Skip to content

At 99, UK fan hopes for card from Cal

There have been many famous University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball fans over the years. Ashley Judd, Drake, and Josh Hutcherson have all at one time exhibited characteristics that would classify them as “superfans”. Webster’s Dictionary defines a superfan as “an extremely enthusiastic or dedicated fan. Unfortunately over the years, not all of these more famous fans have continued to meet the definition. As the UK Wildcats struggled, it appears so did their loyalty. Being a superfan is great, but being a true blue fan is more challenging-it means being a fan in good times and bad. Although not famous to anyone other than her friends and family, Nell Ward meets that definition of a true- blue fan.
Nell, who turned 99 this past month has been cheering on the wildcats for decades. A former Middletown, Ohio high school cheerleader who moved with her husband Hugh to Kentucky decades ago, credits her time as a cheerleader and love of the game for fueling her dedication and passion to UK basketball over the years. “She’s really more of a coach.” Nell’s daughter, Jenny Chapman chuckles. When if she thinks Coach Calipari is doing a good job, Nell answers enthusiastically, “Yeah, I do..I do!” “He has proven himself”. Around 2003 Nell started keeping a meticulous record of statistics of each game, writing them down in a small collection of notebooks. When asked about why she started keeping these records, she proclaims, “So I don’t forget them”. Although she can no longer see to keep stats, her daughters, Jenny(Chapman) and Patty Hatfield take turns watching the games with her and helping her continue her record keeping. Nell has seen the cats play at Rupp Arena one time. She said she prefers watching them on television to watching them in person. Nell has even written songs about the Wildcats. Patty remembers when Kentucky was facing Texas, Nell wrote a song entitled, “The Yellow Road to Texas” (sung to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas).
Nell, who has her own team of five children, recalls going to visit two of them(Mario Harrell and Danny Ward) who live in Kansas the same time that UK was traveling to Kansas to take on the Jayhawks. The team’s flight had been delayed and they ended up on the same plane as Nell. She was able to meet and talk with several of the players as they traveled to Kansas together. Jenny clarifies that when Kentucky takes on Kansas, Mario and Danny root for Kentucky every time.
Nell’s daughters along with friends, Vivie Wills and Linda Loy from the Russell Springs First Baptist Church(where Nell is the oldest living member) are on a mission. They are hoping to convince Coach Calipari to send Nell a signed birthday card. The group hopes that by sharing Nell’s story, Coach Calipari will honor her loyalty by fulfilling their wish. Dedicated fans like Nell are few and far between. No doubt we can all learn from Nell’s dedication and loyalty. She has stuck with her cats through the good times and the rough times. It would be fitting to use the phrase “once a Wildcat always a Wildcat”.

Leave a Comment