Mark Story

UK Sports Mailbag: The checkerboard uniform debate and who will be UK’s starting QB?

The ode to Secretariat uniforms were unveiled at Keeneland in October 2008 with Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery in attendance. The checker pattern appeared in the weave of the blues and the whites and was also carried by eight squares on the belt line.
The ode to Secretariat uniforms were unveiled at Keeneland in October 2008 with Secretariat’s owner Penny Chenery in attendance. The checker pattern appeared in the weave of the blues and the whites and was also carried by eight squares on the belt line.

The latest edition of the Kentucky Sports Mailbag starts by wading into the ever-churning “checkerboard controversy” relating to the University of Kentucky’s football and men’s basketball uniforms.

Some background: In having the checkerboard pattern on its unis, UK is paying homage to the Meadow Stable racing silks worn by the great Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat when he swept the 1973 Triple Crown races.

Secretariat racing silks.jpg
The lobby of the University of Kentucky’s Joe Craft Football Training Facility includes this copy of the Meadow Stable racing silks Secretariat wore en route to the 1973 Triple Crown. Mark Story mstory@herald-leader.com

From the time UK and its apparel supplier, Nike, first introduced checkerboard uniforms in 2008, a noisy segment of the Big Blue Nation has never been on board with them for various reasons.

One of those reasons led to this week’s first inquiry:

Question one: “What does paying homage to a Virginia-bred horse have to do with Kentucky tradition?”

— Signed, Kentucky Proud not Virginia Proud

Mark’s reply: Guy Ramsey, the director of strategic communication for UK Athletics, says the university is very much aware that its uniforms are a tribute to a horse, Secretariat, that was not foaled in Kentucky.

“We felt like (Secretariat) made its name in Kentucky, lived most of its life in Kentucky and is an enduring symbol of excellence in an industry associated with Kentucky,” Ramsey said. “Secretariat is an example of a level of excellence we aspire to in all our programs.”

For the record, Secretariat was foaled on March 30, 1970, at The Meadow in Doswell, Va.

After becoming in 1973 the first horse to win the Thoroughbred racing Triple Crown since Citation in 1948, Secretariat was retired to stud in 1974 at Claiborne Farm in Bourbon County.

Secretariat stood at Claiborne until he died on Oct. 4, 1989. So, while not Kentucky-born, Secretariat did spend the vast majority of his life in the Bluegrass State.

Meanwhile, not one to duck a polarizing debate, I like UK’s checkerboard uniforms.

Question two: “The (UK men’s) basketball schedule seems to be awfully late this year. My son in Georgia keeps bugging me about it because he can’t find it anywhere on the Internet. What gives?

— Signed, Anticipation is Making Me Wait

Mark’s reply: Last year, the SEC schools revealed their men’s basketball schedules on Aug. 25. So stay alert.

Question Three: “Who do you think will be the Kentucky starting quarterback against Central Michigan? Do you think the loser in the (QB) battle will transfer?”

— Signed, Curious About the QBs

Mark’s reply: The tea leaves seem to point to Terry Wilson, the redshirt sophomore junior-college transfer, having won the battle with redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak to be UK’s starting QB when the Wildcats open against Central Michigan Sept. 1.

Terry Wilson passing
Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for 2,133 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in his one season of junior college. Wilson, who completed 57.6 percent of his passes, also ran for 518 yards and five scores. Matt Goins

However, Mark Stoops said Tuesday after Kentucky held a practice open to the media that he would not announce a starting QB until Monday of game week at the earliest. 

Stoops indicated he might not announce a starter before the first game at all so Central Michigan would have to prepare to face both a dual-threat (Wilson) and a pocket passer (Hoak).

As for whether a Kentucky quarterback will transfer once a starter is named, I wouldn’t think so. Both Wilson and Hoak have already used redshirt years. If either left for another FBS school, they would almost certainly forfeit a year of eligibility.

Gunnar Hoak passing
Gunnar Hoak threw a pass during a 2018 Kentucky Wildcats football practice. Britney Howard UK Athletics

Besides, starting the season as the backup QB does not mean one ends the season there. The named starter could get hurt or prove ineffective. That could open the door for the backup.

Remember, junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson began 2016 as Kentucky’s No. 2 quarterback. Johnson wound up his Kentucky career as a two-year starter after the back injury that ended Drew Barker’s 2016 season changed the arc of both QBs’ UK careers.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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