Cardinal Caravan gets Strong push

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By Steve Doyle

The green grass at the Shelby County Fairgrounds will look a little more like red on Tuesday evening.

That’s when the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Caravan will pull into town, and this time the parade is being led by none other than the school’s new football coach, Charlie Strong.

“He’s definitely going to be here,” said Jimmy Willard, who along with Doyle Mason has organized the caravan’s stop in Shelby County for the past five years.

“We changed the schedule because he said he wanted to attend all the events and be here in Shelbyville. We were going to have it on the second, but we changed it to accommodate his schedule.”

This annual gathering starts at 5:30 p.m., and coaches, athletes, cheerleaders and mascots will mingle with fans for photos and autographs and speeches about the coming year.

Willard said not all coaches attend, and in recent years football coaches Bobby Petrino and Steve Kragthorpe sometimes have skipped the stop in Shelbyville.

But Strong, hired in December, is expected to break that trend.

Willard, owner of H.B. Smith Realty, said he and Mason got involved with the event because Mason’s wife used to work at U of L.

“They had one at the Old Stone Inn one year and another time at the [Shelbyville] country club,” he said. “We got into it with the Cardinal Athletic Fund and [athletic director] Tom Jurich and his son Mark.”

He said about 300 to 350 have attended in past years. He expects women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz and someone from the men’s staff, though likely not Rick Pitino, to address the crowd, and a player or two will be there.

There will be an autograph period, cheap food and gear you can purchase.

“But the first hundred to arrive get a free t-shirt,” Willard said.

Does Willard expect a larger crowd because of Strong’s presence?

“They [Louisville officials] said a lot of people have been coming just to hear him speak.”