September 01, 2011
If a commemorative bottle of bourbon was previously the most unusual place Kentucky coach John Calipari's likeness has appeared, that's now a distant second thanks to a family of basketball-crazed farmers.
The owners of Lexington-based Kelley Farms carved Calipari's face into a 10-acre cornfield as part of their annual Giant Corn Maze that attracts visitors each September.
Since the family's criteria for deciding the image at the center of the maze is usually finding someone or something important to Lexington, the man who has quickly become the face of Kentucky basketball was a natural fit. Past honorees include Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln and Henry Clay.
"John Calipari is someone we consider almost like family even though he doesn't know us," farm owner Debra Kelley said. "I think a lot of people in Kentucky feel that way. We feel really close to our basketball coach. John Calipari has done a lot for our state and our basketball program in a short period of time, and we just wanted to say thank you. We just wanted to pay tribute to him and tell him how glad we are he's here."
To carve an image as intricate as this into a cornfield requires weeks of planning. Once the Kelley family plants the corn and designs an image, Debra's son-in-law Jack Lane begins the painstaking three-week process of staking out the field and mathematically figuring out where to cut.
"Every year as a family, we collectively hold our breath because we're not positive it's going to be perfect until we see the aerial photo," Debra said. "We don't go up and look at it every couple days to make sure it's going the way we hoped. We don't have a tower or a helicopter. We do all that at the end, and amazingly it turns out the way he planned it."
The Kelley family attends several Kentucky basketball games a year and seldom misses a game on TV. Debra said she has not spoken to Calipari or anyone else at Kentucky about the cornfield, but she's hopeful they appreciate the tribute.
"We're a small farm family and all we can do is something in our crops," she said. "We hope he appreciates the uniqueness of it and feels honored by it."