Kelli White's oldest daughter, Cassidy, became a freshman at the University of Kentucky last year. Back home in Leitchfield, Kelli was experiencing a mom's separation pangs. In response, the Grayson County woman, 45, went on the Internet looking for reasons to visit Lexington.
On the website of the Lexington Center — the organization that runs Rupp Arena, The Lexington Opera House and the Lexington convention center — White found a possible solution. To promote what were then new websites for each venue, the Lexington Center was offering a contest in which you could win two free tickets to every single public event in Rupp, the Opera House and the convention center for one calendar year.
Kelli entered. "I felt kind of silly," she said last week. "I mean, you never win a contest."
Well, until you do.
After the names of some 980 "Find Your Seat" entrants were placed into a computer data base, the Lexington Center employed a random generator to select a winner. Kelli, a receptionist for the Grayson County Head Start program, got a call telling her she was that winner.
From April 1, 2013, through April 1, 2014, Kelli and her family — husband Charlie, a Leitchfield building contractor; daughters Cassidy, now a UK sophomore, and Mallory, a senior at Grayson County High; and son Jack, 12 — have had a second home in Rupp Arena.
Last April, Cassidy and Mallory took in the Taylor Swift concert. In varying combinations, members of the White family have seen country star Blake Shelton in concert; the Harlem Globetrotters; the Ringling Brothers Circus; and the Nuclear Cowboyz, a show that is people performing aerobatics on motorcycles.
"My 12-year-old son loved the Nuclear Cowboyz," Kelli said. "My 50-year-old husband thought it was pretty cool, too."
The UK basketball tickets Kelli won are lower arena, albeit in the end zone (Section 42). Kelli reports that having two free tickets to every Wildcats home game rocks — right up until the game comes where more than two members of your family are desperate to attend.
For the Whites, that day came last Dec. 28 when the Louisville Cardinals visited Rupp Arena. "I had two tickets and three family members who really wanted to go," Kelli said. "I told my family, 'You all better be nice to me.'"
Fortunately, Cassidy got seats for the game through the UK student lottery. So Charlie White and son, Jack, got to use the two free tickets to see Kentucky-Louisville.
A "UK family," the Whites are not quite sure how it happened but 12-year-old Jack has somehow become a Louisville Cardinals backer. "He wore his red to Rupp Arena," Kelli said. "I told him I was afraid I'd see on TV the UK people chasing a little boy in U of L stuff across the (arena) floor."
If the White family had used the free tickets to every event for which they were available, they could have seen some 151 different performances, according to Sheila Kenny, Marketing Director for the Lexington Center.
Had tickets to all 151 events been used, the monetary value of Kelli's prize would be between $7,500 and $10,000, Kenny said. (While the tickets to the events have been free, the Whites do have to pay taxes on the tickets, but only the ones they actually use, Kenny added.)
Kelli figures her family has attended "gosh, I don't know, 20-plus, maybe 25 different events" in Lexington.
According to Google maps, it is 117 miles one-way from the Whites' home address in Leitchfield (just west of Elizabethtown) to Rupp Arena. Charlie White says the family has put more than 4,000 miles on its vehicles traveling to Lexington in the past year.
With only a month left of free tickets, Kelli White is fired up to see 1980s-era rock star Pat Benatar play at The Lexington Opera House on April 1 as her free-ticket finale. "That's a perfect way for this to end," said Kelli. "Pat Benatar is from my time."
At this time, Kenny says the Lexington Center has no plans to do another "Find Your Seat" ticket give-away in the future. "But you never say never," Kenny said.
Actually, Kelli says the best part for her of "free tickets in Rupp Arena for a year" has not been lower-arena seats to see the Cats for a whole season.
"I think about my children, someday, sitting around and saying 'You remember that year when Mom won all those tickets?'" Kelli said. "It's been great."