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When you’re a Wildcat Princess attending the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, first you:
Put on a shiny blue wig.
Crown yourself with a tiara.
Wrap a feathered boa around your neck, drape yourself with jewelry and rub a temporary University of Kentucky tattoo on your cheek.
Then you’re ready to greet the UK fan populace, as you have been for the last 17 years.
Francine Sloan, a Lawrenceburg resident and member of The Wildcat Princess Club, almost didn’t travel to Nashville last weekend.
Co-owner of the Rising Sons Winery with her husband, Joe, Francine said she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get away to root for the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team at the SEC Tournament over St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
But tradition is tradition.
And attending the tournament, as a member of the women’s fan group The Wildcat Princess Club, is an annual tradition Francine has kept alive since 1996.
Five women — Gail Wheeler of Anderson County, Sallie Bolton, Val Taylor and Jeanna Mullins — make up the UK fan club that demonstrate how much they bleed blue by wearing blue wigs and matching tiaras at every SEC Tournament.
Over the years, the group’s annual trip to the SEC Tournament has been well documented by fellow fans and media outlets, according to Sloan.
Newspapers wrote about them and Lexington TV stations featured them.
At this year’s tournament ESPN showed The Wildcat Princess Club in a broadcast; Francine and friend Jeanna Mullins were interviewed on the street for a local Nashville station.
“It’s pretty much like constant photo ops for us; we love it,” Francine said a phone interview on Monday. “We absolutely love it.”
Last weekend, a man came up to Francine; told them the Wildcat Princess Club took a photo with his dad years ago, who recently died.
A mother with her 6-foot, 3-inch teenage son said she remembers him taking a photo with the women when he was 10.
Francine’s favorite photo was taken with UK basketball star Jack “Goose” Givens, who was a member of the 1978 championship team while Francine was a student at UK.
“It’s so cool because now we have people who come up to us and say, ‘I remember Atlanta; I had my picture taken with you,’” Francine said.
The idea for The Wildcat Princess Club was born as the women were in New Orleans years ago, trying on silly blue wigs and crowns.
“And then we decided it would be a neat idea, our own niche for the tournament,” Sloan said. “From there it expanded for the search for the best blue wigs we could find, matching tiaras.”
Wearing the princess costumes requires dedication, Francine said. They put on the wigs and crowns as soon as they arrive at the SEC Tournament city, and don’t take them off until they’re back at the hotel.
The wigs can get itchy, and the tiaras pinch. And don’t forget the fake eyelashes, boas and for St. Patrick’s Day this year, green beads.
“It’s a major source of a headache,” Francine said of the Wildcat Princess costume. “It’s a lot of work getting prepared.”
Once they’re at the tournament, meeting UK fans and cheering on the Wildcats, it’s worth it.
Even this year, with Kentucky out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
Win or lose, the Wildcat Princess Club are true blue.
“We were definitely disappointed but, based on how the season has gone, we went knowing that we may not do so well, and we kind, of talked ourselves up, revved ourselves up to have fun no matter what,” Francine said of Kentucky’s loss this year. “You can’t be winners constantly, as much as all Kentucky fans want to win every single game, we’re also realistic.”
Now that she’s back in Lawrenceburg, de-wigged and de-crowned, Francine said she’ll be rooting for UK in the NIT.
As for her NCAA bracket, she’ll probably go with Louisville. Will her Wildcat Princess friends follow suit?
“We are not Louisville fans, I’m sorry to say,” Francine said with a laugh.