The always venerable Wikipedia defines an expatriate as “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country or culture other than that of the person’s upbringing.” In other words, they’re strangers in a strange land. University of Kentucky fans have always identified themselves as members of “Big Blue Nation,” and in many cases, the BBN really CAN be found almost anywhere your travels take you. With that in mind, the series “The Ex-Pats of Big Blue Nation” will profile those Kentucky fans who have moved away from the Bluegrass State for whatever reason, asking how they’ve managed to maintain their devotion and fanhood despite living in areas where every exhibition game isn’t televised or where no one in the neighborhood understands the significance of the date April 2, 2012. This is Ron, a true expatriate living in Panama. Read on and enjoy hearing about life as a UK fan outside of Kentucky.
Let’s start with the basics. Please state your name, where you’re from, and current location for the official record. No need for exact addresses, I don’t want to get you in trouble on the Internet.
Ron Isham, rural Washington County, now in Boquete, Chiriqui, Panama (a true expatriate).
How did you get from Point A (Kentucky) to Point B (where you are now)?
50+ year trek. UK ’60, AFROTC. Active duty 1961-68. Electronic countermeasures in B-52 and F-105, including multiple combat tours in SE Asia. Met a Kansas girl in southern California, married in 1967 and moved to the Sunflower state in 1970 to work for a media (newspaper and broadcast) corporation, initially advertising sales and play-by-play radio of HS and community college sports. During that time I was fortunate enough to interview Rick Pitino and Bob Knight, both recruiting Keith Smart (he of the well-known shot to win IU’s last championship vs Syracuse in 1987, now head coach of Boogies’ and PPat’s Kings). Eventually became broadcast GM and when the company elected to exit the radio business in early 90’s I purchased the stations. Sold them in 2001, stayed in radio for a spell then founded a marketing (primarily Internet) firm essentially to keep myself occupied. Sold business in 2006 and wife and I retired to Panama.
What team’s fans dominate your area? (College or professional)
Boquete is a quite small town in NW Panama not far from Pacific and Costa Rica, and bills itself as the “Land of Perpetual Spring”, i.e. temperature in 70’s 24/7/365. Large expatriate community of a thousand or so and very cosmopolitan, though mostly from US (Maine to Oregon, Florida to North Dakota) and Canada (Tornoto to Vancouver). Consequently the fans are uniquely ecumenical: hockey, baseball, futbol (as its known here), tennis, golf, etc., and that applies to team loyalties as well, e.g. the Stanley and Grey Cups along with World Cup draw nearly as much attention as Super Bowl with parties planned around all.
Was it a hard adjustment going from living where everyone knows every detail about UK sports, to where people may conceivably think UK and Louisville are the same team?
Haven’t lived in The Commonwealth in 53 years so my period of adjustment has been long. I must admit it has been more difficult in my later years when I haven’t had to be concerned about family and career and thus more time to devote to things Blue, hence my interest in all aspects of UK is probably greater now than any time since I was a student.
How many Kentucky fans would you say are in your general vicinity? Is there a local UK alumni group or bar?
There is a family from Morehead who live in the area though I don’t see them often. Last time we were with them they had college-age daughters (not UK) with them and together we regaled the customers of a pizzaria with a splendid rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home”. The only UK alum that I’m familiar with is a 1998 grad who along with his Gator wife own a small hotel on the Caribbean in Bocas del Toro. They visit Boquete periodically to play golf and he has a UK golf bag. I must hasten to add that we travel Central and South America regularly and seldom do we fail to see UK caps, shirts, umbrellas, etc. I make it a point to introduce myself as a citizen of BBN.
How do you show off your fandom while living away from Kentucky?
I must admit to not being very audacious in displaying my UK or Kentucky roots or allegiance. Out of several UK t-shirts and caps I had while in US I think I have one remaining but it’s tattered condition caused my wife to ban it from public view. When the occasion presents itself, i.e. last year’s basketball championship run, I boldly and frequently announce my preference.
What’s the hardest thing about being a fan outside of the geographic BBN? The best thing?
Hardest and best are the same: basic ignorance and indifference. And they can be a blessing as well as a curse. For instance with the basketball championship of last year and the 2011 FB victory over the Vols, with whom am I going to celebrate? Conversely, as I posted on a few sites as well as in my blog, after this year’s Robert Morris defeat there was no one who knew they even played let alone the outcome. Fortunately there are KSR and other Blue Internet sites on which I can share joy and disappointment.
What has been your favorite memory as a UK fan?
In 60+ years of memories (1951 basketball championship was my first UK TV game; listened to 1951 Sugar Bowl) it’s nearly impossible to list one so I’ll give you a few that stand out: Vern Hatton’s shot to beat Temple, and 1958, 1975, 1978 and 1984 Final Fours–two wins, two losses. 1958 as a student; 1975 with my best friend and best man, a UNC and UCLA law school alum, now deceased; 1978 with my two sons; 1984 and certainly the most disappointing viewed in person. In football it is the 1957 victory over Tennessee and the student protest/demonstration/riot (your choice obviously depends on your perspective) that followed when administration refused to cancel Monday classes.
What do you do for games?
It’s difficult. Cable TV isn’t the answer since nearly all channels are in EspaÃ±ol. Neither is Panama satellite. One of my solutions is DirectTV with a Puerto Rico box/card which allows US networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNNews, ESPNClassic, but, alas, not ESPNU. ISP does not provide ESPN3 or WatchESPN App, thus relegated to the “illicit” sites. When all else fails it’s audio supplemented by Internet chat. Don’t miss many games especially basketball.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to follow a game live?
Not having lived in Kentucky since 1960, and most of it without benefit of Internet, I’ve been forced to be innovative and resourceful in following the Cats live. Trying to pick up WHAS from a thousand miles in western Kansas and without the advantage of hills was especially tricky however I usually found reception after driving around. However the most unusual perhaps was listening to the 1966 championship BB game on MARS (Military Affiliated Radio Service) while in up-country Thailand.
How do you keep up with UK news without the local media readily accessible?
I can’t imagine following UK without the Internet. With the exception of CBS and ESPN televised games I’m totally dependent on sites such as KSR, plus Twitter and email exchanges with other members of BBN. And I do have the Herald-Leader app.
If I embark on a cross-country road trip with my friends, a la Britney Spears in Crossroads, do you have a UK-themed room I can stay in?
Not a UK-themed room but we do have two unused guest rooms in our villa and I can promise you good weather, Caribbean snorkeling or Pacific fishing for sharks, tuna, swordfish and corvina, or if hiking is more to your liking I’ll escort you to top of Volcan Baru (4,000 metres or 12,000 feet) where you can see the Pacific and Caribbean simultaneously. For the more mundane there is golf and tennis. Plus the best coffee the world has to offer.
I love coffee and I would love to hike that mountain. Fun fact, I have climbed an 18,000 foot ice mountain in Peru. Since becoming an ex-pat, have you returned to Kentucky to watch the team play or seen the team play live in a different area? Any stories there?
In 53 years I’ve only seen Cats play once in Lexington and that was sort of a working trip. My only time in Rupp Arena was as part of the Jayhawk Network radio crew and because the game was telecast in Kansas I was fortunate to do radio color commentary–Cats won 87-73. My on-air diplomacy was stretched to its limit. I did see every UK-KU game played in Allen Field House in the 36 years I resided in Kansas–unfortunately that includes the 150-95 drubbing of the Bombinos. In addition to the Final Fours mentioned above I also saw a few NCAA regionals, and versus the Wolfpack in Charlotte.
How do the locals respond to your fandom?
Pretty much dumbfounded and mostly due to amount of time and emotional energy I invest–of course my wife feels the same.
What advice do you have for anyone who may be considering a move from Kentucky who is concerned about missing out on following UK?
Be thankful you’re living in the age of the Internet, and always be on the lookout for fellow fans. I’ve followed UK over the decades in one form or another on 5 continents and on each I’ve encountered other citizens of BBN.
Any general stories that the readers of KSR would be interested to hear about living as a BBN ex-pat?
It was my fatherly intention to have UK fans as children. I even sent my sons to Lexington for Eddie Sutton’s basketball camp, alas other factors (Read: momma and in-state tuition) took precedent. Thus I exist in a family with 3 KU alums which sure does make for boisterous family discussions. Watched last year’s title game in a different room than my wife and it was weeks before my sons broached the subject–of course they were quick to connect to Skype following the Robert Morris loss. The recent recruiting battles for Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins provided another opportunity to voice our differences: 1 and 1 ain’t bad.