Sports in Kentucky by Bob Watkins

Posted December 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm

The Newtown tragedy has stolen a core-something out of our Christmas. Exacerbated by a parade of assault weapon images on teevee, Apocalypse 2012 doom, and fiscal cliff woes, have tempered our joy this year. The season-to-be-jolly has a deep bruise on it.

In my lifetime, only the lingering grief after John F. Kennedy’s assassination before Thanksgiving 1963 was as numbing, weighed so heavily on the American spirit as the Sandy Hook tragedy.

The Newtown nightmare has shaken us all. But thankfully, as Abraham Lincoln said, it has rallied “the better angels of our nature” too. In gestures from high profilers in sports …

√ Baseball star Derek Jeter telephoned the mother of Sandy Hook Elementary teacher Victoria Soto, moving a relative to say. “People like Jeter have reached out. It brings some comfort,” to the New York Daily News.

√ NFL New York Giant receiver Victor Cruz drove to Newtown to visit Jack Pinto’s family. Idolized by little Jack, Cruz (and we) learned the child was buried wearing the player’s No. 80.

√ Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim accepted plaudits for his 900th coaching last week, but as the Sandy Hook Elementary wounds remained fresh, the ball coach used the moment to remind us of more important things.

√ At a postgame press conference in Columbus, Ohio last week Winthrop U. coach Pat Kelsey, father of two little girls, sat in front of “20 or more microphones,” after his team lost to Ohio State and spoke of the Newtown disaster with such eloquence, it ought be a model for Impromptu speech-making by every high school and college speech class across the country.

If you haven’t already, look it up –

“I’m only a coach. I’m not smart enough to understand all this,” Kelsey said in part, then added, “I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, but he is MY president! I hope he and (Speaker of the House) John Boehner” will do something about (our guns-in-America) problem.”

√ Best of all, Ann Curry at NBC News sent forth a tweet suggesting, in honor of the fallen children at Sandy Hook, we ought to dedicate ourselves to 26 acts of kindness. Large, small, anonymous or not, do something, say something to and for the betterment of our fellows in this life.

Curry’s idea has taken wing round USA and around the globe.

What greater good can we do than pay-it-forward 26 times in memory of 26 fallen angels?


This week a few random gift ideas around and about.

GIFT. Duke got high school media darling Jabari Parker, right? Wrong!

Other way round. Parker gets to learn from Mike Krzyzewski. In a Coach K cocoon, the kid can sharpen and hone his mind and values along with his game.

GIFT. The emergence of Jarrod Polson at Kentucky is a gift for Big Blue Nation. A reminder that native sons can rise and perform at highest levels far beyond star-rating nonsense.

GIFT. Jarrod Polson give back? Patience. I hope he skips the cash-in cheerleader paperback version of inside-the-program book on Kentucky basketball. That he holds off a decade for more penetrating perspective of his experience.

GIFT. Willie Taggart to Willie Taggart. Western Kentucky U. paid its football coach $475,000 a year. South Florida will pay Taggart $1.1 million each of five years … unless USF fires him or the coach jumps to another job.

Taggart told the Bowling Green Daily News his move was not about going home to south Florida and “it wasn’t about the money at all. It was more from a career standpoint and moving on.”

In other words, the coach moved his lips. It was about the money.

GIFT. Bellarmine Knights. At 8-0. our state’s lone unbeaten college team at Christmas, is ranked fourth in NABC. Equally notable, coach Scotty Davenport’s team has a collective 3.0 grade point average at the break. Fifteen semesters in a row.

“They can still do better, our goal will be to have the highest team GPA in my eight seasons this spring,” declared the coach.

GIFT. For Bears and Patriots fans, Pikeville U. and University of Cumberlands arrived at Christmas with 13-1 and 12-1 records respectively.

To entertain its fans, UPike topped 100 points in half its 14 games.

Cumberlands won 12 in a row before a fall at IU-Southeast.

GIFT. College basketball. Division I’s 344 men’s ball coach fraternity has its share of show-me-the-money job jumpers, cheaters, and those who operate at edge of NCAA rules, but there is a Best of the Best list of coaches who balance winning, educating athletes and give-back to community.

They are a gift to all of us. One man’s Top 10 (in order): Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Billy Donovan (Florida), Mark Few (Gonzaga), Tom Izzo (Michigan State, Tubby Smith (Minnesota), Shaka Smart (VCU), Steve Alford (New Mexico), Brad Stevens (Butler) and, most recently, Pat Kelsey (Winthrop).

Gifts. There are many others for you and from you around the Bluegrass State. These have been a few of mine.


“I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do. That is character” – Teddy Roosevelt

Merry Christmas to you, and to all those who make this newspaper a gift to you.

And so it goes.