Heart of Big Blue Nation

Heart of Big Blue Nation

Hey Everyone, I want to announce the launch of a brand spanking new project that’s soon to take flight. It’s a creative idea that’s been bouncing around in my brother Michael’s head for the past couple of years. You’ve probably heard of Michael. He’s the photographer for Kentucky Sports Radio and goes by the moniker Dr. Mike. According to his wife Michelle, Michael’s the greatest photographer who’s ever lived. He’s no Ansel Adams in my book, but I’ll have to admit he’s pretty good at what he does.

You see, Michael, Michelle, and I have all been long-term, die-hard Kentucky fans ever since we can remember. We all still have nightmares about the Laettner shot, we all think Coach Cal should have won at least two more championships, and we all agree that following UK sports may be the highlight of our very lives.Huangs

In other words, we’re no different than most of you. The one major distinction is that despite having had full-time medical and dental careers, the Huang brothers somehow lucked their way onto press row as bona fide UK media members.

Here’s the plan for the aforementioned project. As fans, Michael, Michelle, and I know the pride and joy of being a part of the greatest fan base in all of sports. Sure, we’re as passionate as anyone else about winning ballgames, but deep down inside, we’ve always sensed that citizenship within the BBN is about much more than that. There’s a special bond that Wildcat fans have to their program and a connection to one another that you just can’t find anywhere else. We’ve observed that first-hand as objective media members. Our goal now is to try and find out exactly why that is.

Since this project is about you—the Kentucky True Blue fan—we need your help. Over the next few months, the three of us will be compiling a series of photos and stories about your love affair with the BBN. Michael will have his camera, I’ll have my pen, and together with Michelle, we’ll be seeking out the most passionate, the most poignant, and the most powerful stories you have to tell.

Your narrative can include something as simple as your first memories as a Wildcat fan, or the reason you act so crazy after a loss, or how you got tongue-tied meeting that famous UK player. All we ask is that it be interesting, entertaining, and emotion-evoking. The more unique, the funnier, the more thought-provoking, the more tear-jerking—the better.

Our hope is that the end result will be something akin to https://www.humansofnewyork.com, but obviously with a decidedly Kentucky flavor. In other words, we want to capture your Big Blue Hearts.

So, when you see us at the different venues in the upcoming weeks, flag us down. Tell us your story in your own words and pose for that picture that’ll ultimately make you famous. If you make the cut, we’ll put you on our website https://heartofbbn.com/. If your story’s really compelling, you’ll make it into the book.

Either way, we’ll be sharing your love, your fandom, and your heart for BBN with the rest of the world. It’s a venture that’s long overdue. Now, Go Big Blue!

If you want to be a part of this project, contact Heartofbbn@gmail.com. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs for updates.

Fair Pay To Play Is Foul Play

Fair Pay To Play Is Foul Play

Coach John Calipari loves to talk. During his press conferences, he’s likely to babble on endlessly about who knows what. Most of the time, if you ask him a specific question, his answer will have nothing to do with what you originally asked. When Cal gets on one of his infamous rants—whether it’s about his former players in the NBA, or his quest to end generational poverty, or his current players pooping ice cream—I usually end up tuning him out.

However, Coach Cal said something the other day that may have slipped under the radar. Ironically, it had to do with the hot topic of the day—that dad gum California Fair Pay to Play law that will allow student-athletes to profit from their own likeness while still enrolled in school. Although he said he hadn’t had a chance to digest the specifics, it sounded like our hall of fame coach was speaking out against the new California Senate Bill 206.

“My biggest concern is that we minimize and diminish education,” Calipari conceded when pressed on his opinion of the new law. “The reality of it is, the players that have that opportunity to go (to the NBA straight from high school), it’s one percent. So we’re going to do everything to make this about all the other stuff and diminish education.”

I couldn’t agree more. Since when has the value of an athletic scholarship been so trivialized?

Growing up as a child of immigrants pursuing the American dream, I was told often by my parents that a good education was the key to future opportunity. I heeded their sage advice, studied hard, and pursued as many degrees as I possibly could. I ended up doing pretty well for myself—but it was my parents who paid the price of my in-state tuition with their hard-earned dollars.

If you would have told my mom and dad that I could have had a top-notch college education, complete with, room, board, books, a stipend, 24-hour food service, free shoes, nutritional counseling, fitness training, academic tutoring, state-of-the-art health care, and high-level coaching—all while traveling around the country on charter flights and plush hotels to play ball—they would have thought they’d hit the lottery. In a way they would have, as a four-year scholarship and all the associated amenities nowadays can escalate well over a quarter of a million dollars.

Since when is that not enough? Why do we feel the need to constantly stoke the fires of free enterprise, capitalism, and greed—at the expense of a bona fide college education?

Not only is the suggestion of allowing student-athletes on scholarship to start monetizing their name, image and likeness (NIL) an insult to the value of an educational scholarship, it also opens up a Pandora’s Box that I don’t want to deal with as an alumni and fan.

I’ll go on and say it—I don’t want anyone on a full athletic scholarship being distracted by the lure of earning a wheelbarrow full of cash on the side. I don’t want that used car dealer on Richmond Road funneling $50K a year into Khalil Whitney’s pockets, when that money could have been used to provide air conditioning for Memorial Coliseum. I don’t want that snarky orthodontist down the street capitalizing on Tyrese Maxey’s infectious smile at the expense of a facelift for the Hillary Boone Tennis Complex. I don’t want Lynn Bowden signing autographs at the local sports bar during bye week when he should be preparing to take snaps at quarterback.

Numbers don’t lie. Anything going into the players’ pockets will ultimately come out of the university’s coffers. If you’re a high-end donor, why contribute to the university when you can pay the player directly? Less money for the university means less funding for facilities upgrades and lower budgets for the lesser sports programs.

If that’s not detrimental enough, think about the potential internal strife within a program itself. What would happen if the shady orthodontist referenced above wanted to pay freshman Tyrese Maxey $100K for his intoxicating smile while allocating a measly $10K for Nick Richards’ gap-toothed grin. Might have a bit of an effect on team chemistry—wouldn’t you say?

These student-athletes are busy enough hitting the books and the practice courts. They don’t need to be out there in the wild west filming commercials or posing for billboards at the mercy of unscrupulous boosters. What would happen, God forbid, if they ended up being a bust and having to transfer out? My point is this—if these student-athletes are already riding comfortably on their university’s scholarship gravy train, then let them wait until they graduate before selling off their body parts.

I agree with Coach Cal. Let the five or six players who are good enough each year go directly to the NBA. For the other 99% graciously benefitting from their scholarships—let’s not let ignorant self-serving politicians throw the baby out with the bath water.

Or better yet—let’s just take Coach Cal’s car dealership endorsements and split them evenly within the team. That way, everybody wins!

If you enjoy my writing, please check out my musings on University of Kentucky sports on my new website at www.justthecats.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

A Good Man Down

A Good Man Down

For most of us, involvement in sports is a pleasant distraction. Cheering on our favorite teams and rooting for our heroes cushions the slings and arrows of everyday life. Who doesn’t look forward to Saturdays in the fall—those sacred times of respite from that dead-end job or nagging spouse?

Occasionally, however, the pain and hardship of the real and sporting worlds collide. When athletes suffer debilitating injuries, it suddenly dawns on us how real and vulnerable they are. They battle with many of the same emotions and worries that we deal with. The big difference is that they’ve potentially lost their livelihood, and their battles are frequently fought on the public stage.

It seems like every year, the UK Football team has had to deal with a debilitating preseason injury. This year, it was safety DaVonte Robinson with a quad injury. Last year, it was offensive lineman Landon Young with a torn ACL.

“If you play this sport, it’s going to happen to you at some point or another if you play long enough,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “So it’s very hard because those guys put a lot of work in. They put a lot of work in for a lot of years for only so many opportunities.”

Debilitating injuries are bad enough, but it’s the ravaging illnesses that really get my goat—that make me question my worldview of life as defined by my Christian faith. You look at the cancers that coach John Schlarman and linebacker Josh Paschal are dealing with—and you just can’t help asking “WHY?”

Now we have the situation with UK golfer Cullan Brown. Just two short months ago, Cullan was on top of the world. As a newly minted freshman on the Wildcat Golf team, he made the cut in his first professional tournament at the Barbasol Championship. His engaging personality and infectious grin were contagious. He made everybody around him feel good. His interviews were already becoming legendary. He had game too. I couldn’t wait to cover the exploits of this burgeoning superstar from Eddyville.

All that changed this week when we heard the scary diagnosis. Cullen has osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that can be deadly. It was discovered in his left leg, but apparently was found early enough that his doctors feel it is “fully treatable and beatable.” That’s certainly good news–but with cancer, you just never know.

If anyone can beat this thing, it’ll be Cullan. But he can’t do it alone. He and his family covet your prayers. They also welcome your donations to help with medical expenses at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/birdies-for-brownie?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

What do you say to someone like Cullan or Josh who’s facing such immense challenges entering the prime of their life?

“We support them, that’s for sure,” said Coach Stoops. “We support them and encourage them and go sit with them and talk with them, but there’s not, I don’t think there’s anything, any one thing you could say to somebody to make them feel a lot better.”

Hey Cullan, keep the faith—and know that all of BBN continues to cheer you on.

If you enjoy my writing, check out my columns on a brand new website called Justthecats.com or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

There’s Something About Macy

There’s Something About Macy

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Last week, former UK basketball All-American Kyle Macy caused quite a stir. The star point guard for the 1978 NCAA national title squad appeared on an Indiana radio show and proclaimed how he now feels “unwelcome” at Wildcat practices. Macy subsequently stepped his comments back a bit by saying he should have used the word “uncomfortable” rather than “unwelcome.” Regardless—the inference was made that Coach John Calipari’s current regime is somehow putting old-timers like Macy out to pasture in lieu of the recent one and done prodigies of his own creation.

OUCH! Nothing hurts the BBN more than a Cat-on-Cat war of words between hoops icons. To make matters worse, many loyal fans subsequently took sides in the festering battle, with the vocal majority appearing to favor Coach Cal. “Macy had a good run,” they said, “But through the passage of time, people gravitate to the stars of today. That’s just the way the world works nowadays. You’re ancient history. Get over it Kyle!”

The last thing Kyle Macy would want is for a goober like me to make a mountain out of a molehill. But as a lifelong worshipper of the Kentucky Basketball program, I just can’t help myself. Our honor has been insulted.

I don’t agree with the notion that the glory of former star UK players fades with time. In fact, I believe it’s just the opposite. Kyle Macy is a Kentucky basketball legend—and a legitimate legend’s legacy continues to grow rather than shrink as the years go by. I can say that’s true for every one of the all-time greats such as Dan Issel, Jack Givens, Kenny Walker, Jamal Mashburn, etc. Heck, in my humble opinion, even the not-so-all-time greats deserve reverent awe and respect—solely because they wore the hallowed blue and white. I’ll put both Chuck Aleksinas and Chuck Verderber on my big blue pedestal any day of the week. If Chuck Hayes walks through that door right now, I’ll kneel down and wash his feet.

You want more legends? How about Bowie and Turpin, Hurt and Hord, Minniefield and Beal? Has anyone  forgotten The Unforgettables, Pitino’s Bombinos, or that 1996 juggernaut? I doubt it. They’re all fresh in our minds and more reverent with each passing decade. I don’t want to come across sounding like an old man, but fans just seemed more connected to the players and the teams back in the day.

Back in the day in 1969, every ten-year-old boy growing up in Kentucky–myself included—wanted to either be an astronaut or a UK basketball star. We all dreamed of shooting for the moon or shooting jumpers from the corner ala Larry Steele. There was no doubt in our minds that Issel, Pratt, and Casey would surely lead us to another coveted championship. We memorized everyone’s stats, painted their jersey numbers on our T-shirts, and patterned our ball-handling skills after theirs. I even tried to shoot left handed simply because Tom Parker was left handed. How many games did we play on our nerf goals, pounding Ray Mears’ hated Volunteers into an imaginary virtual submission?

As great as that time was, it wasn’t until Kyle Macy appeared on campus that Kentucky would win their first National Championship in my lifetime. Who can ever forget his floor leadership, his free-throw accuracy, his perfect hair, or his dry socks as the Cats defeated Duke for the monumental win. The Goose was definitely golden in St. Louis that night as Macy and crew capped off their “season without celebration,” sending all of BBN and the city of Lexington into a delirious fit of revelry.

Kyle Macy unwelcome? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t discount the popularity of recent Wildcat stars who have gone on to the NBA. In the pantheon of UK greats, Anthony Davis could arguably have been the most impactful player ever. But if Kyle Macy isn’t welcome or comfortable anymore basking in the glow of the Kentucky Basketball program, then something stinks to high heaven. If one of the greatest stars in the greatest program with “the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball” isn’t welcomed with the sound of blaring trumpets or resounding cymbals anywhere he goes, then our claim of being the greatest fan base in America has been greatly overemphasized.

Yes—there’s something very special about Macy. And you better never forget what it is!     

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

 

Cancer Sucks, and I’m a Wuss

Cancer Sucks, and I’m a Wuss

In the annals of American history, December 7th is a date that will live in infamy. It’s also the date that I found out I had prostate cancer. On that fateful Pearl Harbor Day from last year, I discovered something else about myself. I’M A WUSS. I don’t take bad news well.

Everyone has a bit of a hypochondriac in them. You always kind of wonder how you’ll react when receiving the dreaded CANCER diagnosis. Will you stand firm in your faith, calling on years of spiritual steadfastness to fight the good fight? Or will you cower in fear, dread, and self-pity, lamenting the misfortune of being struck down in your prime?

I’m embarrassed to admit—I didn’t handle the situation well. I tried to put on a brave face on the outside, but inwardly I was scared. I sulked. I worried. I’ll confess that my mind went to some dark places. In other words, I wilted like a weak-willed wallflower—like a wimp…a weakling…a wuss.

The reality is that, other than skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men. One man in nine will be diagnosed with it in his lifetime. It’s the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Statistically, about one man in forty-one will die of the disease. It’s a serious illness, but it’s also highly treatable.

My cancer was discovered early with a routine PSA (prostate-specific antigen) blood test. Even though my levels were still within the normal range, they had gradually risen over the past couple of years. The doctor recommended a biopsy, which led to the eventual surprising diagnosis. Previously, I had no adverse urinary symptoms. I was in great physical shape and had always taken good care of my body. I could still run an eight-minute mile. This couldn’t be happening to me, I thought.

Well, think again. Through my supportive family, praying friends, and Dr. Charles Ray at Commonwealth Urology, I somehow waded through the funk. Rather than undergo radiation or selective seeding, I decided to have my entire prostate removed, knowing full well that those embarrassing incontinence and erectile dysfunction issues could likely follow. Appropriately, I ended up having robotic surgery on Valentine’s Day at Baptist Health Hospital, spent a miserable week with a dangling catheter, and the next six weeks mired in recovery.

Fortunately for me, the incontinence issues have cleared up quickly. I’m peeing like a horse—with no runs or drips. I’ve got a whole bag of unused Depends if anyone needs them. The ED issues are more of a challenge. Let’s just say I’m glad this didn’t happen twenty years earlier. The doctor is confident I’ll regain my edge. I’m a bit more skeptical, although thoroughly amazed that the vacuum penis pump has thus far delivered as promised.

Just when I was nearly back to fighting strength, however, life throws me another haymaker. A nodule on my thyroid was found to be “suspicious” upon biopsy. A new-fangled molecular test indicated probable malignancy. WHAT? Two cancers in six months? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!

You’d think with practice, I would have responded more favorably this time around—with more resilience and fortitude. I’d survived my cancerous prostate. Surely I could do the same with my thyroid.

WRONG! The same doubts and fears and tears of pain came crashing down again—I was a basket case. The wuss in me had returned with a vengeance.

Once again, there was speculation and worry—some pretty dark nights of the soul fearing the worst. Prayer warriors were summoned again, and on July 11th, I went back under the knife at Good Samaritan Hospital under the capable hands of Dr. David Sloan to have the right lobe of my thyroid surgically cut out.

Surgery is never fun, but at least this time, there was no catheter involved—and for the first time in my lifetime, my annual insurance deductible had actually been met. THAT was intensely satisfying, but the ensuing days waiting for the pathology report were interminable. When Dr. Sloan finally gave me the good news the other day—that the tumor was BENIGN—relief washed over me. Actually, it was more like waves of ecstasy. I had bucked the odds. It was the proverbial new lease on life—like the Laettner shot or the Wisconsin loss mercifully wiped from the memory banks forever.

Despite my good fortune, tough challenges still lie ahead. I’ll have to monitor my thyroid levels for the rest of my life—just like I’ll have to continually check my PSA levels for any prostate cancer recurrence. Those relentless cancer cells are always lurking, looking to crash your party when you least expect it. Cancer sucks. Awaiting those test results sucks almost as much.

The real question is this, though. What have I learned from all of this?

Most of all, I’ve learned compassion—compassion for the multitudes of cancer patients and their families. The mental anguish of dealing with these diseases is nearly as devastating as the physical challenges. Those who are suffering covet our encouragement, support, and prayers. You CAN get through this.

The other thing I learned is that life just seems so random. There’s suffering all around us. Good people we care about get sick and die. Disasters happen. On the surface, life just seems so blatantly unfair.

But when I dig deeper, I’ve discovered that life can also be intensely meaningful—designed to be lived to the fullest, and endlessly savored. I’m not sure why it took me this long to discover this basic truth. It seems so simple and straightforward. But if two back-to-back health scares within a six-month period is what it took to get my attention, then I’m eternally grateful that I went through the trials.

Finally—Guys, get your PSA levels checked on an annual basis. Monitor your thyroid periodically. Take care of your bodies. Find good doctors and listen to their advice. Remember that not all fancy schmancy medical tests are a hundred percent accurate. Pray. Love life. Love one another. And above all, keep the faith. Miracles do happen—even to wusses like me.

Dr. John Huang is a retired orthodontist. He currently serves as a columnist for Nolan Group Media and Sports View America. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

 

A Little Extra Motivation

A Little Extra Motivation

By DR. JOHN HUANG, Nolan Group Media

(LEXINGTON, KY.) – As a die-hard Kentucky fan, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that most of my basketball memories are negative ones. In fact, I daresay that the most indelible ones often involve the year-end heartbreaking defeats. Dating back to the Mideast Regional loss to Jacksonville in 1970, I can tell you exactly where I was every single year that the Wildcats’ season came to an abrupt end. The Laettner shot, Bogans’ sprained ankle, and the Wisconsin shot clock violations all coalescing into a nightmarish potpourri of anger, depression, and grief.

Despite reports to the contrary, it seems that Kentucky fans often do care more about wins and losses than the players themselves. Especially in this decade of one and done, our beloved on-court prodigies quickly move past disappointment. Not long after the final buzzer, they’re basking in the glow of massive NBA contracts and lavish lifestyles while the “average Joe fan” wallows in the pain and agony of yet another tournament loss. If only the players would stick around long enough to experience the heartache, to feel our pain—then surely they’d be extra motivated the next time around.

During the most recent media opportunity, I asked each of the four returning UK players about just that topic. To a man, they said the Auburn loss at the end of the season still grates at their collective core. It serves as a constant reminder and motivational force to propel them to greater heights. Whether that means another Final Four or a Championship trophy remains to be seen. But for a guy bent on spending the first weekend in April at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in Atlanta this upcoming Spring, their words were sweet melodies to my expectant ears and a much-needed salve for my wounded soul.

Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley figures to garner significant minutes in the backcourt this year. He certainly hasn’t forgotten about that fateful day in Kansas City. “I probably think about it almost every day,” he confessed. “Just knowing that we were that close to getting to a Final Four. You watch it on TV, but to play in the Final Four would have been really cool. It kind of hurts that we didn’t get to do that.”

Backcourt mate Ashton Hagans agreed wholeheartedly. The Wildcats’ sophomore starting point guard appeared cool, confident, and composed—until he was asked about that season-ending defeat. “It’s actually been in the back of my head a lot,” he lamented. “It’s just one of those feelings that will never go away because you were so close. The bond that we created (last year), it was just different. Knowing that we can’t do it with the same group…it hurt. But that just adds fuel to the fire. So you just have to come in, knowing what you could have done last year—just bring it in and just leave it on the court this year.”

Sophomore forward EJ Montgomery was the last of the teammates to pull his name out of the upcoming NBA draft. Temporarily passing on the opportunity to fulfill his dream, he vividly remembers the tearful locker room after the overtime loss to Auburn, and he claims that it’s a definite factor in upping his game this year. “No one wants to go through that, (the disappointment) of times with your team,” he said. “You gotta put in work in the gym. We have some returnees that all felt that, so we’re just going to try our best to get farther.”

OK, who are we kidding? I’m not saying any of these guys returned to school solely to win another national title. Those team-oriented goals and dreams left town with the likes of Kenny Walker and Roger Harden. Granted, times were different back when they played—a bygone era when love for your school trumped even one’s individual career goals. In this day and age of players focused solely on taking their games to the next level, is it even possible that they’d be motivated by defeat?  

Perhaps junior center Nick Richards said it best. After all, he’s suffered through two crushing season-ending upsets—to Kansas State as a freshman and to Auburn as a sophomore. “Those two losses are actually just motivation for me and my game,” he readily admitted. “Just trying to motivate this team. Just to make it to that championship, just to hold up that trophy, just to be on that stage is real motivation for me. I always think about those losses every single day.”

Me too, Nick. With the exception of four years in my lifetime, every Wildcat season has ended in abject disaster. It’s virtually impossible for fans like me to forgive and forget. We’re all hoping that Championship #9 is just around the corner—and that for the returning UK players, a little extra motivation is all that’s needed to get them over the hump.

“That’s the goal for every team—to make it to the Final Four and just win the National Championship,” Nick added.

For all of BBN, we couldn’t agree more.

Dr. John Huang covers University of Kentucky sports for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.  

Derby Sober

Derby Sober

(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) – Truth be told, the Kentucky Derby really isn’t about the horse race. What really captures one’s imagination is the spectacle of the entire Derby Day experience. Oh sure, history will note that Country House won the 145th annual “Run for the Roses” after Maximum Security was disqualified for interference. But the real memories of the first Saturday in May always fall back to the pageantry, the traditions, and the pomp and ceremony taking place in and around the race itself.

“It’s a great moment,” said winning jockey Flavien Prat. “It’s a dream come true…it’s amazing. I mean, there’s no race like the Kentucky Derby. And I was hoping to ride it, ride the Derby, and to win it.”

Few venues in the sporting world dare to rival the iconic twin spires of Churchill Downs. The ivy at Wrigley Field, Notre Dame’s Touchdown Jesus, or the Green Monster at Fenway you say? Those are decent choices, but they usually conjure up images of specific teams or season-long events. You show anyone a picture of those quintessential Churchill steeples, however, and all thoughts zoom directly to the Kentucky Derby. For one specific day out of the year, the entire sporting world focuses on our little corner of the Bluegrass State—our ultimate claim to fame. For you see, it’s not the regal, four-legged, three-year-old thoroughbreds that make for the most exciting two minutes in sports—but rather the bourbon, the burgoo, and the big hats that end up capturing our fanciful imaginations.

I grew up in the Commonwealth, but this is only my second official Kentucky Derby—my first as a credentialed media member. Like your first dog, your first car, or your first wife, it’ll forever be hard to top the sentimentality of that initial experience.

https://huangswhinings.com/2016/04/21/kentucky-fried-derby

But being part of the press corps this time around definitely has its advantages. As a scribe for Sports View America, I’m getting in for free.

According to StubHub, the Derby’s not cheap. A general admission ticket for a spot in the infield usually runs you eighty bucks—an option I wouldn’t recommend, unless you’re someone under thirty with a bon-a-fide death wish. Want to upgrade? A decent seat in the grandstand will likely set you back three to four hundred dollars. If you really want to waste your money, try Millionaires Row—where for a cool six grand, you’ll likely rub elbows with celebrities like Tom Brady, Jennifer Lawrence, or one of the Kardashians.

Speaking of celebrities, the Derby’s really just a glorified fashion show. Both sexes dressed to the nines—or tens for that matter. Seersucker suits, oversized fascinators, and hideous hats grace the walkways. It’s at events like the Derby when you suddenly realize that one man’s fashion is another man’s clown suit. Regardless of perspective, you can dress like a bum if you’re a member of the media. No need to spring for outlandish suspenders or Gucci shoes. Faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and that prized credentialed lanyard hanging around your neck will get you up close and personal to the horseflesh at hand.

Parking, food, and accessible toilets are additional media perks for me this year. Unlike before, I’m not paying thirty bucks for a two-mile hike to the track with porta potty privileges along the way. Instead, I’ve got a reserved spot in the media lot, just a short jaunt to the hallowed front gates. Once inside, I’m treated to quite the spread at the Derby day media buffet. Meats, salads, and desserts all laid out for you to grab and go. No alcohol, though. If you want a sip of that $15 mint julep, you’re on your own. Which begs the question: Can you really enjoy the Kentucky Derby if you’re completely sober? I’m about to find out.

Everyone at this Derby appears just a tad bit tipsy. It’s one big party—and who doesn’t enjoy being the life of the party? Even so, there are two lines of inebriation you simply can’t cross. Don’t get sick, and don’t get naked. Abstaining from liquid courage, I wisely avoided both—leaving the cookie tossing and wardrobe malfunctions to those far less inhibited.

You’d think bad weather would have discouraged some of the crowds today. That wasn’t the case as 150,729 filed in despite the chilly and messy rain. It made for some long and soggy lines at the betting windows—and even longer ones for the food kiosks and bathrooms. Often times, just walking around became a challenge. The pungency of the spilled liquor, grilled meats, body odor, damp air, and ubiquitous cigar smoke became noticeably more unpleasant as the day wore on. Looking around, trash piled up everywhere. The only thing messier was the postrace traffic—horrifically long shuttle waits, Uber lines, and jumbled backups tripling the usual time needed to get home.

Can you enjoy the Derby while sober? If you don’t like crowds, gambling, long lines, drunk people, sick people, loud people, bad traffic, bad weather, bad smells, bad internet, and bad steward rulings, then the answer is a resounding “NO!” But not all events in life are meant to be pleasant. It’s the unique experiences that we so often covet, and many aspects of the Kentucky Derby remain distinguishingly unique. The pre-Derby singing of My Old Kentucky Home is still one of the most sentimental and memorable experiences in all of sports.

When I asked winning trainer Bill Mott what the most memorable aspect of his Kentucky Derby experience was, here’s what he told me. “You know what I enjoy the most is just training the horses. I mean, that’s what I live for—get up in the morning, come out and see the horses…I woke up this morning and said “Oh (bleep), this is here. It’s finally here…When you finally reach a point when the training goes well, it’s actually very memorable. That part of it means the most to me.”

“…walking into that circle at Churchill Downs, it’s a pretty special event,” Mott continued. “Why do it the easy way, you know what I mean?”

Having just covered my first Kentucky Derby and seeing history being made, I know exactly what he means.

Dr. John Huang is lead writer for Sports View America. This column was featured in the Apr/May print edition of Sports View America Publications. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.