Behind The ScenesNCAAB

Spake’s stair running comes in handy for in-game Georgia-Kentucky interview

Section 231, Row M in Rupp Arena isn’t exactly the tippety-top of the 23,500-seat home arena for the University of Kentucky, but it’s a Tyler Ulis bounce pass from that rarefied air.

So it was more than a little optimistic for University Kentucky freshman Amanda Otten, who occupied a seat in that very row, to think her pink sign with a special message to her boss would ever get shown during Tuesday’s ESPN telecast of Kentucky’s 82-48 drubbing of Georgia.

The sign, which took Otten about two hours to make and was festooned with gold glitter, read:

“My Boss said if I get on TV he would give me a Raise.”

With the Wildcats holding a 28-point lead four minutes into the second half, the sign and Otten did in fact get on TV, catching the eye of a camera person, who relayed the information to the ESPN production truck. Play-by-play man Brad Nessler and analyst Sean Farnham joked that sideline reporter Shannon Spake should trek up and get the whole story.

For Spake, it was no big thing – aside from the fact she was wearing heels.

ESPN is one of my favorite channels, so to be on was a privilege. I woke up this morning and was really excited. It wasn’t a dream – it actually happened. – Amanda Otten,
UK freshman

“It was a fun moment,” said Spake, who regularly runs stadium and arena stairs at the sites of her assignements, a tradition she began last football season (see sidebar). “You don’t often times get to do things like that, but because of the score of the game, we took advantage of the opportunity.”

“I bet she’s sore today,” Otten said. “It takes some talent to do that in heels.”

Soon after her appearances during the game, Otten’s phone began getting a steady stream of messages including one from her mom who texted, “You’re on TV!”

Stair Master

Shannon Spake, who is currently training for a June half-Iron Man triathlon, first started running stairs at Nebraska last year with college football analyst Brock Huard. She is approaching 20 different venues where she has climbed and descended and has run the Rupp stairs several times in the past, so last night’s jaunt to find Amanda Otten was familiar terrain.

Her stadium/arena runs usually last about an hour and sometimes her twin boys, Liam and Brady, even accompany her on the road and on the steps.

“Often times I’m the only one in the stadium or arena and you look around and it’s so cool,” she said. “But then being able to be with the fans at the game, and last night doing that interview, I absolutely love the fans and I feel so blessed when I get to go to these locations and be in front of the student sections and the whole arena. That’s part of why we’re there – to share the atmosphere they create and bring it to the viewers.”

“When I got outside to better reception, I had 37 messages,” Otten told Front Row. “A friend texted and said, ‘You made it!’ ESPN is one of my favorite channels, so to be on was a privilege. I woke up this morning and was really excited. It wasn’t a dream – it actually happened. My boss may have been joking, but I took him seriously!”

That boss, Fibreworks Founder and President, Steve Stooksberry, admitted he had turned the game off after looking for Otten’s sign during the first half.

“I figured she was down near the court so I’d be able to see it,” he told Front Row. “I gave up looking. Then I started getting texts and emails when she was interviewed. A guy from my first grade class, who lives in Wisconsin, found me!

“The whole company [with 65 employees] is elevated today,” said Stooksberry, who grew up in Lexington but went to school at Tennessee. “I mean, who would think of that? Amanda’s very talented. It means a lot to be on ESPN, it’s really made us feel special.”

And about that raise? “We’ll be inviting Amanda to our Valentine’s fundraiser banquet this weekend,” he said. “And when she comes back to work with us in the summer, she’ll have a substantial change in her income.”

With success like that, Otten – who was attending her first UK game and paid five dollars for the ticket, is already planning for her next Rupp appearance.

“I don’t know how I’ll top it, but I will try,” she said.

Derek Volner contributed to this post.

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