Big Bertha — the nickname for the huge collection of speakers that hung over center court in Rupp Arena — has found a good retirement home. She will reside in Glasgow and be in the loving care of Brad Mallory, a family physician and self-described “preserver” of audio equipment.
Perhaps nothing shows how much Mallory thinks of Big Bertha as his memory of traveling to Lexington to make a bid in the Lexington Center Corporation’s May auction.
“As I left the driveway of my house that day, my wife, Holly, came to my truck window and told me to bid more than we had planned because ‘there’s only one Big Bertha; bid what you need to bid and bring her home,’” Mallory wrote in an email. “After that statement, I asked her if I could marry her all over again.”
Big Bertha and Kentucky basketball go back to the opening of Rupp Arena in 1976. As Mallory pointed out, every player in every UK home game since then has heard his name announced on those speakers. So, too, for every concert performer, circus ringmaster, etc.
Over the years, the seats in Rupp Arena were replaced. So, too, the court and banners. All the while, Big Bertha endured. She came down after last season to make room for a scoreboard equipped with video screens.
“I go to a lot of Kentucky games,” Mallory said in a follow-up phone conversation. “During introductions, I’m looking at Bertha the whole time, enjoying her filling the arena with sound.”
To explain his interest in sound systems, Mallory cited a good friend of his parents. This friend was a sound system engineer who always had a collection of speakers on his back porch.
“Kind of like the cool uncle,” Mallory said of this family friend.
Mallory, who grew up in Elkton, said he studied acoustics and sound system engineering as a hobby. He graduated from Centre College with a biology degree in 2001.
Then Mallory went to graduate school and medical school at the University of Louisville. “I’d wear my blue to class,” he said. “I got a lot of aggravation.”
Equipment by Altec, which made Big Bertha, is of particular interest to Mallory. He planned to be in Oklahoma City this weekend in hopes of adding to his Altec collection.
Mallory described Big Bertha as “kind of like having a classic 1970 muscle car. In the audio world, that’s what Bertha is made of.”
The process of acquiring Big Bertha took awhile. Once he heard she was coming down, Mallory wrote letters and sent emails about once a month to make sure Lexington officials knew of his interest. He outbid four competitors, but declined to say how much he paid. It was five figures and less than $20,000, he said. To sell Big Bertha’s parts could reap as much as $50,000, Mallory said, but he only plans to sell a few of the horns to help raise funds for the construction of a building to house Big Bertha.
After making the winning bid, the next task was transporting Big Bertha from Lexington to Glasgow. The system of more than 60 horns weighs 12,000 pounds, stands 20 feet tall and has a 22-foot diameter at its widest point.
“I had a semi and trailer and crew ready to pick it up on one day’s notice . . . ,” Mallory said. “It helps to have friends in multiple work fields.”
It took three days to unload Big Bertha from a 53-foot semi trailer in Glasgow, Mallory said.
Big Bertha is in storage in Glasgow. Mallory would not say exactly where. He worries about security. “Not to be paranoid,” he said, “but Bertha is kind of my baby.”
He plans a $100,000 building that will showcase Big Bertha and serve as a personal workshop. His collection of antique gas engines, tractors and cars would also be housed there. He hopes the project will be completed within two years or so, he said.
Mallory, 37, attends several UK games each season. His seats are about 15 rows from the floor behind the baseline closest to the visitors’ bench. Unless Kentucky is playing LSU or Vanderbilt, he wears a yellow shirt so his 4-year-old twins, son Edmund and daughter Arden, can spot him in the crowd.
“To some, she’s just old speakers,” Mallory said of Big Bertha. “But to many of us, she’s a part of Wildcat history, and I’m thrilled to preserve the one, the only Big Bertha.”
Bill Owen, the president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., said his predecessor, Tom Minter, gave Big Bertha her name. During a sound test in 1976, Minter said it sounded like Big Bertha “and it stuck,” Owen said.
Owen sounded wistful when asked about Big Bertha.
“She’s been gone six months,” he said, “and we’re still talking about her.”
Calm before storm
Marsha Poe, who camped for Big Blue Madness tickets outside Memorial Coliseum for the 11th time, sensed a calmer atmosphere. For one thing, there was not a mad rush to claim a spot to erect a tent.
“We got to our spot easily,” she said. “No one was pushing us.” Usually, campers get caught up in the rush and are almost carried across the street, she said.
Still, the campout for Madness tickets was fun. “You can make it fun,” Poe said.
Of course, the main thing about every Madness is the anticipation of another excellent Kentucky team.
“People are really excited about the team,” Poe said. “All you’re hearing about is Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam.”
That would be freshman big man Edrice “Bam” Adebayo.
Wildcat Wally returns
Wally Clark, a fixture in past Big Blue Madness campouts, was not outside Memorial Coliseum the last three years. He moved to Phoenix. An illness made returning to Lexington for Madness impossible.
His absence did not go unnoticed. After all, so intent to be first in line, he once camped out for 42 days.
Although 65 years old now and willing to admit camping is difficult, Clark said, “I’d like to be out here a month or more.”
To ex-Cat Jarrod Polson. He married Arial England last weekend at Lexington’s NorthEast Christian Church.
Arial was best friends with Polson’s sister, Ashley, at Asbury University.
The couple honeymooned in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Brush with greatness
Arnold Palmer’s death last Sunday caused a member of UK’s stats crew to recall the time he crossed paths with the golfing icon.
Mike Rogers, the official timer at Kentucky home games since 2003, remembers the exact date: Sept. 5, 1997. Because a brother-in-law was unable to go, Rogers was invited to play in a golf scramble in Latrobe, Pa., that day.
Before the scramble, which was part of a fund-raising effort for the Christian Appalachian Project, the players ate a “little meal” at the course, Rogers said. Then an official explained the rules of the scramble.
“By the way,” the official said. “We just received word Mr. Palmer will be here today. Kindly let him play through.”
As Rogers played, he kept looking over his shoulder for Palmer. Finally, Rogers’ group saw Palmer approaching. What to do? What to say? Rogers surprised his playing partners by saying he would ask for an autograph and a picture.
Rogers recalls shaking hands with Palmer. “I never had anybody grab me like that,” Rogers said. “His hand was just so strong and so big.” And the grip was “so tight.”
Rogers said ex-Cat Karl-Anthony Towns had a similar handshake. Towns regularly shook hands with the stats crew before games.
Also strong is the memory of Palmer’s graciousness. “One of the few times you get to meet someone and he’s even nicer than you expected,” Rogers said.
Sports and art
There was a thought-provoking exchange in The New York Times recently. In an op-ed column, a professor at the University of Colorado, Roger Pielke Jr., argued that colleges should offer degree programs in sports.
Such degrees could train future leaders in how to govern their sports, a timely idea given the recent controversies in FIFA and doping in the Rio Olympics.
Degrees in sports would also allow athletes to more fully invest in the schools’ academic mission, thus reducing the eternal gap between athletics and academics, Pielke wrote.
Colleges award degrees in the arts where exceptionally talented students perform for ticket-buying audiences. Why not degrees tied to athletic play?
To answer his own question, Pielke cited “class distinctions” from 19th-century England. “Classical music is valued by high society, while sport is for the masses,” he wrote.
This led Pielke to a provocative conclusion: “Beyond our cultural biases, what really is the difference between a Shakespeare play, an orchestra concert and a basketball game? Each performance requires some high-level combination of physical ability and mental acuity, developed through years of training and study, and for which only a select few reach elite levels.”
Joseph W. Polisi, the president of The Juilliard School, objected to the suggestion that there really isn’t much difference between artistic and athletic performance.
“There is a similar beauty and grace in both sports and the arts, but comparing the performance of a violin concerto to a successful three-point shot is a deeply flawed argument . . . ,” Polisi wrote in a follow-up letter to the editor. “Arts operate in a different sphere by communicating profound intellectual and emotional truths.”
To Jeff Sheppard. He turned 42 on Thursday. … To Ronnie Lyons. He turned 64 on Friday. … To former Vandy coach Kevin Stallings. He turned 56 on Saturday. … To former UK women’s coach Mickie DeMoss. She turns 61 on Monday. … To Sean Sutton. He turns 48 on Tuesday. … To Junior Braddy. He turns 45 on Tuesday. … To Sheray Thomas. He turns 32 on Tuesday. … To Rex Chapman. He turns 49 on Wednesday. … To Preston LeMaster. He turns 33 on Wednesday. … To former Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. He turns 50 on Wednesday.