LEXINGTON, Ky. – The partnership that helped the Center for Academic and Tutorial Services (CATS) – the first-of-its-kind support program in the nation – successfully expand to the south side of the University of Kentucky’s campus continues to make an impact. With the partnership in its fourth year, more than $1.5 million has been raised to help ensure Wildcat student-athletes have the resources needed to excel in the classroom.
“The academic advancement of our student-athletes is at the core of our mission as an athletics department,” Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said. “Since its founding nearly four decades ago, CATS has been essential to that. This partnership is helping make sure that support remains in place for decades to come.”
UK Athletics has partnered with Maker’s Mark and Keeneland with a goal of raising $2 million for the center through the companies’ own contributions and a portion of the proceeds of sales of special commemorative bottles of the distillery’s handmade bourbon.
The fourth commemorative Maker’s Mark® bottle in the series will feature the 1997-98 men’s basketball national championship team, which earned the moniker “Comeback Cats” during an incredible run through the NCAA Tournament. Bottles will go on sale through retail outlets throughout Kentucky on April 6. The first three commemorative bottles in the series honored the program’s first six national championships.
“The legacy of our 1998 national championship lives on today,” Barnhart said. “They captured the imagination of the Big Blue Nation by never quitting under any circumstances and we are proud to honor them with this deserved tribute.”
A bottle released next year will complete the five-bottle series to benefit the CATS program, which serves student-athletes from all of UK’s 22 varsity sports teams.
“The bottles in this series have been among the most popular we’ve ever produced,” said Rob Samuels, the eighth-generation distiller who now runs the Maker’s Mark distillery founded by his grandparents. “We’re grateful to our customers for supporting such a great cause and we’re honored to help the work of the CATS program.”
Another element to the fundraising effort is a challenge for other companies to raise a matching $2 million. Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason announced in spring of 2015 that Keeneland would be the first take up the cause.
“Keeneland stands as a proud partner with Maker’s Mark and UK in support of the successful expansion of the CATs program and the advancement of excellence in education,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “We all extend our thanks to our passionate fans, whose support of the commemorative bottle series contributes to these important goals.”
Any companies or groups wanting to participate in the challenge should contact the UK Athletics office.
A bottle signing for this year’s commemorative Maker’s Mark bottle will take place at Keeneland Race Course’s Keene Barn on the morning of Friday, April 13.For this year’s event, anyone wanting to attend must first get a ticket online at www.keeneland.com/makers-mark-bottle-signing after first creating an account. The free tickets will become available online at 8:30 a.m. Monday, April 9.
CATS – the first center of its kind dedicated solely to student-athletes – provides primary academic support for UK’s more than 500 student-athletes. UK has posted a department-wide cumulative grade-point average of better than 3.0 in 11 consecutive semesters and set or tried school records for graduation rates in every year since the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate was introduced in 2005. In the 2017 calendar year alone, more than 110 current and former student-athletes completed their UK degrees.