LEXINGTON – The Bluegrass Sports Commission (BSC) is proud to announce Larry Conley, Mike Battaglia, Donna Brothers, Kenny Rice, Bill Farish, Van Florence and Mike Fields as the winners of the fifth annual Bluegrass Sports Awards presented by Alltech. This year’s banquet will be held Jan. 26, 2016, at the Lexington Convention Center’s Bluegrass Ballroom.
“This year we’re honoring seven difference makers who have contributed in major ways to our state,” said BSC President and CEO Brian Miler. “I congratulate our nominating committee for recognizing and assembling such deserving recipients. We anticipate a great crowd this year and are eager to celebrate the work of these great Kentuckians.”
Conley will receive the Tom Hammond Sports Media Award which is a national award presented to a broadcaster who has achieved outstanding accomplishments in the field. The Ashland, Ky., native has been the longtime partner of Hammond covering college basketball and baseball for ESPN, ESPN2, Jefferson Pilot and SportsSouth.
Conley, a member of Rupp’s Runts, played professional basketball briefly before being drafted to serve his country in Vietnam. He got his start in broadcasting when a friend, John Guthrie, asked him to consider broadcasting a few basketball games on public television for the University of Georgia in 1973. That grew into additional games for other schools in the Southeastern Conference throughout the 1970s. His first paid job came in 1977 when he called games for TVS in Atlanta. In 1979, a fledgling network called ESPN hired him to work for their brand new 24-hour sports channel. He called 19 games that December and worked for the network for the next three decades.
Conley was a 1997 inductee into the State of Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2007 was named to the UK Athletics Hall of Fame. In 2008, the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches (KABC) announced the Larry Conley Ultimate Teammate Award, given to a participant in the KHSAA state tournament whose individual play exemplifies the style of play where scoring isn’t the most important aspect of the game, and is complemented by passing, rebounding and block shots.
“In a broadcasting career that spanned over 30 years, Larry provided commentary on college basketball and baseball and, just as he was during his playing days, he was efficient and a team player,” said Hammond. “He let the game be the center of attention and never sought the spotlight. In addition to that, he has been one of my best friends since we were both 16 years old.”
Conley joins previous winners Dick Enberg, Marty Brennaman and Cris Collinsworth.
The Tom Hammond Kentucky Sports Media Award goes to a trio of recipients this year as Mike Battaglia, Donna Brothers and Kenny Rice will all be honored. The trifecta joins past winners Jennie Rees, Larry Vaught and Dick Gabriel.
Mike Battaglia has worked as a horse racing analyst, race caller and broadcaster and is recognized as being one of the best handicappers in America. He is also the morning line odds maker for Turfway Park and Keeneland. Battaglia has set the morning line odds at Churchill Downs since 1974 where he was the track announcer from 1977 until 1996, calling 19 Kentucky Derbies during his tenure. Due to his extensive knowledge, he is a staple of the Kentucky Derby broadcasts on NBC Sports every year.
Battaglia has been a member of the NBC Sports broadcast team for the Derby and Preakness Stakes since 2001. He also worked the Belmont Stakes for NBC from 2001 through 2005, the Breeders' Cup from 1993 through 2005, and various other races televised by NBC from 1993 onward. He has taken his expertise to the silver screen and appeared in the 2010 movie Secretariat as well as the 1999 film Nice Guys Sleep Alone.
Donna Brothers was born with racing in her blood. Between 1987 and 1998, the former jockey rode at Birmingham Turf Club, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs, Canterbury Park, Remington Park, Turf Paradise, Arlington Park, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Hialeah, Calder, Turfway Park, Ellis Park, Dueling Grounds, Monmouth Park, Belmont Park, and Saratoga. She retired in 1998 as the second leading female jockey in the country by money earned after having won 1,171 races. It was also in 1998 that she began dabbling in on-air horse racing coverage with Television Games Network (TVG), ESPN, and the Fairgrounds Race Course in the fall of 1998. She then worked for Churchill Downs as an on-air racing analyst and handicapper from 1999 through 2003.
In 2000, Brothers began working for NBC Sports as its on-track reporter and racing analyst on thoroughbred horse racing shows and has since covered the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup among many other thoroughbred horse racing events and races. She has also covered the Hambletonian Stakes, the Rolex Three Day Event, the World Equestrian Games, the AQHA World Championship Show, and Professional Bull Riding (PBR). Conducting several of her interviews while on horseback, Brothers was named 2014’s Best Sideline Reporter in a column by Sports Illustrated‘s Richard Deitsch honoring notable members of sports media.
Kenny Rice got his start in broadcasting at WTVQ in Lexington where he worked his way up to sports director, a role he held from 1980-99. Since 2008, Rice has hosted what is considered by thoroughbred racing enthusiasts as racing’s biggest night, The Eclipse Awards. In 1996, Rice won his own Eclipse Award for outstanding local TV coverage of thoroughbred racing. That same year he earned the Charles W. Englehard Award for lifetime contribution to the Kentucky Thoroughbred industry, becoming the youngest ever to earn that achievement.
Rice has covered nearly every sport, broadcasting two summer Olympics, the inaugural United Football League, college basketball, college football, professional bull riding, track and field, rugby and the 2008 Paralympic Games. He currently serves as a play-by-play announcer for NBC Sports coverage of thoroughbred racing, as well as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and boxing. He has covered the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Breeders’ Cup and Belmont Stakes since 1999 and currently hosts the popular show Inside MMA.
“Over the years, the trio of Mike Battaglia, Donna Brothers, and Kenny Rice has been a vital part of our horse racing telecasts,” said Hammond. “Coworkers labeled us the Kentucky Mafia because we stuck together and had each others' backs. They have all done outstanding work in a variety of fields and are very deserving of this award.”
This year’s Jim Host Sports Business Award goes to Bill Farish who, in addition to several other duties, manages the day-to-day operation of his family’s Thoroughbred business, Lane’s End Farm. He is very active in promoting the thoroughbred industry and currently serves as the chairman of the Breeders’ Cup as well as the Horse PAC, the Thoroughbred industry’s political action committee. His previously served as Breeders’ Cup chairman from 2006-2011 and oversaw some of the biggest changes in Breeders' Cup history, including the shift to a two-day format in 2007. His current role as chairman played an instrumental role in bringing the prestigious event to Lexington.
Farish is a founding member of the Kentucky Equine Education Project and is a member of the boards of trustees for several groups including the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, The Jockey Club, The Blood-Horse, Saratoga Reading Rooms, Markey Cancer Foundation, Transylvania University and Shakertown. He is a former member of The Lexington School’s Board of Trustees and past president of the Thoroughbred Club of America.
“The eyes of the world have been on the Bluegrass and Keeneland over the last year as a result of awarding the Breeders Cup to Keeneland and at the helm of making that decision was Bill Farish,” said Jim Host. “There have been very few economic impact decisions that have affected the Bluegrass Region more than the Breeders Cup. Lanes End Farm also has made a significant impact in jobs and economic growth since its founding over 36 years ago by his father Will Farish.”
Farish joins previous winners Mitch Barnhart, Alan Stein, Jerry Carroll and Ted Bassett as the Jim Host Sports Business Award recipients.
Mike Fields is the 2016 recipient of the Jim Host Youth Sports Award after spending his entire career as a sportswriter covering high school athletics. He retired last summer after spending the last 35 years with the Lexington Herald-Leader. Fields got his start in 1974 covering city hall as well as high school sports for a small newspaper in Florida. Since then, he’s covered Kentucky high school sports for the Henderson Gleaner, the Evansville Sunday Courier and Press and the Herald-Leader.
Fields’ last assignment was the 2015 Kentucky High School state baseball tournament at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The Pikeville native was responsible for documenting countless Kentucky sports moments including Paul Andrews hitting a half-court shot to win the 1982 Sweet Sixteen for Laurel County; Henry Clay outlasting Carlisle County 35-33 in triple-overtime in the 1983 finals; East Carter's Kevin Bair swatting a walk-off two-run homer to beat Harrison County 10-9 in the 1984 state baseball finals; and the epic Brian Brohm-Michael Bush quarterback duel that ended with Trinity outlasting Male 59-56 in the 2002 Class 4A title game. He covered primarily basketball, football and baseball during his career and witnessed more than 2,600 basketball and 700 football games.
“No one has made a more significant impact to amateur sports in the Bluegrass region than Mike Fields who has covered high school sports for the Lexington for three decades,” said Host. “He is known by more young people than arguably any other person because of always being present at high school events and activities causing a number of them to get recognition that they would not get otherwise. High school sports have not been a job for Mike Fields - it has been a passion.”
Previous winners of the Youth Sports Award include Martha Layne Collins, Louis Stout, Dave Kerchner and Don Adkins.
For the second straight year, the BSC will also name a Volunteer of the Year. The 2016 recipient of the Bobby Flynn Volunteer of the Year Award is Van Florence who served as president of UK’s 101 Club for over 30 years. The self-proclaimed gopher for almost every UK men’s basketball head coach left the club in 2009 for health reasons. Florence was honored as one of Camp Horsing Around’s Amazing Eight citizens in Lexington for raising over $75 million for charity in his lifetime. During his tenure with the 101 club, he also helped Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith start their charitable foundations. Florence also served as the executive director of the UK basketball museum from July 2000-June 2008.
“Nobody deserves the Volunteer of the year Award more than Van Florence,” said Host. “The 40 plus years of volunteer work with the 101 Club speaks for itself. Van has given more of himself than anyone I have ever known to help UK's athletics programs and the Bluegrass area in general.”
The inaugural winner and namesake of the award was Bobby Flynn who has been a mainstay at nearly every sports venue in Lexington, including Keeneland, UK, and the Legends.
In addition to these awards, the Lexington Herald-Leader will once again present its annual Sportsman of the Year Award live to cap off the evening.
The event will consist of a reception with award winners and keynote speakers, a sit-down dinner and awards program. Proceeds from the evening will benefit the BSC and its efforts to grow the economic impact sports tourism has on central Kentucky. Tables of 10 are available for purchase for $1,250. Individual tickets are also available for $150.
For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 859-286-5156 or visit us online at www.bluegrasssports.org.