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Bluegrass girl lives out her Bluegrass dreams

Taylor Rae Starks is a Kentucky native from the south end of Louisville who grew up in a family with two athletic parents. She also had her own athletic career in high school, playing both tennis and volleyball.

Starks recalled a bet her mom and her made in the 5th grade: if she won both her volleyball and basketball city championships, her mom would get her a dog. Surely enough, Starks won both championships and ended up getting her dog.

Starks knew she wanted to go to a Southeastern Conference school growing up, and now she's a student at the University of Kentucky as a senior studying marketing and management while living out her dreams interning for the UK Athletic Department.

Her start with the athletic department looked a little different and hit closer to home for her.

She explained how one day she was talking with her mom about how she missed sports during her junior year of college. She curiously asked her mom why she had this big love for sports.

“We were reminiscing on how my mom was a coach before I was even born," said Starks.

Her mom was the basketball coach at her elementary school before Starks even started kindergarten. She ended up coaching Starks once she got to elementary school.

Starks explained that she was always on the phone with her mom to talk about the games.

“Every UK game, I’ve never missed,” she said.

During one of their calls, her mom mentioned how funny it was one of the people she coached at her school was Kristen Sanford, the director of operations for Kentucky Volleyball.

“I was like, 'Mom what are the odds I email Kristen Sanford and I ask how I can get involved?'” Starks said.

Starks recalled her intentions initially were to just help with volleyball; she didn’t think much of what it could become. She emailed Sanford and told her she was interested in the athletic department. Sanford ended up giving Starks the Marketing Director Kate Stoess’ email.

Starks then reached out to Stoess about wanting to get involved with sports, having no idea an internship opportunity existed.

“She was like, 'Okay, you’ll start in August.' It’s very crazy to me. It all started with my mom who had a connection with UK Volleyball and then it all happened,” Starks said. For her, it all felt full-circle, like she was meant to be there.

Starks started with volleyball, which involved working with Graduate Assistant Ava Debord and helping make parts of the show work in terms of the crowd.

She also helped produce soccer content and oversaw the video elements of the game for both the men's and women's teams. For men’s basketball, she had roles upstairs with the visuals and promotions on the floor. Eventually, Starks took the initiative to get even more involved.

“I texted both our graduate assistants. I explained I’m a senior and I love what I’m doing with sports marketing. I want to get more involved, and that’s when I began to do more,” she said.

Starks started doing click effects for women’s basketball and Shoflo. She also got involved with Photoshop, explaining how she loves being able to help with graphics for game days.

For gymnastics, she oversaw the host.

“I was proud to be in charge of something big that actually produced the show. I enjoy the responsibilities of things they’ve given me,” she said.

Producing is Starks' favorite role.

“The thing that makes the crowd excited, the thing that makes the crowd get off their feet. I love that," she said.

She explained it’s not all about doing the most but being a part of a production of a show. She talked about how she’s driven by being a big aspect of something bigger than her, not just in sports.

She continued to explain how she enjoys wearing the headset during basketball games and hearing what the producer tells her. She said she feels like a leader and gets to learn more.

When Starks is not working a game, she is in the office. She begins the day by going to class from 9:30-10:45 a.m.

“It’s so important to enjoy this internship. You have to make friends with people,” Starks said. “If we’re all not at Joe Craft by 11, we’ll text each other and be like, 'Where are you?'”

Once she gets there, she goes to the graduate assistants — Debord and Tasa Leoso — and asks what they need her to do that day. They either load the van for an upcoming game, roll T-shirts — which is not fun, she said — or they’ll say they need help with a baseball graphic.

“I emailed all the baseball teams, Georgia, Tennessee, even Bellarmine, and asked for their baseball team’s headshots. And I would go on Photoshop, and the graduate assistants would guide me on how to edit them for game day graphics,” she said.

She said it was cool because it might seem like a small task, but from a bigger perspective it’s going into a game day graphic that’s going on a screen for a home game.

Starks said that the biggest challenge is not being so hard on yourself — you can’t be a perfectionist in sports, she said.

Devin Kochergen is the former assistant director of marketing alongside Kate Stoess. “She taught me when things are not going well, act calm about it and stable about your response," Starks said about Kochergen. "Things will happen the right way, where no one will notice. If you’re frantic everyone, will notice.”

Starks is appreciative of everything Kochergen taught her during her internship.

“I feel like Devin helped me a lot with this. I will never forget her — she was a huge inspiration.”

When asked about her favorite memory during her time as an intern, Starks knew her answer immediately.

“I could tear up thinking about it: the interns getting so close together, that’s my favorite thing,” she said.

She said that little gestures, like walking somewhere together or calling someone to come pick her up from somewhere, the rides homes, the hangouts, are what make her realize how strong their bonds have gotten.

“My favorite memories are where you would never say in your career that you got to interact with Mitch Barnhart,” she said. She talked about a moment when she had to go to his office to pick up a trophy.

“Little 4-year-old Taylor would have a freak attack," Starks said. "When you grow up a UK fan and you get to live out every person that you’ve ever dreamt about your whole life — it’s a dream come true. It’s like the Disney World of sports.”

It was clear as day how in awe Starks was of her experiences with the internship thus far.

“Rushing the field with the interns and walking home afterward, you can’t shut up about it. There’s nothing to think about, there’s nothing to talk about other than the Florida game. Nothing else mattered,” she said.

Starks explained how her biggest takeaway was that people make the workplace.

“The people made this experience for me complete. Every memory means that much more,” she said.

When she’s at the office, Starks stays for hours because of the company and how everyone keeps each other driven, whether they're working on tasks, resumes, applications or getting advice from the graduate assistants.

As for her plans after graduation, Starks said she's keeping her options open; she never likes to leave her eggs in one basket. As of right now, Starks has applied for multiple graduate assistant positions with marketing at different universities.

“I have to give all the credit to this internship. I didn’t know about any of this, but then I saw our graduate assistants and thought, 'I want to do this,'” she said.

For those who want to go into sports marketing, Starks' first piece of advice is to make sure you know the rules of sports.

Second, she preaches to not use these experiences as something you think you can put above others or that you feel like you’re exclusive, because you will hate your job at the end of the day.

Finally, of course: don’t be selfish.

“In order to be successful in the sports world, you have to be supportive of everyone around you because it’s about connections and who you know,” she said. Starks' list of connections will be well along the way after her experiences at UK.


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