Remembering those precious years with my dad and the bond created by a common love of University of Kentucky basketball has always made me smile. Every year, especially around “March madness,” I fondly remember a legendary University of Kentucky basketball fan.
My earliest memories of University of Kentucky basketball were captured through the sounds of a vintage 1946 Philco radio (the kind with tubes) while sitting on a screened-in back porch with my dad during the early to mid 1960’s.
My dad was the first UK fan I ever knew so that qualifies him as a legendary University of Kentucky basketball fan (if only in our family). I have no idea how he first came to love UK basketball. Perhaps it was the NCAA National Championship wins in 1948 and 1949 that first caught his attention and began his lifelong love of all things UK basketball.
Play-by-plays were heard via radio, amidst my dad’s yelling, cheering (and yes, sometimes even critical “arm-chair” coaching) during some very intense games when Cotton Nash, Larry Conley, Pat Riley and Louie Dampier were iconic names in UK basketball, Adolph Rupp was coach and Caywood Ledford was the undisputed voice. The volume was cranked up so loud, other distractions couldn’t compete for priority.
Leaning close to that old Philco radio, dad would hold an ear to the speaker when poor reception faded the volume in and out, catching such Ledford phrases as “puts it up and in”, “got it”, and “he shot than one from Paducah.”
When the radio lost its reception at critical game moments, dad would raise his hand and give it a hard smack as though to refocus its priorities. The smack almost never worked on the 17+ year old radio, and there were a few times I think he was close to throwing it out of sheer frustration.
Apart from dad’s hard work to provide for our family, UK basketball games were his undisputed passion. He derived pleasure listening to players he would never actually see play, but was nevertheless held spellbound through the commentary of the voice of Kentucky basketball, Caywood Ledford.
I learned basketball etiquette from my dad around the age of 10. It was appropriate and encouraged to cheer, (the louder and more animated the better) but otherwise inappropriate (& met with swift correction) to interrupt with unrelated conversation during a game. (There were no games that weren’t considered “big games.”)
Conversation was allowed briefly during a time out, so long as game strategy remained the focus. An ice cold 16 ounce glass bottle of cola was the beverage of choice, and shared with children who didn’t breach game etiquette.
If a UK player missed a key shot at a critical game moment, dad would jerk off his cap and throw it on the floor in exasperation. There were a few times, when UK’s score was trailing by a substantial margin I even saw him turn off the radio, protesting “If they’re not going to play, I’m not going to listen!” He almost always relented and turned the radio back on to hear the final moments and score.
Game losses were met by moments of silence when the outcome was just too painful to speak about, and always followed by an undetermined period of mourning. I realize that may sound overly dramatic, but the entire mood of our home was as though a death had occurred for a day or two after a game loss. In my dad’s competitive spirit, there were no options but a UK victory.
Even when games began to be televised in the 1970’s and 80’s, dad turned the volume down on the TV, preferring the game commentary of Caywood Ledford to the station commentators whom he believed to be inferior and biased in favor of the opposing team.
Nobody, but nobody got to talk trash about University of Kentucky basketball! Furthermore, there was no second choice team to win if UK couldn’t claim the victory. It is fitting that I, his only daughter, born the year of one of UK’s 8 NCAA National Championships, would become a first generation college graduate from the University of Kentucky.
A Lifelong Fan
In the late 1990’s, the final years of his life, my two children would make him an even prouder grandfather when they also became UK alumni.
That first legendary fan, a man who was born in 1912 and completed 4th grade, taught me the love of UK in the 1960’s, then later taught that same to my son and daughter in the 1980’s. And so the legacy left by the legendary UK basketball fan continues in our family, now five UK graduates strong and counting.
My dad’s love of all things UK basketball spanned his lifetime. From the Hospice care unit in 1998, wearing his UK cap, the fan who was never able to actually attend a game played in Memorial Coliseum or Rupp Arena, watched a televised UK basketball game just days before his death.
The Legacy Continues
I share this story as a tribute to my dad’s loyalty and devotion to UK. If he could only see from that great Heavenly vantage point, perhaps he, Adolf Rupp and Caywood Ledford himself would all be smiling as the legacy continues with my granddaughter, now age 7. She has been yelling “Go Cats” since she was barely able to speak. Game etiquette, however, is still a work in progress.
***This story was published 04/14/2014 in The Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper: UK Roundball Ties Bind the Generations
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