Tornado damage prevents fans from watching UK game

It isn’t unusual for Kentucky fans to flood the site of the Southeastern Conference tournament. It is unusual, though, for the “Big Blue Mist,” as one pundit dubbed the fan base years ago, to travel to the SEC Tournament and fail to see its team play a single game.

That’s exactly what happened in Atlanta this week, where a tornado hit the downtown area — including the Georgia Dome — just minutes before the scheduled tip-off of UK’s game against Georgia.

Sections of the Georgia Dome were ripped off, and nuts and bolts littered the dome, forcing SEC officials to postpone the game.

It was played the next day at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, but with only about 9,100 seats available, the SEC didn’t allow fans to attend the game.

That made the trip to the Gateway to the South all for naught for most UK fans, and their reactions to the SEC’s ruling differed.

Paula Wooton, a UK fan originally from Middlesboro, Ky., traveled across the country to see the SEC Tournament. Wooton now lives in Burlington, Wash.

Wooton wasn’t pleased with the decision to move the games to Georgia Tech, even if she understood why the SEC did so.

“It’s not a good feeling to spend all the money to come down here and not get to go to the ball game,” said Wooton, who was attending her third SEC Tournament. “I understand that circumstances happen that you can’t control, but you’ve got a lot of fans down here, and none of them got to go.”

The SEC says it is working on a refund process and that more information will be available through its Web site (

The late arrival of the storm gave the SEC little time to make a decision about how to complete the tournament. Around 2 a.m. Saturday, officials learned that the Georgia Dome would not be safe for the remainder of the tournament.

Other options included Phillips Arena, home of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, and the Gwinnett Center, located in neighboring Duluth.

Phillips Arena sits next to the Georgia Dome in the area that was hit hardest by the storm, making it nearly impossible for the thousands of fans, media and tournament officials to get to the arena safely.

Gwinnett Arena, which seats 13,000 people, was ruled out because of its distance from the original tournament site.

Still, Wooton wished the SEC could have found a way to accommodate the fans who did not make into Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Saturday — about 400 to 500 managed to watch the game — where UK lost to Georgia 60-56 in the quarterfinals.

“Some people plan their vacations around this tournament,” Wooton said.

Carl Stoner, a Lawrenceburg, Ky., resident, thought the tournament should have been cancelled when forecasts for Saturday called for more inclement weather.

“I believe they should have cancelled the whole thing,” Stoner said. “Pack it up and go home. Get these guys home.”

Unlike Wooton, who said she would have stayed home had she known she wouldn’t see UK play, Stoner said the change in plans didn’t ruin his first trip to the SEC Tournament for him, his wife or his friends.

“We always have a good time,” Stoner said.

Though UK fans differed on how they thought the SEC should have handled the situation, most agreed on one thing: The one-in-a-million disaster that kept them from seeing UK play this year will not change their plans to come back to the tournament in the future.

“I come from a pretty die-hard UK family,” Wooton said. “It’s hard not to (come back) when you’re a die-hard Kentucky fan.”