I’m a Kentuckian who lives in Kansas. I’m currently watching the University of Kentucky/University of Kansas game, which I do alone, usually (truly out of self-preservation, Jayhawk fans take their militia-rooted name pretty seriously) Tonight, our new puppy is keeping me company, though she could care less about the game.
Living in the land of the second most successful basketball program in the nation as a fan of the first does bring with it a bit of social awkwardness, and because of that, I often over emphasize my fan-ness and invoke our most crass stereotypes (If you haven’t heard me make a “burn a couch after a win” joke, you’re not paying attention).
And yes, while Jayhawk fans, Blue Devil fans, Tar Heel Fans, and several other college team fans do have a tendency to obsess, over-prioritize, and be unrealistically superstitious, there’s a particular type of weirdness that the Big Blue Nation brings to the table. A folklorish type of weirdness. Perhaps it’s appropriate for a state so rich with folklore, folk art, folk music. There are plenty of basketball tall tales to be told, but tonight, I can’t help but think about the tragicomic story of Richie Farmer. He was a high school phenomenon from deep eastern Kentucky–Clay County, who led his team on a legendary run in the state tournament. (I remember a teacher from my junior high tell the class that Clay County’s team was so good because the school was too poor to afford a gym, and the varsity team would practice outside–so they all learned how to shoot against and with the wind, making them the best shooting team in the state. While I doubt it, who knows. Of course, this was also the same teacher who told the following joke: “q: How do you make a hormone? a: don’t pay her.” Of course, this teacher now works as a pastor.) Richie was part of the beloved “Unforgettables” team that played through their NCAA suspension and had a terrific run in the NCAA tournament, stopped only by Christian Laettner’s ridiculously perfect performance (bitterly remembered by many of us.).
Richie made the news again a few years back. He turned to politics and served as Secretary of Agriculture in KY. His tenure was scandal-ridden, and he embarrassed himself while running for Lieutenant Governor by referencing his basketball career constantly, even if it wasn’t relevant.
But hey, I don’t find that weird. Appalachian politics are supposed to be corrupt. Kentucky basketball players are supposed to tell their tall tales for the rest of their lives.
The weird thing I remember about Richie Farmer is that he co-authored a memoir about his life once he completed his career at UK. Now, that in itself is not that weird. Go to a bookstore in any college sport crazy region, and you’ll find a slew of memoirs of coaches and beloved/successful players.
What I remember about Richie’s memoir is that any dialogue attributed to him was highlighted in wildcat blue. Yes, just like how the words attributed to Jesus are highlighted in red in some Bibles.
In Bible-belt Kentucky, I find that a little weird.
But only a little. After all, it’s the state Religion. Why shouldn’t we have our own Basketball Jesus?