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UK, Barnhart celebrate past, look to future at 10th annual CATSPYs

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Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart addressed student-athletes, coaches and staff at the 2012 CATSPY Awards on Monday evening. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart addressed student-athletes, coaches and staff at the 2012 CATSPY Awards on Monday evening. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
2012 CATSPY Award winners

Nearly a decade ago, the Kentucky Athletics Department gathered in Memorial Coliseum, student-athletes, coaches and staff. They came together to celebrate the 2002-03 athletic year, Mitch Barnhart's first at UK. They came together to celebrate the first-ever CATSPY Awards.

On Monday night, the same personnel, though comprised of many different people, united for the same purpose. The feel this time around was unmistakably unlike that inaugural event.

"This is 10 times," Barnhart said in his comments that closed the 2012 CATSPYs. "We started this in (2003) and the first time we had some folks that showed up in blue jeans and t-shirts and it has escalated to quite a different event."

And it wasn't just for the wardrobe choices that were different.

The 2012 CATSPYs were celebrated under the auspices of the best year in recent UK Athletics history. Kentucky's 22 varsity sports have attained an unprecedented level of success this season. From women's soccer to volleyball to men's basketball to women's basketball to rifle to baseball to men's tennis, the department as a whole is approaching the ambitious vision for on-field success that Barnhart laid out upon his arrival and later with his 15 by 15 by 15 plan.

"What you've accomplished athletically this year, unbelievable," Barnhart said. "Really, really good stuff. Never in this history of this program have we had this many champions in one year."

UK's championship pedigree was on full display from the outset of the CATSPY Awards. Members of the men's and women's basketball, men's tennis and rifle teams, the four squads who have already claimed conference championships - and in the case of men's basketball, a national championship - were called to the stage in recognition of their achievements. With their successes, Kentucky has 10 conference or national championships since 2008, just five short of the goal put forth by Barnhart. Moreover, UK ranks 21st in the latest Director's Cup standings, just six spots shy of his objective with men's tennis and baseball still in the midst of strong seasons.

"Unbelievable that we'd get this far this quickly," Barnhart said to student-athletes and coaches. "That's hats off to you all who have been a part of those championships. To you all that have not, there's still time to put your name on that list."

The work is not over as UK reaches new heights on the field of competition, but Barnhart believes firmly in the ability of the people involved with the program to take it there. With that bright future in mind, he is calling on players, coaches and staff to aspire for greatness in all aspects.

"My greatest concern is not our ability or desire to compete," Barnhart said. "We've clearly established that. You've done that amazingly well. It's how we get there and what we'll do once that moment arrives."

Closing out the 10th annual CATSPYs, Barnhart unveiled a new plan with a familiar format but a different message: "60 by one by 60." He is asking those at UK to improve themselves and the world around them by taking three simple steps in their daily lives.

First, Barnhart is calling for the Wildcats to spend 60 minutes a week communicating on a person-to-person level with a friend, colleague, family member or classmate. He is asking student-athletes, coaches and staff to speak face-to-face or via written note, eschewing Twitter, Facebook and other means of communication that dominate the modern world.

"We've got to get back to the relationships that help drive locker rooms, that drive people, that drive jobs and helps you go where you want to go," Barnhart said. "We've got to be able to communicate."

Next, Barnhart wants to inject the department with a sense of gratitude. To that end, he is calling on everyone involved with it to, once a day, say a genuine word of thanks to someone who has provided for them in some way.

"You cannot be grateful for what you think you're entitled to," Barnhart said. "You can't. We are not entitled to things; they are given to us. We got to be thankful."

Last, he wants student-athletes, coaches and staff to give others a reason to be thankful. He is calling on them to spend 60 minutes a week committing to help another, incorporating the example from the service trip he and members of the football program took to Ethiopia last summer.

 "Who do you go to help?" Barnhart said. "Who do we have that we provide joy to in spite of circumstances? I'm asking you to find somebody like that. I'm asking you to pour 60 minutes into somebody else every week."

Just as with the 15 by 15 by 15 plan, Barnhart knows he is asking a great deal. At the same time, the way UK attacked that first gauntlet he laid down leads him to believe the group he leads can handle this next one too.

"Are we perfect in what we do?" Barnhart said. "Absolutely not. You're not perfect and we're not perfect. But at the end of the day, this is a heck of a good place and there's an awful lot of people in this room I am so proud of because you have represented Kentucky well and in doing so, you've done an awful lot for a lot of people. But I'm saying don't stop."

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