Hundreds greet men’s basketball team at Blue Grass Airport

Fans celebrate during UK’s Elite Eight game in Lexington, Ky., on 3/25/12. Photo by Mike Weaver

By Rachel Aretakis

David McGaughey has been at the airport greeting the basketball team since 1966 when UK lost to Texas Western in the National Championship game.

He stands in the crowd, holding a 6-foot tall “1” sign and waits for the airplane to land.

“I will keep coming back as long as I can,” McGaughey said.

McGaughey is one of the hundreds of fans who greeted the men’s basketball team Sunday night at Blue Grass Airport, when it returned from its win over Baylor in Atlanta.

Crowds of fans — everyone from families, to alumni who were students in the 1960s, to current students — gathered along the gates, chanting UK cheers as they waited for the airplane to land. People started gathering more than an hour before the Cats landed, which was at about 8:06 p.m.

When the plane landed, cheers intensified and people became restless waiting for the players to get off the plane. Head coach John Calipari walked down the stairs first and then quickly got into a van. The players then slowly walked to the fence and met ecstatic fans for about five minutes.

The players took in the moment, taking photos of the crowd and smiling, seeming almost as excited as the fans. Freshman forward Kyle Wiltjer walked down the airplane steps with his tablet in hand, either filming or taking photos of the waiting crowd.

McGaughey said he has been greeting the team at the airport since that first time in ’66, and has been back about 20 to 25 times over the years. The first time McGaughey went to the airport, he said he rode his bike from Blue Grass Airport to Memorial Coliseum and beat the bus there.

He sometimes reaches the sign over the fence for players to sign, and joked about adding a marker on a string. Though signatures are faded, he said Jared Prickett and Nazr Mohammed have signed the poster.

This year he didn’t reach over the fence to get signatures, though the players walked up right to the gate.

But now, he said he doesn’t have a favorite player because “everybody plays their own part.”

“No one player has to do well for Kentucky to win,” McGaughey said.

Jennie Schoultheis, a pre-pharmacy sophomore, was also waiting at the fence for the team. It was her second time at the airport, and she said she comes to show the team support.

She said last year being at the airport was exciting, especially when Josh Harrellson came right up to the fence.

This year, she looked forward to seeing freshman forward Anthony Davis.

“I want to see the brow up close. I see it on TV a lot,” Schoultheis said.

Growing up in Northern Kentucky, she has been a lifelong fan.

“I think we have a really big support system — Big Blue Nation could be its own nation,” she said.

While fans were waiting, two UK Jewels of the Bluegrass Feature Twirlers were there entertaining the crowd.

Tara Dauer, a kinesiology junior, and Jayna Kubuske, a journalism sophomore, danced and performed tricks. The two are part of a new position in the Wildcat Marching band.

Both Dauer and Kubuske said they loved the atmosphere of the crowd, and they said fans seemed to like the performance.

Among other supporters along the fence were Don and David Wilson, brothers, who also held a sign.

“We were here when they lost,” Don Wilson said about this year’s SEC Championship loss to Vanderbilt.

The two said they have been UK fans since they were kids.

“I go all the way to listening to games on the radio,” David Wilson said.

He said he thinks the team will make it to the final game this year.

“This team’s got a destiny,” he said.

Then he spoke about how no other team has a coach like Calipari.

“It’s fulfilling a dream, and we’ve got the right folks to do it,” he said about the team winning.

The two brothers said they will be back to the airport for every game.

David Wilson even has a tattoo on his right calf of the UK logo that he said he got as a birthday present.

“I’m loyal … you can rest assured I’m die-hard.”