Oct. 17, 2001
LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Whitney Sample boarded an airplane on August 30 to travel to the first tournament of the UK volleyball season, it was an interesting feeling for the senior. For the first time in four years, she was heading home to Texas to play volleyball just miles from her Arlington home.
What was more unusual though was that her parents weren't boarding an airplane that weekend. When John and Donna Sample spoke with their daughter the night before her flight they discussed how bizarre it felt to not be jetting off to a far away state to watch Whitney and her team open the season.
The Samples have missed only seven of Whitney's 99 matches in her Kentucky career, placing them as clear contenders for MVP (Most Valuable Parents.) But the Sample family is not alone. In this season alone, which is only seven matches old, 10 of UK's 14 players have had a parent or family member travel to see them play.
Junior Liz McCaslin's parents alternate weekends so that one parent can always see her play and the other can be with her brother, B.J., who plays football at a Harper College outside of Chicago. Redshirt freshman Leigh Marcum's parents traveled from Noblesville, Ind., to Kalamazoo, Mich., last weekend even though their daughter is sitting out the season.
The Samples, clearly the veterans among the parents, get quite a bit of assistance from senior April Barnhorst's parents, Melva and Darrell Thornton, who also make as many home and road dates as possible. John Sample arrives at each match toting his bag of supplies, including several tambourines, pom-poms and shakers for the Kentucky contingent. Through the years, the parents have not only supported Cats, but also struck up a friendship along the way.
The camaraderie was evident when the Cats headed to Dallas, Texas, over Labor Day weekend for the Southern Methodist Invitational. After UK's final match, a 3-1 win over Weber State, the team, parents and friends gathered at the Sample's home to kick off the season.
"It was certainly exciting for us to finally get to see Whitney play at home," John Sample said. "We've always been big supporters of volleyball in general, but we've become so attached to the Kentucky team over the years."
The term avid supporters barely scratches the surface. The Samples own their own facility, Advantage Sports, and also run the club Metroplex 18, where Whitney played during her club days.
The Samples have only missed occasional mid-week home games and two road trips in four years, an impeccable record to say the least. The Samples see it almost as a duty.
"We really look forward to our trips and the chance to follow our daughter's career so closely," John Sample continued. "We are fortunate enough to be able to follow the team's travels, so we feel that we owe that to Whitney and her teammates."
And the team realizes the value of having those fans to count on. Playing in front of a home SMU crowd in its opening match, UK looked to a rowdy bunch of fans for support. With tambourines shaking, pom-poms flying and a man with a giant "K" painted on the chest, Texas was transformed for a minute into "My Old Kentucky Home." And luckily for these Wildcats, each road date in the future looks to be the same.