
    As I was saying, these stories are great! There should be a chronicle of these stories to pass down through the ages. We have the internet as a place to gather them through Facebook, all it would take is some cooperation from UK media and blogs, then someone to put them altogether into a well done website.

    1. Lauren Colwell

      Thank you for the kind words Juan! John Robic did mention that Cal is thinking about doing a Father/Daughter Clinic next year, but nothing was for certain. It would be wonderful, my daughter was so excited at just the thought!

  4. TrueBlueJohn

    Man, did that bring back memories. I remember one time in 1954, we were on a trip somewhere, and we were listening to a game., and the signal was going in and out on the car radio. You only had AM stations then. Dad found a wide spot on the shoulder where we could get a good signal, and we spent the next 30 minutes listening to the finish of the game. UK won of course, that was the undefeated season with Cliff Hagen and Frank Ramsey.

  5. Jenny

    Wonderfully written! So many wonderful famil memories go hand in hand with UK Sports!

    1. larryvaught

      Love having the chance to share stories like this by Lauren and glad so many of you enjoyed it as well. Any time you have a story to share, let me know

  6. LindaS

    Thanks for sharing. The BBN has as much tradition as the basketball program. Great memories to share and keep forever!

  7. Judi Cole

    Lauren, I can really relate to your family story. We did the same things at my house growing up and now I have a grandson who will be going to his first UK basketball game this year and he can’t wait. He lives in the middle of Buckeye country but developed a love of UK basketball through his father and me. Hope to see your writings on this site again!

    1. Lauren

      Thank you so much Judi! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Your grandson will have a wonderful time! Go Cats!

  8. johnl

    Reasing this story certaintly brought back a lot of fond memories of my experiences listening to the Cats back in Southeastern Kentucky in the late forties and 50s’.Listening to J.B.Faulconer,Claude Sullivan and later Cawood were certaintly highlights in my life.

    I’ll never forget the time I met Claude Sullivan as he was exiting an elevator in Lexington.Being a teen i asked him if he was Claude Sullivan and he assured me he was.So i told him how much i enjpyed listening to his broadcasts of UK basketball.He thanked me,and that of course made my day.I had met and talked to Claude Sullivan.A moment i never forgot.

  9. Hugh Ward

    John – It was great to see other people rememeber Claude Sullivan. UK has been blessed with great announcers – Claude and Cawood were two of the best anywhere and ever. Both were gentlemen in every sense of the word, with a knowledge and appreciation of the love UK fans had for their teams. They both would have relished the present program under Coach Calipari.

    1. Love SEC F-Ball

      I remember listening to both Claude Sullivan & Caywood on my brand new transistor radio in the 60′s. Thought it was great that the radio had one ear plug.

      I agree with Hugh – Both were great announcers. They made you feel like you were at the game. Sullivan called the Reds games & horse racing as well.
      Take a look at the you-tube video titled:
      Claude Sullivan – The best seat in the house.

      Thanks again Lauren – Hope you will post again.

      1. TrueBlueJohn

        What a great run of announcers, each great in their own right. But no one could paint a word picture like Cawood. I could listen to him, close my eyes and see the game in my mind.

  10. bryan mc

    Sometimes wish we could live the way life was back then again. Life was so simple and listen or watch basketball was a treat then.

    1. larryvaught

      great point Bryan

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