Redemption and University of Kentucky Basketball

Not everyone understands University of Kentucky basketball.  More accurately, some people despise the team.  It’s the fans that draw most of the ire.  In an article published the week before the NCAA 2014 Final Four, Mac Engel of the Fort-Worth Star Telegram called UK fans “the single most obnoxious, self-congratulatory, priority-skewed fan base in a nation full of them.”

I would like to explain to Mr. Engel that loving UK basketball isn’t about arrogance or priorities.  In a state that, despite advances, still struggles with poverty, adult literacy and related issues such as substance abuse, the love arises from a sense of redemption:  even shared triumph temporarily makes the day-to-day hurts and humiliations a little better.  Or, at least they are more bearable.  Maybe that proposition holds true for the fans of any basketball, baseball, soccer, professional, college or high school team.  But, for the poor, the functionally illiterate, the often-ridiculed, feelings of triumph are that much more difficult to come by.  For these fans, the games themselves are a bright spot.  Something to look forward to when things otherwise aren’t going well.  And when UK wins, well, that is something beautiful.

So when the score was close in the final minutes of UK’s NCAA tournament games against Louisville and Michigan this year, I found myself whispering behind my clenched hands, “Please, please, if you can, win for me.”

First, win for yourself and your families.  Without doubt, each young man on the UK basketball team bears burdens and deserves to experience the albeit brief respite that comes with individual triumph.

Then, please, win for the fans in Campton and Frenchburg and Salyersville.  Many who are watching UK basketball games in these and other Kentucky towns experience, from one source or another, hopelessness.  And stigma.  Because it is still socially acceptable to poke fun at and stereotype rural America, particularly characteristics associated with rural poverty.  Joy is hard to find when the world thinks you are stupid, barefoot and lazy.

Win for the young boy in Whitley City who loves to wear his secondhand UK basketball tee shirt, with only a small hole in it, to school on game days.  Win for the young girl in Booneville who dreams of attending the University of Kentucky and studying to be a doctor even though no one in her family has gone to college.

Win for my Daddy who died in 2012.  He lived almost all of his life in Hays Crossing, Kentucky.  He was handsome and strong and smart.  And burdened.  So very burdened.  Win because when he was fourteen he quit school to work in logging to support his mother, brother and sisters.  Win because once he had the strength of character to pick up his paycheck off the floor after his boss threw it at him.  Win because he was a brilliant poker player.  Win because, despite his deep flaws, he always fed his family.  Win because we loved watching UK basketball games together.

Win for my little brother seven years my junior. While we didn’t know each other very well as children, his friendship was a gift that I received later in my life.  He takes care of my mother who has frontotemporal dementia, which is an ugly, mean-spirited disease.

And, finally, if I can, I would like to ask you to win for me.  I left Kentucky when I was 17.  At the time, I didn’t realize that I was giving up something I would never get back.  I would always be placeless.  I live in California now, but a “freeway” will always be an “interstate” to me.  My daughter, born in California, says “I guess;” I say “I reckon.”  Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right:  we can’t go home again.  But, sometimes during the NCAA basketball tournament, I feel connected once again and less lost.

I have heard Daddy say many times during the final minutes of a UK game, “Boys, you have to make your free throws.” He understood that chances to win in basketball, and in life, are hard to come by.  Daddy was right.  If you give up the easy points, there is no guarantee that you will get another shot.

So, as you look towards next year’s basketball season, remember to make your free throws, boys.  And, please, if you can, win.  Win for me.

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  55 comments for “Redemption and University of Kentucky Basketball

  1. Megan
    April 5, 2014 at 11:22 pm

    Oh Kim!! That brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.
    Write that book!!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      You are so welcome, my dear friend. Yes, I may just have to write that book. 🙂

  2. Dianna Walke
    April 5, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    My dear Kim
    Your brilliant daddy had a brilliant daughter. I wish I had had the privilege of having you in class. Lee Ann sent me this and insisted that I read it now with tissues in hand. She was right and you are right. Joy and pride are hard to find when the world thinks you’re state is full of barefoot, pregnant and toothless women followed around by beer-bellied, bushy-bearded stoned men. Thank you for so brilliantly writing what so many of us feel.
    My best to your brother. He is doing a job that can only be done out of love.

    • April 6, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      How wonderful to hear from you, Mrs. Walke. And, certainly, it was my loss to have missed taking your classes. I have been thinking about this piece for years – and it was a labor of love finally to write it. I am overwhelmed by the response. I can’t thank you enough for the kind words.

    • Shannon Means
      April 9, 2014 at 2:10 am

      Wow, I clicked on this link before realizing I know the author. Thank you, Kim. A very touching read. I appreciate each of the the follow up comments too. A great trip down memory lane. Thanks to Diane Walke and the other educators who commented. I am reminded of my Rowan County education. Wish I knew then what I know now. Thank you very much for invaluable learning experiences.

      • April 12, 2014 at 7:09 pm

        Glad you enjoyed it, Shannon!

  3. Cathy Cassady Corbin
    April 6, 2014 at 12:06 am

    Kim, What a touching and SO correct response to Mac Engel’s incorrect appraisal of KY fans. You did a BEAUTIFUL job of explaining EXACTLY what KY basketball means to all of us with a KY connection.

  4. Anissa
    April 6, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Perfection!

  5. April 6, 2014 at 4:36 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the kind words. They mean so much to me. I love my home state – and I do love that team. What a great win tonight!

  6. Mary Lou Calvert Forman
    April 6, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Perfectly expressed and absolutely beautiful. Thank you, Kim, and thanks Lee Ann and Cliff for sharing. It takes a Kentuckian to understand the heart of Kentucky. You’re a very talented lady…write the book.

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Mary Lou!

  7. Chris North
    April 6, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you for sharing. You have so eloquently described something that is easy to trivialize as absurd by “outsiders” to UK Basketball fandom.

  8. Claire Timmer
    April 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

    Beautifully written! It brought tears to my eyes as well. Looking forward to your next posting on A Life Revised!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Thank you so much, Claire! Hope you have enjoyed the other posts!

  9. Marian-Ortolf Bagley
    April 6, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Kim – this is so well done. Thank you

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      You are so welcome – and thank you!

  10. Craig DeHart
    April 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Very well put, Kim. I knew your father and he was a great man with a big heart.

    • April 6, 2014 at 11:39 pm

      Thank you so much, Craig, for taking the time to write a comment about Daddy. It was only after he died that I realized how little I understood about him as someone other than my father. Any time someone gives me more perspective on him, I consider it a gift.

  11. Jennifer Trent
    April 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Perfect!

  12. Cathy Thomas
    April 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Really liked everything you said! Beautifully written! Look forward to more.

    • April 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you so much, Cathy!

  13. Stephanie Pfister
    April 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    Wow! So beautifully written. I’m not one to follow college basketball, but when I do I’ll certainly be rooting for “the boys”!!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Thank you so much, my friend! Hope to see you sometime soon!

  14. Nadine Griffith
    April 6, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    This is a lovely tribute to your home state and to your family. Beautifully done!

    • April 6, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      How nice to hear from you, Mrs. Griffith. I think of you, with great thanks, often these days as I attempt to help my daughter with her algebra! So glad you enjoyed the post.

  15. Susan Calhoun
    April 6, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    This piece made me smile from ear to ear. A life long Kentucky resident, some years UK basketball is one of the few things folks have to look forward to, and to love. So eloquently said, perhaps the haters will understand what Big Blue Nation is all about. Perhaps they’ll finally get it. Go Big Blue, you’re in the Final game now, but you’re always #1 in our hearts.

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind words and well-expressed thoughts.

      • Susan Calhoun
        April 12, 2014 at 7:57 pm

        You are so welcome. I too am looking forward to that book! Get busy girl!

  16. Joanne
    April 6, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    As someone who moved TO Kentucky in her early 20s, I so appreciate how you’ve expressed this. Not all of us Kentuckians are native-born – some of us chose this place, love it like our own, and will never again feel at home anywhere else 🙂

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you so much! Sounds like KY is lucky to have you.

  17. jody weaver
    April 7, 2014 at 12:40 am

    Kim, that was amazing, and I teared up while reading! People will never know what the big blue nation means if they haven’t lived it! Loved this article!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you so much! So glad you enjoyed it!

  18. Brenda (Stevens) Carter
    April 7, 2014 at 2:20 am

    Thank you Kim for this response! I also grew up on Hayes Crossing and now have returned to this area as an adult. I remember you as a child, and I am proud of your success as a writer! this piece touched many hearts! Proud of my Kentucky heritage!

    • April 7, 2014 at 5:42 am

      Brenda! Of course I remember you! Thank you for taking the time to comment and for your generous words.

  19. Rhonda Hall Childers
    April 7, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    You brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written.

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Thank you, my Hayes Crossing neighbor! Glad you enjoyed it!

  20. Lou Keith
    April 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    I was a Whitley City Elementary Tiger and played Basketball there during 4th and 5th grade. You have grasped the true emotions of the people of Kentucky and what a win from the Wildcats means to so many. In middle school I had a second hand Kentucky Wildcats shirt with a hole in it that was my favorite shirt to wear to school. I will always be proud of UK Basketball and what it represents to me as a poor kid from the backwoods of Kentucky. I love your article!

    • April 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm

      Lou, your comments on each of the posts touched my heart. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to write them.

  21. Cathy Brenman
    April 7, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Kim, stunningly beautiful writing, reminiscent of a story I read by Eudora Welty 20? 30? years ago that affected me in very much the same way. Was moved to tears, in the best way. Thank you so much for sharing, and I can’t wait to read more. xoxo

    • April 7, 2014 at 8:38 pm

      Wow, what a kind comparison. You are a good friend. Thank you!

  22. RaZoR
    April 7, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Some may call it a cheap shot.We’ll just call it a FREE THROW… but it’s so danged, hard to be humble when you’re from Kentucky!
    Great read Ms Reeder!!!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      Thank you – so glad you enjoyed it!

  23. Jeanie "Bailey" Stafford
    April 8, 2014 at 1:11 am

    Beautifully said and how about “Our Mummy” that would sit up and watch UK basketball years ago. She wouldn’t watch the news so she wouldn’t hear the score. If it was a bad game for “Her Cats” dad would call her and say “Granny,might be a good night to go to bed early”. To her, as to many others UK basketball was something to look forward to when things weren’t going so good. A bright spot.

    • April 8, 2014 at 3:01 am

      Oh Jeanie, Mummy was such an inspiration for this piece. When I write the longer version for my book (!!!), I will write about exactly what you described. I remember being with her during games we were listening to on the radio and she would walk away and do something in the kitchen when they got behind (or it got close). Yes, she loved this team – and I know it was a bright spot for her.

  24. Donna Reynolds Spangler
    April 8, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Ms.Reeder, I have never been a Big Blue Nation Fan, yet I love my home, Kentucky. You must, Ms. Girl write that book…..I know it is in there…..you made me cry darlin’, no easy feat…..tears of joy.

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm

      Thank you so much for the kind words! So glad you enjoyed it.

  25. James Street
    April 10, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Simply beautifully written. And so poignant. Thank you!

    • April 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      You are so welcome! And, thank you for the kind words.

  26. Doug Whitlock
    April 10, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Eloquently said. You may have left Kentucky, but you still understand her and have a Kentuckian’s sense of place.

    • April 10, 2014 at 9:14 pm

      I think this is one of the best compliments I have ever received. Thank you so very much.

  27. Renee Lourdes
    April 14, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    With a few alterations here and there, you have written my story and the story of every other #6thman #KentuckyWildcat #truebluefan. Thank you for giving our allegiance to the #BBN a voice.

    • April 14, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      You are so welcome – and thank you for your kind words.

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  29. September 28, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Wonderful site, thank You !!

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