Tuesday, March 16, 1999

UK fans proud, confident

Wildcat souvenirs plentiful in March

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SOUTHGATE — Pull out the newly printed “Re-Pete” shirts in a store jammed full of UK Wildcats merchandise and the fans get a little skittish.

        “Oh, I'm terribly superstitious,” Dan Kendrick, 49, of Alexandria said, reacting to a shirt celebrating UK as the national champs for 1998 and 1999. “I don't like to see something too soon.”

        Bill Wiefering, owner of the Transfer Station, displayed the latest item with pride. “Come on, they did it last year and we printed the shirts early then, too.”

        Amid racks of blue-and-white UK shirts, jackets, sweat pants, key chains, clocks, flags, license plates, hats, posters and other knick-knacks, a handful of true-blue fans bantered about the team's prospects of winning another NCAA title.

        The team does have a knack for tournament play, Mr. Wiefering said. They've won the title seven times: in 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996 and 1998.

        “You know they're gonna be there,” Jeff Neidenbach, 30, of Fort Thomas said as he looked at UK shot glasses.

        Ray Fraley isn't so sure. The 21-year-old from Fort Thomas thinks Miami of Ohio has a pretty tough team.

        “Yeah, but that's a one-man gang,” Mr. Neidenbach said, referring to star player Wally Szczerbiak, who scored a career-high 43 points on Friday.

        “Well, that one-man gang beat Utah,” Mr. Fraley countered.

        Miami of Ohio and UK will play each other in the Sweet 16 round Friday in St. Louis.

        Mr. Wiefering plans to be ready with even more UK Wildcats paraphernalia. He claims to have the largest selection in the region with more than $50,000 of stuff. He fills phone orders from nearly every state and he's getting ready to start Internet sales.

        Lucky for him, his passion is also a profitable livelihood.

        And it lets him talk about what he loves all day long, with people who generally share the same opinion. Settling into the UK groove, Mr. Wiefering chatted it up with customers.

        “March madness is back,” he said, all smiles, and then let out a satisfied sigh.


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