Monday, June 25, 2018

UK basketball team draws hundreds to Midway, giving new Wildcat players a rural taste of Big Blue Nation

Coach John Calipari waves to the hundreds who greeted the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team at a train stop in Midway Sunday evening. The team had planned to sign autographs for 30 to 45 minutes and leave Midway by 6:30 or so, but so many people showed up from such a wide area that they didn't finish until 7:08 p.m., according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Story and Photos by Sarah Ladd
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

C-A-T-S! Cats! Cats! Cats!

Crowds in Midway chanted the Wildcat cry on Sunday as they waited in the United Bank parking lot for the University of Kentucky’s men basketball team to arrive by train.

Head coach John Calipari brought the 2018-19 players to Midway on the team’s way back to Lexington from a kids’ basketball camp in Frankfort to give the Big Blue Nation a chance “to meet the entire team,” a UK press release said. Their R.J. Corman Railroad car arrived just after 5:30 p.m. to the cheers of fans, where they began signing autographs, giving away posters and taking pictures. 

Chris Blanton talks with friends while waiting to meet the team.
Chris Blanton of Versailles said while he waited in line that he had never met Coach Cal or any of the players present and thought the stop in Midway was a “terrific” idea. “This is a great opportunity to let these new players meet Kentucky, and let Kentucky meet them.” He said he thought the use of the train was a “fun avenue” that appealed to the children in the crowd. 

Tim Bernal, executive associate athletic director at UK, said the stop in Midway was chosen in part because “it’s one of those iconic towns in Kentucky.” He said the stop might have been right along the way of their return trip to Lexington, but “when you have a chance to do an event like this in a great town like this, you take advantage of that,” he said. “The people showing up the way they did kinda proves that it was a good decision.” Crowds were tightly wrapped around the bank parking lot.

Bernal said Midway represents rural Kentucky, but more than that, it represents Kentucky as a whole. “These are the nicest people and the most appreciative people,” he said of the crowds gathered. “I’ve got a saying that I kinda use: ‘as long as my gratitude exceeds my expectations, I’m in pretty good shape’ and everyone just seemed very grateful that we had come.”

Calipari echoed Bernal's sentiment when he told the Lexington Herald-Leader while preparing to leave Midway, "I want these guys to know the impact they have on people in the state, so I think it ended up being a good trip."

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he was "amazed, but not surprised" by how many people came to see the Cats. "It’s incredible that the team can draw about 1000 people with 48 hours notice," he said. "Every time we have something like that, it becomes a great showcase for Midway and reminds us all of what a happening little city we live in."

Blanton said after meeting Coach Cal and the rest of the team that the experience was “pretty cool.” The team, which was scheduled to be back in Lexington at 7 p.m., stayed in Midway until around 7:15. Blanton said it was nice of the team to make time for everyone in line. “Coach Cal has a way of pushing all the right buttons,” he said.
Players signed posters, basketballs and other items for Wildcat fans.

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