Camping fans officially begin the wait for Big Blue Madness tickets

Bailey Vandiver

Imagine the chaos of a cross country race when the gun goes off.

But picture tents in the runners’ hands, and replace the gunshot with the sound of Executive Associate UK Athletics Director Kevin Saal’s voice. And instead of running for a finish line, these people are sprinting for tickets.

That is what happened at 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning, when the Big Blue Madness campout officially began.

But back up to half an hour earlier, when the hopeful fans were still lined up across the street from Memorial Coliseum and what would soon become what some have nicknamed Tent City.

“Good morning, Big Blue Nation,” Saal said over the PA system, though sunrise was still three hours away.

Saal explained how the morning would unfold, to make things as safe and fun for fans as possible. Dozens of police officers stood in the street on Avenue of Champions. As 5 o’clock approached, the fans were allowed to inch closer and closer.

At 4:59 a.m., they had their feet on the curb in front of Memorial Coliseum. Saal began a countdown with one minute to go.

When he said one —or maybe a split second before— the hundreds of fans rushed to the designated tent areas. Some jumped over a concrete barrier to get the spot they wanted; others tried to fit into prime spots, and not all were successful.

If putting up tents ever becomes an Olympic event, Team USA should recruit from Big Blue Madness campers. Within minutes, the lawn in front of the arena was filled with tents, and the line of tents wrapped around the building as well.

As several police officers oversaw the tent construction, they commented that this year went more smoothly than past years because of good weather and what they thought was a smaller crowd than previous years’ crowds.

Several campers greeted the officers, as if they had become old friends at past campouts.

One officer speculated that many of the people at the front of the line were ticket scalpers.

But a camouflage-patterned tent had the coveted spot next to the number one spray painted on the ground. It was put there by Anthony Eakles Sr. and Anthony Eakles Jr.

To get that spot, they arrived last Friday morning, they said. They came from their hometown Bowling Green, where the younger Eakles attends Western Kentucky University.

Though they also plan to get tickets, they did not run only for themselves.

Last year, the pair met Irving “Pig” Brown, who had been trampled the last five years while trying to camp out for tickets. They met and helped him last year, and have stayed in contact with him since then, the 19-year-old Eakles said.

“So this (spot) is for him,” Eakles Sr. said. Their tent is right behind the tent they set up for Brown.

Brown approached the pair and shook each of their hands.

“Thank you, man,” he said with emotion clear in his voice. “I really do, I really appreciate it.”

Because of the spot that the Eakles secured for him, Brown will attend Big Blue Madness for the seventh time.

The Eakles also ran for a cancer patient, the father said.

The elder Eakles, who will turn 45 this Saturday after a week of camping, has been to 31 straight Big Blue Madness events. His son has been to about 10.

His favorite Big Blue Madness was last year’s, the father said, because he got to see Brown get really good spots.

The campers will receive a control card on Friday at 2 p.m., then the tickets will be distributed at 10 p.m. the same day. Between now and then, UK Athletics will have several events, some involving the basketball players, for the campers.