Jennifer Palumbo: Can we have a rivalry without name-calling?

December 26, 2013 

When I moved to Hazard nearly 20 years ago from Cincinnati, I'll admit I wasn't a University of Kentucky fan. I cheered for Ohio State (my dad went there), the Cincinnati Reds and the Bengals.

My closest connection to the Big Blue Nation was my friend Janelle, a classmate at Ohio University. One spring break she refused to leave the hotel because UK was playing. Later that night we found her in the room crying. It was 1992, and UK had just lost to Duke.

I could not understand why my friend from Cincinnati was crying about a basketball game for a school she didn't attend. I didn't get it.

I do now.

When I moved to Lexington to work for WKYT, my duties included reporting on the Big Blue Nation.

I covered the celebrations in 1996 and 1998. I had my head slit open when a fan threw a bottle that hit me while I was reporting at Woodland and Euclid avenues.

I walked to a fire station with blood running down my face. The firefighters said I'd have to walk to the hospital because fans were blocking the roads. Then they helped clean me up so I could go back to work.

Somewhere along the road to those national championships, I got hooked.

The Big Blue Nation is a very welcoming fan base. No one said, "You can't call yourself a UK fan because you're from Ohio and didn't go to UK."

It didn't hurt that I married a UK graduate whose passion for the Cats borders on obsession. If you're proud and passionate, you can join the party too.

I've seen the good and the bad. I was at a UK football game this season where fans were screaming and even swearing at the coaches because Kentucky was losing. I also watched as several young fans started crying because the people getting yelled at were their dads.

This might sound odd, but one of my New Year's resolutions is to be a better UK fan. No more name-calling and negativity.

If UK loses, I won't dwell on mistakes or missed free throws. I'm proud of Kentucky's great tradition and don't need to mock our in-state rival and its fans.

I won't cheer for Louisville, but I'm fine if they win every game before they play UK. Then the game matters more, especially when we're the team giving them their first loss.

We teach our children to be good sports and not call people names. Recently, Louisville was playing on TV, and my 7-year-old's reaction was "Boo, Loserville!" Yes, I laughed at first, but if he called a classmate a loser, he'd get in trouble in school. I need to practice what I preach.

When Rick Pitino and his 2013 national champions face the 2012 national champions Saturday, it'll be a great moment in the storied rivalry.

The Cards probably will be greeted by a loud chorus of boos in Rupp Arena. But I won't be part of it.

Don't worry, Big Blue Nation. I also won't be cheering for them either. Go Cats!

Jennifer Palumbo is a news anchor on WKYT-27.

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