Wildcat 'Coal' Lodge debate rages

amead@herald-leader.comOctober 27, 2009 

  • If you go

    The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees meets at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the board room on the 18th floor of Patterson Office Tower.

  • Who's behind Wildcat Coal Lodge?

    Here are the people — the Difference Makers — that the University of Kentucky said have signed pledge sheets for the Wildcat Coal Lodge project as of Monday: Armstrong Land, Charles Baird, Charles Bradley, Nick Carter, David Childs, Joe Craft, Luther Deaton, Ted Doheny, Franklin Farris, L.D. Gorman, Mike Jones, Lynn Parrish, C.L. Redmond, Rex Smith, Tom Smith, Tom Snyder, Jeff Speaks, Wellford A. Tabor, Greg Wells, Charlie Wesley and Lyle Wolf.

A divided University of Kentucky Board of Trustees meets Tuesday to decide whether to accept $7 million from a group of private donors to build what would be called Wildcat Coal Lodge.

If any board member needs advice, there is no lack of it out there.

The mix of coal and Kentucky basketball spawned a weekend of blogs, online and talk show comments, and supermarket aisle discussions that appear to fall into distinct categories:

■ It's a dumb name that cheapens UK.

■ It's the donors' money. They get to choose the name.

■ The money should be spent for academics.

■ The money should be spent in Eastern Kentucky.

■ Coal is bad.

■ Coal is good.

Tony Oppegard, a mine safety advocate, e-mailed to say someone should remind the board that "'wildcat coal' means coal that is mined illegally."

On her WVLK radio program, Sue Wylie agreed with callers who said former Coach Joe B. Hall's name should be transferred from the current men's basketball residence to any new one.

"I don't care how well he takes it — it would be a snub" to leave off his name, she said.

Hall, in an interview, said it is no big deal.

"I'm not hurt by changing the name; times change, and there are old buildings torn down and new ones built every day," he said.

Professor Ernest J. Yanarella, a political scientist who is a faculty representative on the board, said he has received many e-mails from other faculty members, all of them opposed to the name.

He pointed out that UK has a Sturgill Development Building, named after coal operator Bill Sturgill. But there's something different, he said, with a building that has "coal" as its middle name.

"The university has no business promoting an industry that is under environmental siege," he said.

He suggested putting "Difference Makers" in the name, after the group that has pledged the money. That, he said, would fit better with an athletic program.

But trustee C.M. "Bill" Gatton, for whom UK's college of business is named, said the name is fine with him.

"I don't know that I have really given it that much thought, but if those people are in the coal business and they want to name it that, I think they should have that right," he said.

The issue is new, and the trustees haven't discussed it. Yanarella said it might come up Monday night when the board has dinner with UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. or at committee meetings before the full board meets Tuesday.

On Monday, he estimated there might be three to five members of the 20-member board who were against putting coal on the lodge.

The coal industry has long been involved in UK athletics. Hall pointed out that coal companies contributed much of the $1 million for what became the Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge and provided coal to make a fireplace in the facility.

The debate over replacing that lodge comes as the coal industry is taking a more public role in UK sports. Last weekend, for example, there was a "students only" basketball practice sponsored by Joe Craft and the Friends of Coal.

UK says that Craft, who heads Alliance Coal and had given money to the university in the past, put together the Difference Makers. As of Monday evening, Craft had not returned calls to the Herald-Leader.

On Monday, the university released the names of 21 people who have pledged money for Wildcat Coal Lodge. The list includes Craft and coal operator L.D. Gorman, along with others not readily identified with the industry.

UK says the agreement to give the money to the university specifies that coal is included in the building's name.

Steven Gardner, a consulting engineer who is chairman of the UK Mining Engineering Foundation, said UK basketball coach John Calipari recently took part in a ribbon cutting at a new Alliance Coal underground mining complex in Western Kentucky and has written about relatives who worked in West Virginia mines.

The name was approved by the Committee on Naming University Buildings on Oct. 14, UK spokesman Jimmy Stanton said. The vote was 6-1. The regulations that guide the committee note that naming of new structures "is of interest to the entire university community."

On names for "living units, athletic and recreational structures and areas, and special function structures," the name should describe their use, the regulations say: "Such property shall be given names that carry general significance for the university as a whole, e.g. Memorial Coliseum."

Reach Andy Mead at (859) 231-3319 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3319.

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