By Carl Nathe
Jim Brown attended every University of Ken- tucky home football game for 64 consecutive years until illness halted his tally in 2009.
Bob Wiggins has gone to more than 1,500 UK
men’s basketball games, home and away. Husband and wife Wendell and Vickie Bell rooted at
approximately 100 different competitions involving the school’s Wildcat teams last year alone.
Talk about pride in the academy! These passionate enthusiasts of intercollegiate athletics
give new meaning to the term diehard fan (and
campus supporter). They’re not alone. Institutions of higher learning nationwide count patrons who can’t be beat among ticketholders.
What motivates such boffo buffs?
Brown, 95, took in his first UK football game
as a freshman in 1938. Upon graduating from
Kentucky with a B.S. in business administration
in 1942, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew missions as a navigator/bombardier on a B-25 in
Asia during World War II. His discharge occurred just in time for the 1945 college football
season. He became a mainstay at every Wildcat
home game for seven decades.
“I did not set out to establish any kind of a
streak,” Brown, whose career entailed the con-
struction business, a lumber company and real es-
tate, said in a phone interview from his home in
Lexington, Ky. “It just happened. I have loved UK
football from the time I was a little boy [in Bowling
Green, Ky.] in the 1920s and began reading about
the team in the sports pages of the newspaper.”
He explained his steadfastness matter-of-fact-
ly: “I’ve always had a tendency to be loyal.” In-
deed, Brown was married for 52 years to first
wife, Caroline, until her death in 1999. In 2002,
he wed Mary Anne Goodson Brown. Both also
graduated from UK.
Brown hesitated to pick favorite Kentucky
head coaches. But he cited the vaunted Paul
“Bear” Bryant era, from 1946 to 1953, among
his most cherished gridiron memories. Brown
retains his pigskin zest these days by faithfully
tuning in to broadcasts on TV and radio.
For more than two decades, Wiggins, 85, was
courtside at every UK men’s basketball game —
home, away, and tournament through 2012. The
retired resident engineer for the Commonwealth
of Kentucky didn’t miss a home contest for
49 years, or 743 games, driving an hour or so
from Falmouth, Ky. His 1,500-plus games in
person span more than 60 seasons.
“I treasure getting to know Mr. Wiggins,” former student manager/graduate assistant Brett
Miller, now assistant men’s basketball coach at
Kentucky Wesleyan College, wrote via email.
Their friendship “enabled me to connect the
past to the present and gave me such a clear un-
derstanding of why UK basketball means so
much to people across Kentucky and beyond.”
The two met before the 2009-10 UK season,
Miller recalled, and for three years they spent
hours together, especially on road trips. Wiggins
would recount stories about the iconic Adolph
Rupp and other Wildcat head coaches, plus tales
of the legendary “Mr. Wildcat” Bill Keightley,
team equipment manager for nearly a half cen-
tury before his death in 2008.
Wiggins, in a wheelchair of late, has cut back
to home games for the past two seasons.
“Even though he is not up to traveling on the
planes and buses anymore, he still loves the
team,” his wife, Jeane, observed in a phone interview. “He came to think of the players,
coaches, and staff members as part of his family.
That’s what created such a great bond, endear-
ing him to the program and vice versa.”
The Bells also enjoy going to UK men’s bas-
ketball and football games. They feel most con-
nected, however, to more traditional Olympic
and nonrevenue-generating sports, they said in a
joint interview at the school.
The couple routinely makes the one-hour-
and-15-minute trek from their home in Lakeside
Park, Ky., to campus to encourage the volleyball, rifle, women’s basketball, and women’s soccer teams, among others. The pair occasionally
follows squads on the road, too.
“We initially got involved with UK athletics
in 1997 when the university hired Orlando
(Tubby) Smith as men’s basketball head coach,”
said Wendell Bell, a London, Ky. native who
bled Wildcat blue as a boy, studied computer sci-
ence in college, and is executive chairman of
Enerfab, a manufacturing and construction com-
pany in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Then when Mitch
Barnhart was hired as athletics director in 2002,
we listened to his vision to develop a strong,
broad-based program across all 22 of UK’s var-
sity teams and we got very excited.”
Vickie Bell, a retired schoolteacher who went
to Northern Kentucky University, grew up play-
ing soccer and basketball. The dedication of the
UK student-athletes in Olympic and nonreve-
nue-generating sports impresses, she said, and
compares to counterparts in the more hyped and
better attended men’s basketball and football.
“We also found that these young people [in
the former endeavors] really appreciated seeing
us show up to their games and meets,” added
Vickie Bell, a community advisory member on
the athletics committee of the UK board of
trustees. “It was easy to get to know the players
and coaches. And attending Wildcat athletic
events became a true passion for us.” Thus, in
August the school unveiled a new soccer complex underwritten by and named after the Bells.
They also endorse service-learning trips that student-athletes take to Ethiopia, with Vickie Bell
twice accompanying the UK contingent.
The sidelines contain many extraordinary onlookers at UK — and at all schools. Who
among the particularly devoted comes to mind
Carl Nathe (University of Kentucky
chapter public relations officer) is in his
25th year as a member of the UK public
relations and marketing office. A former
TV and radio sports reporter and anchor,
he received the Al Temple Award from the
Kentucky Broadcasters Association in 2012
for lifetime contributions to the organization. Nathe also serves
as the public address announcer for UK football and baseball
home games. Email him at email@example.com.
Standing Out from
the Campus Crowd
Clockwise from top
left: Jim Brown poses
in Kentucky gear.
A TV reporter from
Lexington, Ky., interviews Bob Wiggins
(right) at the 2012
NCAA Final Four in New
Orleans, where the Wildcats won their eighth national
title in men’s basketball. Wendell and Vickie Bell, who
have formed a close bond with many past and present
Kentucky athletes, are pictured with 2011 players
(from left) Keyla Snowden (basketball), Logan Fox (rifle
team), and Ann Armes (volleyball).