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By LARRY VAUGHT
If you are a Kentucky football or basketball fan, you likely know WLEX-TV (Channel 18) sports anchor Mary Jo Perino. She’s been a smiling face that openly roots for the Big Blue but yet comes across as knowledgeable and fair and not a homer.
Soon she’ll be leaving her job to pursue other opportunities that will make it easier for her to spend time with her 7-year-old son. Our loss is her gain and her son’s gain and how could you not be happy for her.
Still, after watching her for 10 years at WLEX (2002 to 2006 and then from 2007 until now after a brief stint in Atlanta), it’s not going to be quite the same without her.
Just ask Alan Cutler, the sports director at WLEX. He’s worked all 10 years with Perino and their Friday night high school football show was must-see TV because of the way they interacted. So what will he miss most once she’s gone?
“It’s not one story, it’s the one liners that go up and back. MJP is a closer. She’s great at making a comment that you can’t answer back because it’s on the edge. It’s funny and she knows I can’t respond because the response won’t be politically correct. And she knows exactly what she’s doing,” Cutler said.
She also worked with Ryan Lemond, now a co-host on the syndicated Kentucky Sports Radio weekday morning sports talk show, at Channel 18.
“Mary Jo is one of the my favorite co-workers of all time. It was always a joy to come to work when Mary Jo was there,” Lemond said. “Her desk was directly behind my desk, so it was always a treat for me to have a co-worker that was not only very, very talented, but also a very, very good friend.
“I’m so proud of her. I kind of feel like a ‘big brother’ to her at times, and I’ve just been very proud to see her grow as a broadcaster, a friend and as a mother.”
Tom Leach, the radio voice of the Kentucky Wildcats, has been a Perino fan, too.
“Coaches always want energy from their players and that’s what Mary Jo has always brought to the UK sports scene, plus that wonderful smile. Hope we’ll see her in the crowd even though we won’t see her on press row,” Leach said.
WLAP Sunday Morning Sports host Mark Buerger has a different type best memory of Perino.
“I’ve been at my real job at Special Olympics for 11 State Summer Games events. Mary Jo has emceed the Opening Ceremonies at four of them. Every time I have asked, Mary Jo has made the trek to Richmond immediately after getting off the air to be a part of the event (which starts at 7 p.m. every year),” Buerger said. “She made it when they were doing construction on the Clays Ferry Bridge. She made it the day Jon Cohen announced he was leaving Kentucky for Mississippi State. And she made it the year I tried to give her a year off, but I had a late cancellation and called her a couple of days before the event.
“And every time she was there she took those Ceremonies just as seriously as she did a broadcast, was an absolute pro and was a big part of producing a great event for the more than 1,300 Special Olympics athletes who compete at the Games every year. We’ll miss having her there!”
But it wasn’t just those who knew Perino well who loved the way she did her job and will miss her as those of use in the media will. Just ask Theresa Salyer.
“We like that she is so personable, enthusiastic and easy to look at, in other words really good looking. She is so passionate about our Cats and you can tell she loves what she is doing,” Salyer said. “She is also very fair in her reporting about UK sports. She is great at the Derby and has taken to the Bluegrass state and loves our state like a native.
“Meeting her personally at the Kentucky Ohio Convention and then having her remember who I was two years later was special. I took our son, who is a great Mary Jo fan, to met her this year at the SEC Tournament and she was friendly and seemed to enjoy meeting any Cat fan.
“I love her smile, voice, just everything about her and she will be sorely missed by a lot of people. I would love to see her get back into the sports scene somehow or way. She has a lot of knowledge about a variety of sports and gives a fair report.”
Indeed she did and I’ll dearly miss seeing her not only at UK games, but at high school sports events. She was just as passionate about prep sports, and I loved that about her. Her smile could always brighten your day and on air she could always make you feel like she was talking directly to you. And athletes loved talking to her and it showed in the interviews she got on a regular basis. But mainly I’m going to miss seeing her in a professional capacity simply because she was such a good friend.
What about you? If you have seen her work or met her, let me know what you will remember or miss about Perino.
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville. They are the better team.”
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “With so many factors working in its favor, Louisville should win at this point in the season, especially with the homecourt advantage. But I’m also confident Kentucky’s talented freshmen will start to jell as a group and if that starts to happen by Saturday, the Wildcats would have a chance to win a close one.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville. They’re playing much more together than Kentucky is, and a hundred times more sound defensively. The Cards have plenty of motivation this year after what happened in April, and they’re playing at home.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “Kentucky will win because the Cats owns the series and Cal owns Pitino.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Louisville. At home. Play better as a team. Way more experience in games like this.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “I think the Cardinals will win the game. If UK takes care of the ball then they can take it to the wire but if they fold under the pressure then it will be a runaway win for U of L. One thing to keep an eye on, the longer UK hangs around the more the pressure builds for U of L late in the game.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “I am predicting a 50-49 win for U of L. I still don’t think UK has ‘found themselves’ yet, but they are getting closer. I think it’s going to be an ugly game, and the uglier the better for U of L’s chances to finally get a win over Cal’s Cats.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “I think Louisville wins this year on the fact that they have a more experienced team and have a proven outfit. They have shown that they can win on the road and also at home, which also is a plus for the Cards. Kentucky hasn’t proven it can overcome a hostile environment and Louisville will be a much-tougher place to play than Notre Dame. I give the nod to Louisville, 75-64.”
And ESPN analyst Dick Vitale is also predicting a 77-70 Louisville victory.
Question: What are the chances both Kentucky and Louisville could make the Final Four again this year?
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “Somewhere close to zero. I think there’s a decent chance that neither one does. Louisville has trouble scoring from time to time. I think that could ruin them come tournament time. Kentucky just doesn’t look like any kind of threat to get that good by the end of the season. I know they didn’t look like a threat two years ago at this time, but for some reason I don’t see this team making the kind of strides that team made.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “There’s a good chance because both teams are talented and well-coached.”
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “I would think Louisville’s chances are very good–veteran team with Final Four experience, likelihood of a top two seeding. This Kentucky team will likely be in a similar position to the one two years ago, where some early setbacks left them with a number four seed so they would probably have to beat two or three higher seeds to make it to Atlanta. Logically, their prospects of making three Final Fours in a row would not be as bright–but that group two years ago should have taught us not to write this team off yet.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has better odds, than Kentucky. The Cardinals have a chip on their shoulder after last year’s loss to Kentucky in the Final Four and wants to prove they belong among the top four teams in the nation this year. Barring a total meltdown in the Big East, the Cardinals likely will open the NCAA Tournament at Rupp Arena and have an easier road to the Georgia Dome than UK at this point. In order to improve its chances, Kentucky needs to climb back into the Top 25 and compete flawlessly in the SEC. The room for error is a small one.”
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “It’s so tough to get there for any team. I give Louisville the better chance. They’ve got guys who have been there before. It will be much tougher for UK to get there.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ I think U of L’s Final Four run last year was kind of a fluke. They really weren’t very good at the end of the season last year (remember the 35 blowout loss to Providence), but they got ‘hot’ at the right time and made a good run. This year there is no denying that they are pretty good. With Dieng they are a Final Four caliber team, but they don’t have that outside scoring threat this year. So I am predicting Louisville will not make the Final Four.
“I also can’t predict a Final Four for UK. There are just too many red flags here at the midway point of the season for me to think they can make a Final Four run. I think they will have a great SEC run this year because the SEC is really down, and I think UK is going to only get better and better.
“If I had to lay odds in Vegas on either team reaching the Final Four, I would say: UK 55 percent and U of L 70 percent.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Louisville has a great chance to go far in the tournament this year, barring any season-ending injuries that just seem to have happened to the Cards over the last few years. I’ll be expecting them in the Final Four. Kentucky undoubtedly has the raw talent to make it to the Final Four again, but it all depends on how Calipari continues to develop this team mentally, as well as Ryan Harrow’s continued improvement.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “There’s a far better chance that neither team makes it than both teams making it. Strangely, these two programs , as good as they are, are rarely title worthy at the same time. They’ve been to the final four at the same time only twice since 1975.”
Next: Who will win the game?
Tom Leach, Leach Report and UK Radio Network: “ Louisville. They’re going to be favored and with such a big experience edge and the homecourt, they have more things working in their favor than at any other time in Cal’s time at Kentucky.”
Larry Glover, Larry Glover Live: “If Pitino can’t beat Calipari Saturday then U of L fans will have to wonder if he ever will. Rick is 0-4 against Cal and 2-7 in the last 9 games against Kentucky. Plus, he’s not likely to win next either with the game at Rupp and Cal poised to bring in the best class ever That means the pressure is all on the Cardinals.”
Ryan Lemond, Kentucky Sports Radio: “ No doubt it’s Louisville. They’ve lost four in a row to their arch-nemesis and arch-rival. They lost two games to them last year. They lost in the Final Four to them last season. They lost two years ago at the YUM Center to UK when it was supposed to be the big ‘christening’ of their new home. It’s Pitino’s old school. It’s Pitino’s old protege. Everything about this game puts all the pressure on U of L, but the biggest reason has to be that if Pitino doesn’t win this one, he may never beat Calipari at UK. UK is going to stay at top caliber team. U of L may never have this talent level again … ever.”
Jennifer Palumbo, WKDY-TV: “ Louisville.”
Mary Jo Perino, WLEX-TV: “Louisville, no doubt. They’ve lost to Cal three straight years and are supposed to be the much better team. Pitino can’t lose this game.”
Ashley Scoby, vaughtsviews.com: “Kentucky. Coming off a national championship and a Final Four win against Louisville, the Cats are still seen as being the top dogs and expected by UK fans to beat Louisville (always). Louisville has almost flown under the radar this year, even with their national ranking. Kentucky has much more to prove this time around, especially after they fell out of the top 25.”
Mark Buerger, WLAP Sunday Morning Sports: “I’ll say Louisville, but only because everybody expects them to win. Kentucky needs this game to prove it can beat somebody good.”
Keith Taylor, Winchester Sun: “Louisville has more to lose since the Cardinals are having what has been a banner season so far. A loss would drop Louisville in the polls, while a win for Kentucky would land the Cats back into the Top 25 going into the Southeastern Conference portion of the schedule. Kentucky hasn’t fared well on the road this year and a victory at Louisville would give the young squad confidence going into the SEC. Louisville has lost four in a row to the Wildcats, including twice last year.”
Next: What are the chances both teams could reach the Final Four again this year?
Vaughtâ€™s note: Ryan Lemond is a veteran sportscaster who does work for the UK Radio Network and is a regular on Kentucky Sports Radio with Matt Jones. Heâ€™s been a vaughtsviews.com contributor, but this is his best contribution yet. If you can read this and not shed a tear or two, you are far better controlling your emotions than I am. Ryan shares why Eloy Vargas â€” not Anthony Davis or another UK superstar â€” is his sonâ€™s favorite player and what it meant to his son to finally meet his hero.
By RYAN LEMOND
I remember the time I met my hero.
I was a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, and Lou Brock was my hero!Â This was back when Lou Brock was “the man”.Â I remember listening on the radio when he got his 3,000th hit and when he broke the major league record for stolen bases in a season. I was 12 years old, and Lou Brock was at a speaking engagement near my hometown.Â My dad took me and my brother.Â I remember it like it was yesterday.Â I got to meet him, I got his autograph, I got my picture taken with him – I got to meet my hero.
I tell this story because I know how my son, Michael, feels.Â My son got to meet his hero, but it’s not just “any” hero.Â My son’s hero is no star.Â He’s not a crowd favorite.Â But he is a hero!
My son can just see life a little differently.Â We adopted Michael when he was 3 years old.Â He had some life experiences that no little boy should ever have to endure.Â He’s an amazing young man, and I couldn’t be prouder of him.
Two years ago during midnight madness, with high profile players like Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones, Daron Lamb, and Josh Harrellson on the court, Michael picked out his favorite player – Eloy Vargas.
We really don’t know why he picked Eloy.Â Michael’s biological father is Hispanic.Â We think maybe Michael thought he looked a little like Eloy.Â At any rate, when most young UK fans pick their favorite players, it is often the star.Â Michael saw something more than that in Eloy.Â Michael has a keen sense as a youngster to see someone for who they really are.Â I can’t explain it, but he can read people better than anyone I’ve ever met.
So for two years, Michael was Eloy’s biggest fan.Â Maybe only Eloy’s mother is a bigger Eloy fan than my Michael.Â He would get mad if Eloy didn’t play, and would yell at the TV when coach Cal took Eloy out of the game.
Last year I took Michael to a UK game, and took him down on the court while the Cats were warming up.Â I will never forget the look on his face when he saw Eloy in person for the first time.Â He’s eyes were big, his mouth was open, and he started yelling, “Vargas!Â Vargas!”.Â Eloy couldn’t hear him, but it didn’t matter.Â He saw his hero.
On senior night this year, the game didn’t tip off until 9:00 pm on a school night, but we let Michael watch the game from his bed because we knew Eloy was going to start.Â When Eloy scored a basket, Michael came screaming down the hallway, “Did you see it?Â Did you see it?Â Eloy scored a basket!”
So you can imagine how happy and how proud I am of my son because he finally got to meet Eloy.Â Eloy was throwing out the first pitch at the Lexington Legends baseball game Friday, and we went to give Michael the chance to meet his hero.Â Michael was a nervous wreck!Â He could not sit still!Â He kept running back and forth from his seat to the table where Eloy was going to start signing autographs.
When it was finally time, Michael couldn’t even talk.Â He basically just stared at Eloy while he got his autograph and got his picture taken with him.
I honestly have tears in my eyes right now thinking about the joy Michael felt at this moment, and I think what makes it even more special to me is that my son picked someone to be his hero that was more than just a UK basketball player.Â He saw something more in Eloy that maybe most of us never saw – an extremely hard worker, a great teammate, a player that graciously accepted his role as a backup so the team could thrive and get better.
Maybe that’s who are heroes should be.Â Maybe we can all learn something from a 9 year old that had it figured out long ago.