Monday, March 28, 2011

Bullies Turned My Blood Blue

I donated blood this morning.  When I was finished, I glanced at my bag.  It looked like this:


April 1, 1996:  In seventh grade, I sat on my bedroom floor and watched the Kentucky Wildcats (1) defeat Syracuse (4) in a 76-67 victory, winning their sixth NCAA championship.  They were coached by the Rick Pitino.

March 31, 1997: In eighth grade, I watched the Kentucky Wildcats (1) give the NCAA title to Arizona (4) in a close 84-79 loss.  Regardless, they had made it to the championship game for the second consecutive year.  It was Rick Pitino's last season coaching.

March 30, 1998: In ninth grade, I watched the Cats (2), now coached by Tubby Smith, defeat Utah (3) in a 78-69 victory, claiming their seventh NCAA title.  It was the last time I'd watch the Wildcats from my old Kentucky home.

It was an exciting weekend.  Watching Kentucky take out Ohio State was both exhilarating and unexpected.  Watching them take out UNC and advance to their first final four in thirteen years was rather nostalgic. 

Many wonder how a former Louisville resident becomes a Wildcats fan.  Well, the simple answer is the Cardinals are just not good.  At least they've never been in my lifetime.  Even when I give them a smidgen of credit and slate them to win a game or two in my bracket, they disappoint.  For two consecutive years, they failed to push beyond round one.  Last year, I was angry, but his year, I could only blame myself.  Because regardless of seed or coach or record or performance, the Louisville Cardinals fall short come tournament time.  I should have executed better judgment.

But my allegiance to Kentucky is deeper than which team performs better.  Before moving to Pennsylvania, the summer before tenth grade, I assumed that was where I'd attend college.  I had no interest in going anywhere else.  Of course, I would be hiding something if I failed to mention much of this is rooted in spite.

Aside from a handful, the majority of my private parochial school classmates were Cardinals fans.  And, aside from less than a handful, I didn't care for any of them.  Sitting in classrooms with spoiled, enabled, and pompous rich kids - each filled with the Holy Spirit and blood of Christ, of course - was not my cup of tea.  The degree of phoniness was infuriating. 

I think the majority believed that, as long as they attended Wednesday night youth group, were present for Thursday morning chapel, and made it to Sunday school before prayer requests, it was okay to treat people like crap. 

It was okay to invite losers to birthday parties that never existed.  It was okay to ask others to hang out and never show up.  It was okay to call up rejects during your slumber parties and harass them via speakerphone.  It was okay to analyze those under par, pointing out every physical flaw at lunch.  It was okay to put brownies on their chair so they could walk around looking like they defecated themselves.  It was okay to type up love notes during keyboarding and sign a different name.  It was okay to trash lockers and steal homework and destroy projects someone else created. 

I mean, after all, you didn't like them.  They were inferior.  It's exactly what Jesus would have done.

So, in a way, my allegiance evolved from resentment.  That has since changed, but originally, the internal satisfaction of knowing my team was outperforming their team - well, it was intoxicating.  Unless you are from Kentucky, you don't understand the significance of the rivalry I'm referencing.  Watching the Cats advance those three years crushed their spirits, but lifted mine.  For a brief moment, I had a seat on top.  I could beam with pride while they drowned with depression.  In those days, I took whatever I could.

Of course, that is in the past.  My relationship with the Wildcats has evolved into something more meaningful.  Today, it brings me back to a time in my life when, although things were difficult in many areas, they were far less complex in others.  It allows me to remember and keeps my memories in tact.  It keeps me connected with childhood friends and shares a part of me with my new companions. 

In 2011, my loyalty to the Wildcats symbolizes my affection for the state of Kentucky.  Having lived there for seven years - seven critical years of childhood - it had a significant impact on the person I became.  Despite misconceptions, I participated in a remarkable culture unlike any other.  Yes, it goes far beyond a ninety second horse race, and my life would be different without those experiences. 

Writing this post taught me something.  As silly as it sounds, this team pulled me through some difficult times.  They were not only my entertainment, but also my escape.  Their wins sent me to bed happy, even though that happiness dissolved the next day at school.

They kept me unique.  Nobody coasts through life without getting cut, though in most cases, our wounds eject red.  Well not me.  These pores bleed blue, and I find it a much cheerier color.


  1. Beautiful, Paul. Just beautiful.

    Some people wonder how others can be so wrapped up in a sport, in a team, in a group of players they have nothing to do with, nothing in common with, no ties whatsoever. Often it's not just the colours or the logo or the town they represent, but something much deeper. They can define us as people, they can cheer us up when the rest of world gets us down, they are something to believe in be proud of when you are disillusioned with everything else.

    Some people don't get it, but some don't get religion either, or art, or dance, or even literature. Each to his or her own, whatever makes them happy and .

    I'm not a rabid sports nut by any means, but there are one or two teams out there that i'm proud to call my own, that I identify with, even when they just plain stink (and this is more common than I care to admit).

    I watched Kentucky win the other day, even though I had little idea what was going on. Go Wildcats ..?

  2. Man, I wish I had finished that sentence I went back to edit. Don't you hate it when your comments on a writer's blog make you appear illiterate?!

  3. Great post! I'll be honest...not a b-ball fan. I am a hockey fan at heart. Dad coached; brother played. And yes, all my kids play. Organized sports can teach many wonderful life lessons. Watching them carefully can be a writer's dream.

  4. Luke: Thank you for your awesome comment! I'm so glad that you got my message. For me, my team represents something much deeper than the sport or game itself. And as you said, it's nice having something to be proud of.

    Oh, and I make comment bloopers ALL the time. Never apologize to me :)

    Sheri: Despite that, we can still be friends ;) And yes, there are a lot of lessons embedded in games. And characters, too!

  5. I'm of the opinion that writers have a lot to learn from sports; we have more in common with athletes than we might think. I blog about it often, though my loyalties are to Purdue black and gold. :)

    Thanks for commenting on Ink Slingers today!

  6. Bethany: I agree; there are a lot of similarities between athletes and writers. Bottom line, we are all working hard and constantly "training" to improve a craft.

    And, despite your Purdue comment, I'll still allow us to be friends :) Besides, Purdue is no longer a threat to my Wildcats - not this year, anyway...

  7. That Utah-Kentucky game broke my wee little heart. :/ Sigh.


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