Many northeast Johnson County residents may be disappointed that no local team will be on the court in tonight’s NCAA men’s basketball championship.
But Mission City Councilor Suzie Gibbs is plenty excited that the University of Kentucky Wildcats are seeking their second title in three years. Her son, Mitch Barnhart, is the Kentucky Athletics Director.
Gibbs and the family moved to Mission when Barnhart was a child, and Barnhart attended SM North, graduating in 1977. Gibbs said that Barnhart had a huge love of sports as a child. In high school, he covered sports for The Mission, SM North’s student newspaper.
“His dad was an athlete, and he passed away when Mitch was young,” Gibbs said. “Mitch always said to me, ‘If I can’t play sports, I want to lead them.’ And I thought, as a single mom, I’ve got to make sure he follows that dream.”
Barnhart graduate from Ottawa University before starting his career in college athletics administration as an intern at San Diego State before moving on to jobs in associate roles at Oregon, Southern Methodist and Tennesee. He took his first head Athletics Director job at Oregon State in 1998, and then took the helm at Kentucky in 2002.
Gibbs and other family members headed to Dallas this weekend for Kentucky’s Final Four game against Wisconsin — a game that ended in dramatic fashion with Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison draining a closing-seconds three-pointer to give the Wildcats a one-point victory.
“It was absolutely electric,” Gibbs said. “Kentucky travels well, so there was blue all over. It was exhilarating.”
Gibbs actually got to meet Harrison and his twin brother Andrew in the early hours of Sunday morning as the team celebrated the victory over a dinner.
“They are both such nice guys, they really are,” she said. “So mannerly.”
And while tonight’s game will represent the end of the college basketball season, Gibbs won’t have to wait until November to start rooting for one of her son’s strong athletic programs. Mitch’s brother Eric is the General Manger of Sooner Sports Properties at the University of Oklahoma.
“We get strong basketball with Kentucky and strong football with Oklahoma,” Gibbs said. “We’ve got it good.”