By LARRY VAUGHT
She was living in Los Angeles in 1998 pursuing a singing carer when a friend she had known through work at the John W. Clark Oil Company recommended she send a resume to a bar owner in Nome, Alaska. He friend’s husband was a part-time musician and thought the bar might have a job for her.
“I got hired to sing for two weeks during the Iditarod in March of 1998. To this day it's my one and only bar gig, but it opened doors that changed my life. I traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and Alaska for various work opportunities until it became clear I needed to establish residency. I gave up my place in California a couple of years ago to be here full time,” said Keri Scaggs.
That’s how a University of Kentucky fan from Ashland got to Alaska and continues to follow her Cats as faithfully as ever.
She gave up music for a photography business and that led to a seafood company which led to becoming a consultant.
“I realize it sounds odd, but it all unfolded organically. As doors opened, I went through them,” she said. “The one thing I'm highly qualified to do — sing — is the one thing I'm not doing. I'm also a lot less broke.”
The Boyd County High School graduate said moving away from the Bluegrass made her appreciate UK sports even more. She described herself as a “basketball junkie” since grade school. He friends all played basketball or cheered, so she started to keep statistics and the basketball scorebook from fifth grade through graduation (her late sister did the same thing).
“Some games I did double-duty, singing the anthem and official scorekeeping. My fondest memories growing up all revolve around hoops. After moving to LA, I got the chance to sing the anthem for a couple of UK games as well as Marshall University multiple times,” she said.
Her first Rupp anthem came when Billy Donovan brought Marshall to UK. The microphone wouldn't work, so she put down the microphone and just led the crowd in singing.
“What else could I do?” she said.
Kentucky gave her another chance the following season Kyle Macy brought Morehead to Rupp Arena to play.
“But both times were thrills,” Scaggs said. “Standing center court at Rupp Arena is akin to being at the right hand of the Father, isn't it?”
She follows Kentucky Sports Radio and other media outlets to keep informed about her Wildcats. She also has friends — Dr. Dana and Jill Johnson — in Lexington who keep her “in the loop” about UK.
“He's a semi-retired hematologist/oncologist and a doctoral candidate at UK in history. Jill is a retired nurse and teaches pilates. They live off of Cooper Drive — close to (Adolph) Rupp's old house,” Scaggs said. They are boosters (women's basketball and volleyball) and all-around UK nuts. They've had season tickets forever for men's basketball, and now have me hooked on baseball, too.
“The beauty of the connection with them is this ... my sister and I grew up with the husband. She was very close to him and his wife. They have tales of driving all night to Tuscaloosa for a football game when they were broke and at UK, so becoming close to them after she passed has ministered to my heart more than I can even say.
“You just feel that deep connection, which I have passed on to her son, my nephew. My sister (Gina) bled blue as much as anyone I know. My nephew was 4 when she passed, so to be able to take him to games with his mom's best friend is the great joy in my life. Gina really is the true Blue spirit binding it all together. Like Dana, all she needed to finish was her dissertation (in music) for her PhD at UK. Dr. (Everett) McCorvey even did the music for her funeral.”
She also has another UK connection that most Big Blue fans can understand because Kentucky basketball is a family thing.
“My Aunt Susie and Uncle Phil live in Ashland, and every single time we play, I call my aunt simply to say ‘Game Day.’ It is our tradition. She has been a mother to me, and her husband (my mom's brother) is a treasure-trove of UK history and love for the program,” Scaggs said. “He is 80, and we speak regularly during the season so I can get his take on current teams, issues, etc. He is one of the smartest men I know, and I feel privileged to have him in my life.”
She’s found other Kentucky fans in Alaska, too. Her friends Kendra and Jason Bowman live outside Anchorage in Eagle River. She met Jason at a local sports bar when they realized they were the only two patrons there to watch the Kentucky football game.
“We bonded, and have been friends ever since. He's from Winchester, and his wife is from Alaska. We were able to meet at Rupp Arena before the Georgia game on the Dec. 31st, and I go to their house during the NCAA tourney,” Scaggs said.
She’s just glad to have someone near who understands her passion for UK sports. Friends in Los Angeles didn’t. Same in Alaska.
“They tolerate it, but to try and express the cultural connection it provides is useless.The last guy I dated grew up in Los Angeles with no allegiance or interest in sports. I didn't think it was a big deal. I was wrong,” she joked.
She just it’s just impossible to explain the generational/familial ties to UK sports to those outside the state.
“When I took my nephew to a game in 2014-15, he hadn't been in Rupp Arena since he was a baby. Every time I go to games and see little kids all decked out I want to hug them and say, ‘This the best thing ever. You may not know it now, but one day you will,” Scaggs said.
She won’t leave Rupp Arena until after “My Old Kentucky Home” is played and she plans to keep making trips back to Kentucky to see her Cats play.
“Being farther away — and having to travel forever to get to a game — has brought more meaning to it all than I could've ever imagined,” she said. “Funny thing is, I am not that unique. The BBN is full of stories just like mine.”
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