For many fans, the whole point of attending the Big Blue Camp Out is the opportunity to get tickets for Big Blue Madness. But for Frankfort resident and lifelong Kentucky fan Aggie Hampton, it is much more than just acquiring tickets; it’s a family tradition.
“We’ve been coming to this event for years and I don’t always spend a lot of time with adults, but I always have some of the kids with me,” said Hampton. This year is no exception. During the Camp Out, family members include husband Paul, sister Connie, brother-in-law Chad, nephew Joe, great-nephew Conner, and granddaughters Allison and Cami. They take turns manning the campsite, but the emphasis is to have the younger ones as involved as possible.
Actually, Aggie has been attending this event since the very first year, 1982, when it was then called “The Midnight Special.” Fans were still arriving at midnight and had no trouble gaining admission, even though it was being held in Memorial Coliseum which only had a capacity of 12,000 at the time. About 8,500 fans attended the first midnight practice and Hampton said the highlight for her was seeing Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin in person. “All I could think of was how big those guys were,” she remembers.
Hampton has seen many changes over the years; changes in how and when tickets are distributed, and changes in how the coaches and players interact with the fans. “When Pitino arrived, we couldn’t wait until 10:00 pm to show up. We had to get to Memorial by 8:00 am, and we would sit on the sidewalk all day. We would play cards, talk and meet other Wildcat fans to pass the time until midnight (when the doors to Memorial would open),” Aggie recalls.
The trip down memory lane continued with Hampton noting that Tubby’s years marked the beginning of tickets being given out days in advance of Madness. It was also during this time that Madness moved to Rupp Arena to accommodate the ever-growing enthusiasm of the Big Blue Nation to attend the Wildcats’ first practice. However, Aggie told me most memorable change during Smith’s time was how Tubby got the players more involved with the fans. “I remember one morning, Perry Stevenson showed up and was handing out donuts to those of us in line.” Prior to that, she told me that they would occasionally see a few players and some of those might stop by for autographs, but they never spent a lot of time with the people waiting outside Memorial.
During the two years between Tubby and Cal, Hampton said, “I know we were there, but honestly, I don’t remember much about the time (He Who Shall Not Be Named) coached. I think I just try to forget about those two years as much as I can.” Author’s note: I try to forget those years, too. While Aggie called the coach by name, I refuse to say, or even type his name.
With Coach John Calipari’s arrival, the Big Blue Camp Out was born. Players and coaches became much more heavily involved with the fans, which made the event much more special than in years past. During Cal’s first Camp Out, Hampton’s granddaughter, Western Hills High School senior Allison Harrod got the memory of a lifetime. Demarcus Cousins was walking around Tent City, talking with the fans. Allison wanted to get a picture with Boogie, but Hampton had a difficult time getting both in the frame due to the height disparity. Aggie asked Boogie if he would stoop down to be closer to Allison’s height. But Boogie had a better idea: he scooped up Allison and held her while the photo was taken.
“We’ve been bringing Allison since she was a baby. For her, this is just what we do. She doesn’t know what it’s like to not come to the Camp Out.” Of course, Cousins’ eagerness to make a fan happy has endeared him forever to Allison and her entire family.
Coach Cal did not just encourage his players to show appreciation for the fans. Calipari led by example. One of Hampton’s favorite memories was how Coach Cal treated her mother. “Mom never spent the night with us, but she would always come up for a day and spend time with the family. We were outside of our campsite when Cal arrived one day, and Cal spotted my mom standing with us. He made his way over, going through a couple of rows of tents to get to us and talked to my mom. He really made her feel special, ” Aggie recalled. “Mom likes UK basketball a lot, but she loves Cal. And I saw him give the time and effort to other older fans, too.”
So with over 30 years of waiting for Madness tickets, it’s no surprise that Hampton was unable to name a single favorite memory. She said meeting players was great, and watching the coaches interact with the fans was special. Most of all, though, was getting to meet and mingle with so many people who love the Wildcats as much as she and her family do. “Getting to share all of this with family is pretty special.”
On October 14, Hampton will be found at Rupp Arena with several family members as they continue this fine tradition of Madness and family. And that’s just as it should be. If you happen to spot her, be sure and introduce yourself to her. There’s always room for one more member in her Big Blue Family.
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