(Reggie Beehner)

By Cameron Blair

University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart had quite the problem facing him Sept. 4 when the Wildcats volleyball team played Eastern in Lexington.Why wouldn’t Barnhart just sit on UK’s side and cheer the Wildcats on?

Barnhart’s daughter, Kirby, happens to play volleyball for the Colonels. The 19-year-old sophomore averages 0.26 kills and 0.34 digs per game for Eastern.

So, what did Barnhart do? He played it smart.

“I sat right in the middle,” Barnhart said.

Barnharts’s neutral policy did not go unnoticed by his daughter.

“He was completely neutral,” Kirby said. “I think he wore green and he sat up near the top.”

Despite staying out of the picture, the match was still tough for Barnhart.

“It was tough emotionally,” Barnhart said. “You want your daughter to do well, but at the same time we have a program at UK we’re trying to build up.”

“I was just pulling for Kirby to have a memorable experience.”

The game was far less nerve-racking for Kirby.

“It was the game I looked forward to most on the schedule,” Kirby said. “I worked some volleyball camps up at UK, so it was a fun opportunity to get to play with them again.”

Kirby, a sports management major, chose Eastern over several other schools that were recruiting her. She earned four varsity letters and made two All-City volleyball teams in her four year at Lexington Christian Academy.

Her decision, as it turns out, benefited both her and her family.

“Coming to Eastern gave me a chance to play volleyball after high school and it was close to home, so that made my dad happy,” Kirby said. “It just made sense.”

Barnhart says he had no negative feelings at all when he learned Kirby was going to attend Eastern.

“I was just happy she was getting the opportunity to play volleyball at the college level,” Barnhart said. “I think it’s something she’s always wanted to do.”

Staying close to home has allowed Kirby to remain in close contact with her family. She describes her relationship with her family as “very close.”

Barnhart confirmed this shortly after the Colonels fell to Morehead State on Tuesday. While the UK basketball team was playing their first home regular season game of the season, Barnhart and the rest of the family came to watch Kirby play in the Colonels final regular season home game against the Eagles.

“I wanted to make it to her last home match because it would probably be the last time I get to see her play this year,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart and Kirby have remained close despite both of their full schedules. Kirby has the workload of a full-time student in addition to being a varsity athlete. Barnharts’s position as UK’s athletic director makes him one of the most publicly recognizable figures in a sports-obsessed state.

“With my job, it’s hard to make it to a lot of her home games,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart says technology has made it much easier for him and Kirby to stay in touch and it allows him to keep up with her games online when he can not be there.

“We talk at least two or three times each day,” Barnhart said. “It’s a good world to live in with text messaging and cell phones.”

There might be one final hurdle in the relationship, however. Both Eastern’s and UK’s men’s basketball teams have serious NCAA tournament prospects this season and the schools did face one another in a first round match in 2005.

Kirby seemed to have trouble picking a side in the event of a Eastern-UK rematch.

“Wow, that’s really hard,” Kirby said. “I guess I’d have to cheer for both teams.”

It looks like Kirby could be the one wearing a neutral color and sitting in the middle when March Madness rolls around.