At Kentucky Wildcats men's basketball games, not all the inspiration is found on the playing floor.
If you look into the Rupp Arena stands at most UK contests, you will find Ethel McBrayer. Which is pretty darned impressive when you consider she was born in 1914.
Ethel is 96.
"If my luck holds, I'll be 97 on Feb. 11," she said Tuesday.
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Before almost every Cats game, a family member will drop by Ethel's apartment in the Friendship Towers of the Sayre Christian Village — "retirement living for the independent senior," the promotional material says — and take her to Rupp.
"My mom is a Big Blue fan," says Terry McBrayer, the Lexington attorney who has long been prominent in Democratic state politics. "She may be 96, but she's up to date. She knows all about the team."
Talk to her, you'll see Ethel is as current on the Cats as Tom Leach.
Her best-liked Wildcat of recent vintage is Patrick Patterson "because I like the way he conducted himself," she says. She admired John Wall "because he overcame a lot in his life, had a hard row."
Ethel hasn't yet settled on a favorite player on the current Kentucky team, though Brandon Knight and Darius Miller are leading the consideration.
Later in conversation, Ethel noted, maybe with just a hint of UK-fan glee, that Tennessee's Bruce Pearl "had gotten himself in a bit of trouble" with the NCAA.
When the action gets hot in Rupp, does Ethel boo the refs, yell at the visiting coach or generally lose her head as so many basketball fans do?
"Honey," she says, "I try to act like a lady, let's put it like that."
Sportsmanship is important to Ethel. That goes back to her background as an elementary and high school educator. She was shattering glass ceilings decades before anyone had coined the term.
After she graduated high school, Ethel attended the school now known as Morehead State for one year before she says her dad decided to stop funding her education.
She married Ward McBrayer, gave birth to three children (in order, daughter Phyllis; son Terry; daughter Judy) and faced the challenge of supporting her young family when her husband went off to World War II.
It was only after all that she got a chance to resume her college studies at Marshall. After graduating, Ethel became a school teacher and, then, an administrator. Eventually, she wound up as the principal at the Greenup High School.
"Honey, in high school, I was the only woman (principal)," Ethel says. "I am used to battling men."
One of Ethel's fights was getting the students who represented her school to do it in the way she thought was proper.
"I wouldn't let the student body boo," she says. "I tried to teach sportsmanship. I look at a lot of what goes on at the UK games now. I just shake my head."
By the 1970s, Terry McBrayer had formed a close friendship with the then-UK basketball coach, Joe B. Hall.
Back then, Ethel and Ward had begun to spend some of their winters in Florida.
Long before there was an ESPN or an Internet to shrink the sports world, they would get out a transistor radio and traverse the Florida countryside looking for a spot where they could hear Cawood Ledford calling the Cats over the 50,000-watt AM radio signal of WHAS.
Once on his post-game radio show, Hall made reference to "Ethel McBrayer in Florida holding a radio upside down on a beach" so she could hear the game.
"That thrilled her to death," Terry McBrayer said.
Over the decades, Ethel has dealt with her share of life's losses. After 45 years of marriage, Ward died in 1978. The couple's oldest daughter, Phyllis Smith, also passed away a few years back.
Coming to UK games has been a constant form of escape. After Ward passed, Ethel and her sister would come down I-64 from Green-up to watch the Cats.
Even after her sibling stopped coming, Ethel still came. "I never had any trouble getting somebody to bring me down here for the games. So many of them were students I'd had in school," she said.
Some four-and-a-half years ago, Ethel moved to Lexington. At least now, there are no more late-night trips home on the interstate after games in Rupp.
I asked Ethel how long she'd had UK tickets. "Honey, I don't even know," she said. "I've had them a long time."
"If I'm lucky, I hope I'll have them a good while more," she said.
On Christmas Eve, 2010, here's my wish to Santa: When I'm 96, I want to be just like Ethel McBrayer.