“My husband Joe and I have two children, ages five and seven. It isn't easy to be away from them so we choose our UK trips carefully. We usually take one family vacation a year then save our money for UK trips. We always go to the SEC Tournament. I have to work it covering the fans, and he gets to go as a fan. I cannot wait to go to New Orleans. We went to the Final Four because I went with work, and he went with a friend. Last year we decided to go to Newark because we had never been to New York City together and we were excited about the chance to play Ohio State and North Carolina in the same weekend. I didn't have to work that trip so it turned out to be well worth it!”
“I am not just a Kentucky fan; I am a big fan of a lot of sports. I grew up in Cincinnati cheering for the Reds and Bengals with a younger brother who shared his passion with me for everything from football to tennis. My dad is an Ohio State alum so we also rooted for the Buckeyes. I played soccer, basketball, tennis and golf. I even played touch football in elementary school. But I never realized how much fun following sports could be until I moved to Kentucky in 1994 and started following the Cats.”
Question: How did you become such a big UK fan?
Palumbo: “I tried to get a sports job when I graduated college, but I had to take what I could get and ended up as a news reporter at WYMT-TV in Hazard. I didn't know anyone when I came to Kentucky. My first friend outside the TV station was a huge UK fan and took me to several football games. I loved how dedicated the fans were and how much fun the game day experience was. I became addicted. I didn't have much of a life outside work so on Friday nights I would get the sports guys to let me go with them to high school football games. My favorite memories are going to Leslie County High School games and watching Tim Couch play, then getting to see him play at Kentucky.
“When I came to Lexington I tried to get my boss to let me make the switch from news to sports. I have always thought it was my true calling, but he told me he needed me more in the news department. To this day, my dream job would be as a sideline reporter for basketball or football. In 2000 I met a UK fan who would change my life forever. My husband, Joe Palumbo, grew up in Lexington loving the Cats like so many other native Kentuckians. For our first date he took me to a UK basketball game. I like to joke that he had me at ‘Go Big Blue!’ His family got season tickets when Rupp Arena first opened, and they still have them today so we are fortunate to be able to go to the home games.”
Question: Considering your job, is it nice just to be able to go to games when you can and be a fan without working, or do you enjoy the games as much if they are work-related as well?
Palumbo: “I would much rather go to a game as a fan than as a reporter. I have seen colleagues get reprimanded for wearing a UK shirt or cheering on press row. The media are supposed to cover the team, not openly cheer for it. That being said, since I am covering the fans and not the team (one advantage of being in news and not sports), I will wear my blue and cheer (just not on press row). There is nothing better than being able to enjoy the game and cheer for the Cats.
“Also, when I am working we have deadlines to meet that don't always coincide with game times. I remember being at the Final Four last year and watching the end of the UK vs. UConn game with the security guards at the back of Reliant Stadium. They were all rooting against UK. The only thing worse than not being able to watch the game is being the only UK fan when everyone is rooting for the other team. I couldn't be inside with the fans because as soon as the game ended, we had to on the air; I couldn't have made it to the satellite truck in time because it was too far away. Other times, I have completely missed the end of a great game because I had to be live on the air for the viewers back home in Kentucky.”
Question: How special do you think this basketball team is and what do you like best about this team?
Palumbo: “I love this year's team. The fact that they are one basket away from an undefeated season shows how special they are. I met Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at a UK football game. He was being hounded by fans but never said no to a photo or an autograph. I couldn't believe how kind he was to everyone.
“Coach Calipari continues to work his magic on and off the court. I hope Kentucky makes two trips to New Orleans this year, and the second trip ends with the Cats cutting down the nets. No one wants that more than John Calipari, and I would love to see him, the players and the fans get that national championship.
Question: Does it get any better than front row at Vanderbilt behind the Kentucky bench?
Palumbo: “When you consider how fantastic that game was, my answer has to be no. We have great seats in Rupp Arena, but I had never sat right behind the bench. Joe and I are friends with John and Ellen, and he was so kind to give those great seats for the game. It was incredible to be that close to the action, under the basket where we could see the players and even hear what coach Cal was saying to the team. I have lived in Kentucky for two national championships but wasn't at either of the wins. I'm sure if I get to witness national championship number eight, it will replace the 2012 Vandy experience at the top of my list.
“Joe and I went to Newark last year for the NCAA Tournament. All the ‘experts’ said Kentucky couldn't beat Ohio State, and then they said we couldn't beat North Carolina. Of course, we thought it could happen but figured if UK lost, we still got a great getaway to NYC. We were there for both wins and said it was the greatest UK road wins we had every experienced. But it didn't have the atmosphere of Memorial Gym. We were completely outnumbered by Vandy fans, yet I could still hear ‘Go Big Blu’" chants. If you add in the amazing game, UK at Vandy 2012 is now at the top of my list.”
Question: And who were you happier to see, actress Ashley Judd or ESPN’s Erin Andrews? And why no picture with Ashley Judd?
Palumbo: “Actually my biggest thrill was getting to be at the game with Joe. I knew how tough it would be to get tickets. We are blessed to be friends with John and Ellen, and I asked for the tickets to take Joe for his birthday. What a birthday present! I met Erin at coach Cal's women's clinic in 2010 when we emceed it together. I also got to see her again when he was honored by the V Foundation for CancerResearch in Sarasota (Fla.) last May. I didn't even get to say hi to her in Nashville because she was working.
“We met Dick Vitale in Sarasota as well. You may laugh, but he is actually my celebrity crush. I love his passion for sports and for making a difference. Some in the media seem to enjoy trying to knock down Kentucky and John Calipari, but ‘Dickie V’ doesn't. He understands who John Calipari is and how much he loves the players and the program.
“I was really excited to sit by Ashley Judd at the Vandy game because I love how much she enjoys the games. I'll never understand fans who go to games and never stand up and cheer. If I made a fool of myself on national TV, so be it. I had a blast at the game and wouldn't trade that game experience for anything! I love that we did high-fives and talked about the game. My only regret is that I didn't get a picture with her. I am superstitious and don't like to take photos until the game is over and UK has won. I took one of my husband and her but said I wouldn't ask her for one until the game had ended. When it did, I asked her for a photo. She was moving fast toward the exit, and she said she would do it if I walked with her.
“In that split second I decided I would rather stay with the fans and watch the team celebrate the big win. I didn't want the fun to end even if it meant I didn't get a photo with Ashley. So if anyone finds a good photo of Ashley and me cheering, please let me know. But it was worth it to see the players and coach Cal enjoying their memorable moment in Memorial! At least I did get my photo taken with Dickie V.”
Question: What are all the different ways fans can follow the FOX 56 Kentucky coverage and interact with you since you also seem to really enjoy that?
Palumbo: “They can follow us on the FOX 56 Ten o'Clock News, www.foxlexington.com, facebook.com/foxlexington and twitter.com/JPalumboFOX56.
They can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I had to choose between Twitter andFacebook, I would give up Facebook. I am addicted to Twitter so that is the best way to keep up with the news and me. When I first got on Twitter last year, I told coach Cal how I was embarrassed that I didn't have many followers. He laughed and said. ‘Watch this.’ He sent out a tweet asking his followers to follow me; I had 100 new UK fans in an hour.”
Question: Finally, what is one thing you wish UK fans knew about Jennifer Palumbo that they probably do not?
Palumbo: “I actually went to Vanderbilt University my freshman year as a math major on an Army ROTC scholarship. I always knew I wanted to be a journalist, but I was also very good at math. My parents didn't think I could make a living as a journalist so they made me a deal: if I studied math for one year and hated it then I could switch to journalism. The Army ROTC scholarship was the only way I could afford Vandy so I gave it a shot. If you want proof, you can find my Army ID card on Twitter. The year I was there, the Vandy's men's team won the NIT Tournament. I actually was one of those Vandy fans UK fans were making fun of Saturday night. My dorm was just down the street from Memorial. Fortunately, I realized being a math major was not right for me and gave up my scholarship. I transferred to Ohio University and ended up graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
“If I had stayed at Vandy I would have gone into the Army on active duty after graduation. I wasn't sure I was up to the challenge. They told me ‘Don't worry. There won't be a war for 10 years. You'll be out before then.’ That was 1989, and they were wrong about the war prediction. While I never served in the Army, I will always respect the sacrifices our troops make at home and abroad because I never had to make that choice. We wouldn't be having this conversation today if I had stayed at Vanderbilt University. Going back to Memorial as a UK fan was one of those moments in my life where I felt as if I had come full circle. A major chapter in my life story started there, but I realized this weekend that no matter where I went to college, Kentucky is where I belong. Go Cats!”