UK Athletics announces partnership with Keeneland, Maker’s Mark

Second floor of new CATS facility. Photo courtesy of UK Athletics.

By Kevin Erpenbeck

[email protected]

UK Athletics announced a new partnership with Keeneland and Maker’s Mark on Tuesday in plans of funding for an expansion to the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services.

As part of the expansion, a new tutorial facility will be included in the planned football training center being built on the south side of campus, adjacent to Commonwealth Stadium. The current CATS center is housed in Memorial Coliseum.

UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the program pairing up with the two Kentucky companies is another step in helping student-athletes finish their education with a degree.

“Serving our student-athletes, as well as positioning them for success after they leave UK, remains our primary goal,” Barnhart said. “This unique relationship between three great Kentucky traditions will allow us to take those steps and help put an emphasis on our CATS center.”

The partnership was formed in hopes of raising $2 million over the next five years through the proceeds of sales of commemorative Maker’s Mark bourbon bottles. Keeneland and Maker’s Mark have teamed up in the past to release special bottles that feature iconic UK figures on them. The first line of new bourbon bottles will be released in April, featuring legendary UK basketball coach Adolph Rupp.

A corporate challenge by Keeneland aims to raise an additional $2 million for the new CATS center.

The company’s president and CEO, Bill Thomason, announced that Keeneland will be the first of 20 companies to contribute to the new facility in the span of five years. Keeneland is pledging $100,000 as part of its donation.

“One of the parts of this campus that is so important to us is the connection to the student body,” Thomason, a UK double graduate himself, said. “We wanted to find a way to be impactful for our student body, as we’ve done numerous times in the past. This was a great opportunity for us to do that, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Herky Rupp, son of Adolph Rupp, was in attendance of the announcement press conference and said that academics for student-athletes was always a primary focus of his father’s coaching career. UK will honor the Rupp family as the first part of the program’s new partnership.

“He monitored the athletes, checking on their grades all the time,” Herky Rupp said of his father. “This is a fine program Mitch and them have set up, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Barnhart said the new facility will relieve the pressure off the current CATS center by providing a closer spot for after-school academics for the student-athletes who spend most of their day on South Campus. The tutorial center will host football, baseball, softball, soccer, track, swimming and tennis athletes. Basketball, volleyball, rifle, and possibly gymnastics athletes will remain in the Memorial Coliseum facility.

Exact details, dimensions and completion date of the new CATS center have not yet been finalized. The new football training facility is set to be finished in the summer of 2016.