By LARRY VAUGHT
The first time Jim Porter invited me to attend the Ohio UK Convention I really had no idea what to expect. What I learned is that every year on the third Saturday in July in Franklin, Ohio, a group of passionate Kentucky fans who always see the best in the Cats get together.
The tradition started in 1990 when a small group of UK fans in gathered to cheer up their friend Dean Perkins. The friends planned a picnic, invited other UK fans (including Shelby Linville, a starter on UK’s 1951 national championship team) and the talk was primarily about UK sports.
Now Porter is 80 years old and says the 30th annual event July 20th will be his last year as convention director because of various health issues — six back procedures in the last eight months, wearing a heart monitor. Porter, who still teaches an adult Sunday School class, says he’s had a “blessed life” but he just can’t continue as convention director because of the year-round demands it puts on him.
He works to line up special guests for the convention and will have anywhere from 120 to 150 fans attending most years. Many of his speakers have been back multiple times and his guest list reads like a Who’s Who of UK sports.
“Jim is the most passionate UK supporter that I have ever meet,” said Chuck Smith, a former UK football player and assistant coach under Rich Brooks and Joker Phillips. “His heart felt excitement is very contagious.”
“He’s one of those classic UK fans . . . can’t get enough news about the Cats, loves his team, knows the history,” said Tom Leach, the voice of the Cats. “Jim combines that passion while being a true gentleman. I’ve always enjoyed my visits with him at the convention or at games.”
Porter has season basketball tickets and makes the two-hour plus drive to almost every UK home game — and arrives early. That’s one reason former UK All-American Mike Pratt calls him the “die-hard of all die-hard” UK fans.
“Always a very positive guy who kept the Ohio UK Conventions running and interesting with different guests,” Pratt said.
In recent years, one of Porter’s most impressive guests has been Matt Bradford, the Marine who was severely wounded serving our country but has been an inspiration locally and nationally.
“Jim has become a friend of mine over the past five years while always graciously inviting me back every year and saying, ’As long as I am here and we are having a convention, your always invited.’ Jim Porter is a go-getter, well organized and loves to follow the schedule, to the exact minute.”
Kentucky Sports Radio’s Ryan Lemond has been a convention favorite and will be back for Porter’s last year as convention director this year. He loves Porter’s passion and organization.
“You better be on time and you better stay on time! He loves UK and he loves organizing the convention, and it shows. That’s why it’s such a huge success. It’s all because of Jim,” Lemond said.
Smith said he kept going back to help spread the word about UK in Ohio.
“Also he is such a nice guy that you cannot tell him no,” Smith admitted. “When you are around Jim, you cannot help but get excited about UK sports.”
“The one thing I have truly enjoyed is meeting all of the UK fans who don’t live in the central Kentucky area. The convention has become a yearly event for me and I have created a good friendship with Jim. The attendees truly enjoy all of the guests, the silent auction items and the day is a blessing,” Bradford said. “I truly treasure this friendship with Mr. Porter and he makes me feel like family. I respect him, appreciate him greatly.”
Leach’s father worked at a steel mill in Middletown, Ohio, and Leach often visited that area as a youngster when his father wanted to reconnect with friends/co-workers. Leach’s high school baseball coach also was friends with the Franklin coach and he played baseball games there his last two years in high school. So he had “personal” reasons for liking the area, but Porter only added to that.
“What I enjoyed most about the visits to the Ohio UK Conventions was what an enjoyable experience it was. Any time you’re asked to speak in front of a group, you want to deliver something compelling enough to capture and hold their attention,” Leach said. “Well, that was never a problem with that group. You knew the entire group was passionately engaged in what you were there to talk about and that’s rewarding for the person doing the speaking.”
Pratt agreed about the attentive fans but also likes one other thing about the convention guests.
“You had female, male, young and old that’s what gave the day a different feel that I really liked,” Pratt said.
I hope the convention finds a way to survive Porter’s retirement. I also hope a lot of those who have been guests at previous conventions might come back this year, too. Maybe someone at UK will consider finding a way to reach out and say thank you to Porter at his convention farewell.
“There are other events, but Jim makes this one special. I came back because of Jim Porter. I’m coming back this year because of Jim Porter,” Lemond said. “He’s a special man with a special heart. We can talk about UK anywhere, but there’s some kind of magic that he makes his event special.”