Sierra Club sponsoring UK-Arkansas game

By Kayla Phelps

A national environmental club hopes to spread its message throughout Big Blue Nation, starting right at its heart — UK basketball.

The Sierra Club will sponsor the Jan. 17 men’s basketball game against Arkansas. This is the first time the club has sponsored an athletic event, said Kim Teplitzky, its spokeswoman.

The organization advocates the use of clean energy sources, and its goal is to “safeguard air and water to make sure people don’t get sick from the energy sources we are using,” Teplitzky said.

Friends of Coal, an organization that aims to inform Kentuckians about the coal industry, also sponsored both 2011 UK-University of Louisville football and men’s basketball games. The group is funded by the Kentucky Coal Association.

The Sierra Club will also sponsor Thursday’s basketball game between Indiana University and the University of Minnesota.

The club’s national Beyond Coal campaign has been an ongoing effort to switch to clean energy, she said, and it prompted UK students to suggest the $17,500 sponsorship.

Teplitzky hopes the sponsorship will generate a discussion on campus and throughout the state.

“The purpose is to connect with Wildcats fans,” she said, “and show it’s about making UK the best it can be.”

Patrick Johnson, a natural resources and environmental sciences senior and the co-coordinator of the UK Greenthumb Environment Club, said he approached the Sierra Student Coalition about the sponsorship to “diversify what is being said

across the state in terms of energy policy.”

“We want to help educate the state and reach out to people who are willing to listen,” he said, “and help formulate an opinion based on factual information.”

Twenty campuses throughout the U.S. have announced they are in the process of shutting down coal-fired power plants, Johnson said.

“We are so tied to coal that we are afraid to say anything against it,” said Alice Howell, chair of the Cumberland Sierra Club chapter. “The reality is that power plants put a lot of toxins into the air.”

As an avid UK fan, Johnson hopes the athletic sponsorship can bring awareness to many throughout the state.

“I was raised in a household that bled blue,” he said. “I recognized how great it is at bringing people together.”

The sponsorship includes giveaways, game-day advertising and a 30-second radio spot, said Lauren McGrath, a Kentucky Sierra Club representative.

McGrath said the sponsorship is a way of “connecting the dot” between athletics and the use of clean energy resources in the state.

“We want UK to lead on the clean energy front,” she said.

Johnson said raising awareness about the coal industry is a step toward a cleaner future.

“By educating people, they will understand, for the sake of our grandchildren and other generations, that we have to make changes now,” Johnson said.