[VIDEO] Timeless traditions

Rupp Arena is an energetic, solid blue world where miracles unfold and history is written. In the oceanic sea of bleachers and collapsing chairs sit extraordinary fans whose personal histories highlight an immense, insatiable passion for UK basketball.

Two distinct stories emerge from different areas of the arena, to share their connection with Rupp Arena. In section 18, row Y, you will find a pair of sisters, Mary Mowery and Caltha Mikesell, who have occupied their seats since the debut of Rupp.

In section 21, row Y, Olson and Cathy Parrott don radio headsets and binoculars and have cheered in these seats since the arena opened in 1976.

Although strangers, the duos have Row Y in common, representative of the last letter in Kentucky and symbolic of their participation as an integral component of the distinctive basketball culture.

Blue-blood sisters

Mowery, simply put, is a true fan. Although she and her younger sister, Mikesell, are an inseparable duo in their respective seats at Rupp, but this was not always the case.

When the two sisters bought seat numbers three and four from their father, Mikesell would send her son, who was an “avid fan,” in her place.  When he left for Tufts University in 1992, Mikesell resumed to her seat next to Mowery, which remains unchanged.

“He just lost out,” Mikesell said.

Now, the sisters sit peacefully in their seats with serene grins and blue blurs reflecting in their glasses. Mowery recalls attending games with her father at Memorial Coliseum, before Rupp opened.

“Way back then, you knew it was exciting,” Mowery said. “It’s not like that everywhere.”

Together, however, the two women developed their own traditions and peculiarities.

“We’re fairly superstitious, if we have a particular blue outfit on and we lose, we won’t wear it again,” Mikesell said.

On one occasion, Mowery wore mismatching shoes without knowing it. After the Cats lost, she realized her blunder.

“We were so relieved she didn’t have to wear non-matching shoes the rest of the season,” Mikesell said.

One game day detail, however, remains constant.

“Even though we have those two seats, I always sit in the fourth and she in the third,” Mikesell said. “We never switch.”

Before purchasing the tickets, the pair had to share the seats four ways with their two brothers. For now, nothing will keep them apart.

Hearts painted blue

Not too far away, a couple of a different kind excitedly stand, mesmerized by the spectacle playing before them.

Olson and Cathy Parrott resemble members of Jacque Cousteau’s nautical crew, complete with radio headphones and binoculars affixed to their faces.

Olson Parrott graduated from UK in 1969 and continued his education at the College of Medicine. Cathy Parrott graduated from UK’s College of Nursing.

Together, their story represents love, basketball and the two intertwined. In 1976, Olson Parrott purchased his tickets from a “crooked insurance man” for $500, he said. In 1980, the two had their first date in row Y.

“We got beat … but I didn’t care, I had my girl,” he said.

The two married a year later.

In 1985, the Parrotts moved to Sanford, N.C., for Olson to practice as an OB/GYN. In the couple’s absence, Olson’s brother occupied the empty seats.

“He was the only one who didn’t want me back home,” he said.

The Parrotts returned to their old Kentucky home five years later, and he continued to practice gynecology.

In fact, Olson Parrott delivered the baby of a woman who works the scorer’s table. As a result, “she tells me all of the gossip going on,” he said. As the arena grows older, so do its occupants.

“Through the years, we’ve seen the people sitting around us growing up and having kids,” Olson Parrott said.

Although the world around them evolves with each new season, the Parrott’s passion for basketball endures.

Home court

To stay up to speed with its loyal fans, Rupp Arena has evolved since its beginning. There are tangible improvements, such as the replacement of the orange seats with ones of a more appropriate color, and the development of the legendary eRUPPtion zone.

“I love the eRUPPtion zone, that was a great idea,” Mowery said. “I wish our crowd would be more crazy. We don’t yell as much, I hate to say.”

Other improvements to the basketball program, however, are less concrete. The team is reaching extraordinary heights this year, and as a result, the fans have become more emotionally involved. Before the two sisters bought the tickets from their father, they always chose UK’s Senior Day when dividing the game assignments with their brothers.

“You always get attached to the players, it is such an emotional game,” Mikesell said.

Mikesell has also noticed a particular change this season in sensation among the fans. She has seen how the success of the team lifts the spirits of all those who bear witness.

“It is so much fun again, it seems like everyone has high hopes again,” Mikesell said.

With more wins, comes more excitement, but despite the growth, some things remain unaffected.

The microcosm to which fans and athletes flock year after year exists not only as a tangible place, but it is a memory and a feeling fans carry.

“If they don’t grow up in Kentucky, people have no clue what basketball really is,” Mikesell said.