Committee of 101 member Ronald Smith, left, congratulates Kentucky forward Willie Cauley-Stein after defeating Louisville, Dec. 28, 2013.
I have covered University of Kentucky Athletics for more than 10 years. In that time, I have witnessed some of the best basketball the country has to offer, but more than that the people on the periphery of the Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball are just as special as those who wear the jersey.
Last Friday the Big Blue Nation lost one of their own.
Ronald Smith of Lawrenceburg was a Committee of 101 member who for at least the past five years has been assigned the post at the end of the tunnel where the players come out to the court. He passed away, Friday, Dec. 5th, at the Chandler Medical Center in Lexington.
Everyone that passed Ronald smiled, shook his hand, asked about his family and sometimes gave hugs.
The biggest challenge to photographing UK Basketball isn't making photos of great action, but finding new ways to tell the story in a creative way. While walking in to Rupp Arena from time to time I would notice fans giving high fives to the players as they left the court. In 2009 I thought it would be nice if I positioned myself at the end of the tunnel just before the players ran back to the locker room and make photos of them being congratulated by the fans.
Using an off camera light to augment the shadows in the off-court space required me to test my setup before the game. Who was standing at the end of the tunnel controlling the traffic flow? Ronald Smith. Smith's job was to direct traffic between the players running on and off the court and the stream of fans entering and leaving the Arena. During down time we talked and when I needed to test my light he was a willing subject. In addition to directing traffic Ronald would point people in the right direction if they were lost.
Ronald greeted fans as if they were family upon entering Rupp Arena and headed to their floor seats.
We talked over the years, sharing stories of our lives but the thing that struck me was how fondly people that poured into the tunnel to take their seat would shake hands with Ron, give him a high five, hug and one woman even gave him Hersey Kisses every game.
Ronald will be missed. I always looked forward to our conversations at the end of the tunnel.