Twenty-nine years ago, a group of eight University of Kentucky enthusiasts gathered around a picnic table in Columbus to cheer up an ailing friend, Dean Perkins.
That was the beginning of Ohio’s annual UK Convention.
Jim Porter, a retired Monroe High School teacher, was the driving force behind the event in 1990, and he has remained director of the convention that has moved from Columbus to a Middletown church to its current home, Eastview Baptist Church in Franklin, where Jim and his wife, Mary, attend.
But Porter isn’t the same person he was in 1990. Father Time even catches up with UK fans. One week shy of his 81st birthday, he has had six back procedures and wore a heart monitor for 30 days. So Porter, after much debate, has decided this year’s UK Convention, set for July 20, will be his last as director.
And if no one steps forward to take over, this will be the last convention. That would be a shame for many because Porter calls the convention “Christmas in July.”
The convention lasts seven hours, but it takes months to organize. Porter lines up the special UK speakers and solicits area businesses for door prizes and silent auction items. All this work so about 135 Kentucky fans can gather the third Saturday every July to reminisce about the university’s storied sports history and dissect every football and basketball recruit.
Porter, of course, is the ringleader. The Porters own two cars — one white, one blue, in UK colors — and one room in their home is a shrine to the Wildcats.
He has UK basketball season tickets and makes the two-hour-plus drive from his Franklin house to Rupp Arena about every home game. As he drives over the Ohio River, he rolls down his window, and says, “Kentucky air just smells better.”
Going to a game with Porter, who calls himself “Ohio’s No. 1 UK Fan,” is an experience. You leave five hours before tip, park in the same free lot, eat at the same steak restaurant or in the mall food court, chat with about every usher, listen to the post-game radio show and stop at the same gas station for a snack on the way home.
If nothing else, he’s a creature of habit. And whatever you do, don’t be late. It’s a long walk to Lexington.
A native of Kentucky, Porter said he listened to UK games as a kid on a Crosley radio and read every UK story in the local newspaper. Then during the 1958-59 basketball season, when Porter was a sophomore at Morehead State University, a friend offered him a ticket to see the Wildcats play in Memorial Coliseum.
He remembers that game like it was his first kiss.
“Thought I was in heaven,” he said.
He’s been preaching about the Wildcats ever since. He’s passionate about religion and roundball.
There has been “lots of ups and downs” during the last 29 UK Conventions. Only one time has a speaker not shown up. Guard Sean Woods holds that distinction. The following year, Woods, then a coach at Morehead, was fired.
“Justice,” Porter said.
Another time, an assistant UK football coach used vulgarity while speaking in Porter’s church. He was fired the next season.
“Real justice,” Porter said.
Now the end is near. Thirty years is enough. At the conclusion of this year’s convention, Porter will stand at the front of the church, flanked by his wife, daughter Lisa and a picture of daughter, Julie, who died from cancer. He will thank those in attendance for their support over the years.
He’s hoping to “go out with a bang” and break the attendance record of 147, set Coach John Calipari’s first season at Kentucky.
It would be fitting if the convention ended the same way it started: Bringing happiness to an ailing Wildcat fan.