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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Fifteen-year-old Anna Stewart Burdette is not passionate about much. She keeps her emotions in check and rarely cries about much of anything, according to her father, Pat. She keeps her composure and is reserved when it comes to outward displays of her feelings.
Football is the exception to that rule.
Anna Stewart’s was one of two names selected at the 2012 women’s football clinic as part of a drawing for an all-expenses-paid road trip to Arkansas with the Kentucky football team. She would get to travel with the team and watch a game unfold behind the scenes, instead of just in the stands.
“I had never seen her that excited about anything before,” Pat said.
That feeling of ecstasy, however, was short-lived. Anna Stewart’s mother, Ilona, received a call from UK director of football operations Nolan Jones saying that because of an NCAA rule about high school students of a “recruitable” age, Anna Stewart would not be allowed to go on the road trip with the team.
“I was at work when I got the call,” Ilona said. “And I just sat down and cried. I was crushed for her.”
“I do not show that much emotion except for with football,” Anna Stewart said. “Mom didn’t tell me until the next morning. I never cry but I cried that day because I was just so shocked. I had been looking forward to it so much.”
Although the shock of having such an experience ripped away from her was difficult to deal with, Anna Stewart bounced back, in large part due to the extra efforts made by the UK football program. Coach Joker Phillips saw Anna Stewart at Fan Day the week after the women’s clinic and asked her for a hug. But a hug wasn’t all Anna Stewart got: Phillips has made it possible for her to be on the sidelines for at least a portion of each home game at Commonwealth.
“It’s pretty awesome to get to go down on the field,” Anna Stewart said. “It’s basically my dream job to be on the sidelines. I want to go into sports medicine one day so hopefully with all this, I can somehow get a job around the program when I’m old enough.”
In Anna Stewart’s place, Ilona and Pat were allowed to go on the road trip to Arkansas. According to Pat, his phone battery was completely sapped by the end of the night of the game because Ilana was texting Anna Stewart every detail of the experience.
“The trip as a whole was great,” Pat said. “To see the inside workings of the football game… Until you see it, you don’t really comprehend it. Kentucky is a well-run organization, but it’s mostly just impressive people with a real sense of class who work there… If I had a son (who played football), UK would be the kind of place I would want to send him.”
“I can’t emphasize enough how well we were treated,” Ilona said. “And the extra efforts that were made for Anna Stewart…you can tell that Joker and the whole staff really cared and were sorry for what had happened…Anna Stewart has said before, ‘I’d rather lose with Joker than win with Spurrier.’ It’s just such a class organization.”