Never has a slogan resonated so strongly in the commonwealth as now with the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky set to meet on the basketball court. A meeting that will put one of the teams in line for a national championship.
In the state as well as homes, we are a house divided – but remember the state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
We should all be walking a bit straighter and taller. We all should have huge grins across our faces. This state is on the map in the biggest way and, yes, basketball has a lot to do with it.
At stake for the winner is an opportunity to play for a national NCAA title. At stake for the teams, schools and fans, in the vernacular of today’s youth, will be “gi-normous” bragging rights.
In the case of this basketball matchup, the lines need to blur as we look at all that this game will bring to the forefront when it comes to this incredible state.
Gov. Steve Beshear told the New York Times this week that the Commonwealth of Kentucky will be the big winner in the matchup between the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Totally agreeing with him, I hope he has seen to it that some of our tourism publicity dollars have gone into advertising during that match-up that tips off at 6:09 p.m. Saturday on CBS.
It will be the best investment Kentucky Tourism can make in promoting this state where our two great teams will draw millions of viewers as an audience. Talk about a win-win.
This game as far as recognition for the state provides a Super Bowl, super-size opportunity. And hopefully, Kentucky Tourism has recognized that.
Matter of fact, I think we should have been promoting the Bluegrass state ever since Kentucky sent four teams to the Big Dance – Murray State, Western, UK and Louisville.
But it’s not just basketball players and coaches that have us all humming “My Old Kentucky Home.” I’ve got a few other thoughts we could use promoting our state to those perhaps not so familiar with Kentucky Proud.
For a new generation
The number three biggest box office opening sell-out of all time came this past weekend with “Hunger Games.”
Who starred in that movie that had legions of book-reading fans anxiously anticipating its opening?
Jennifer Lawrence, 21, of Louisville, and Josh Hutcherson, 19, of Union in Boone County, are now household names across the nation and pretty soon the world with the movie’s international release.
Their facetime on the big screen drew larger theater audiences than the arenas of the NCAA tournament.
Lawrence, before she ever committed to starring in the “Hunger Games” trilogy, had already received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in the independent film “Winter’s Bone.”
Just like so many of us, the young star definitely knows who she is and where she is from. Her daddy and every other Lawrence I know in that family have seen to it their children intimately know their relatives. Heck, I roomed with Sarah Lawrence (cousin) at Western and I, over the course of the last 40 years, know them all.
About eight years ago I attended with Sarah, Jennifer’s father Gary and their other Lawrence family cousins a recognition ceremony at Grant County High School where a banner was hung in the gym recognizing the Corinth High School basketball team that won the state tournament.
Three Lawrence brothers were on that team, and two of them would later make history when they played on the Corinth team that placed third in a national basketball championship in Chicago.
Jennifer’s grandfather, Dave Lawrence, was one of those boys on both teams. He became an All-American high school basketball player and is in the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame. He went on to play with Adolph Rupp at UK, where he was named to the All-SEC first team in the 1934-35 season.
And in another turn that comes right out of Kentucky basketball sports history, Dave Lawrence was assistant basketball coach for the University of Louisville when the Cards met the Wildcats in the 1948 Olympic Trial Games in New York.
Her grandfather, Dave, ultimately became dean of students at U of L where he worked until his retirement.
Jennifer’s grandfather once told the family, “I may have played for UK, but my loyalty lies with Louisville; they’ve paid my salary all these years.”
Sounds a bit like Rick Pitino, don’t you think?
In addition to her ties to U of L through her grandfather, her mom, Karen, was a U of L cheerleader.
But hers is also a house divided as one of her brothers went to U of L and the other to UK.
Tourism could have put Jennifer on the screen as an example of how the heritage of many in the commonwealth is embedded in Kentucky basketball.
Big, bright stars
There’s still more for the Kentucky Proud – four of the biggest names currently in Hollywood are Kentucky natives. Mention them anywhere and people know who they are – these four are on the A list.
Flash their faces.
Their careers are impressive in terms of both acting and as social activists.
George Clooney is a native Kentuckian, born in Lexington, moved to Northern Kentucky and attended Augusta High School then spent two years at Northern Kentucky University. Tom Cruise lived in Louisville until his mid-teens. Johnny Depp, a native Kentuckian, was born in Owensboro and at one time lived in Frankfort and attended elementary school here.
Then there is Ashley Judd, named for the city of Ashland, who went to Sayre School in Lexington, Paul Blazer High School and UK from 1986 to 1990. But she left three hours short of graduation. In 2007, she returned to UK where she graduated with a degree in French.
Judd is definitely Wildcat Proud, and I’ve lost count of how many times she has been shown at UK ball games.
All Kentucky Tourism would have to do for instant audience recognition is show Judd in her UK basketball T-shirt, pictures of a thoroughbred in a field and a bottle of bourbon – no words necessary. In somewhat the words of Dick Vitale, “We are branded, baby.”
Let’s also not forget all the other Kentuckians we see on our television screens weekly and nightly.
Diane Sawyer is one of the most recognizable names in television journalism. Nightly, the Louisville native and former Kentucky Junior Miss has been to more places on this earth than most of us dare to dream of going.
When Sawyer co-anchored Good Morning America, she often talked about her mother and aunt in Louisville. Kentucky news always got big play with her.
When she returned for her reunion at Seneca High School, the camera went with her.
I don’t guess CBS would respond well to competing network ABC having its anchor’s face flashed across the screen.
As for those other Kentuckians out there every week on our television screens, there’s Annie Potts who graduated from Franklin Simpson High School and stars in “GBC” on ABC and Frankfort’s own Will Chase in “Smash” on NBC, along with Judd in her new series “Missing” on ABC.
Give it up, folks. A nice round of applause and more bragging rights for all of Kentucky.
There is another face in this state that is internationally recognized. Former boxing champion and humanitarian Muhammad Ali is known in countries I didn’t even study in geography.
Ali’s entrance as the final torch bearer into the Olympic Games in Atlanta drew thunderous applause from all nations.
He is recognized as an ambassador for world peace and good will worldwide.
Can’t you see the faces of television viewers across the nation when a picture of Ali comes on the screen along with that famous sound bite – “I am the greatest.” Fade to the word Kentucky, perhaps a picture of the Capitol muted in the background or even the Ali Center in Louisville.
It’s not enough that this basketball game alone is worth millions of dollars of advertising for the state, but we have a rare opportunity to brand the commonwealth for the nation and creative ways to show it is a great place to call home or to visit.
Over the last month, we have watched citizens in West Liberty and other cities face some of the most devastating times of their lives with the loss of family members, homes, churches and schools.
Our dear Kentucky citizens immediately came battling back determined the event would not define their lives.
I smiled recently when I saw some residents of West Liberty interviewed on television – one was in a UK T-shirt and another in a Louisville T-shirt.
These may have been the shirts on their backs as they walked away when tornadic winds ripped their lives apart. But perhaps in the midst of their disrupted lives, they had found a diversion.
But if I could sum up the best of this state, place a face on a screen that screams Kentucky’s unbridled spirit, it would be that of Frankfort native Stephanie Wise Decker.
She’s the mom who covered her children when a tornado hit her Indiana home on March 2.
We’ll see and hear about plenty of toughness, heart, perseverance laid out on the court, but the former Franklin County High School basketball co-captain is the epitome of all these words.
She sacrificed her ability to walk when her house came tumbling down upon her as she saved her children.
Decker left the U of L hospital in her wheelchair, wearing a UK T-shirt telling reporters she was looking forward to playing basketball with her children.
She is the picture for America to see. Decker is the “brand” I want to be known for.
Stephanie Decker makes me Kentucky Proud.