For the students who play Big Jay and Baby Jay, their special KU experience is one big secret. The students are told to tell as few people as possible their identity, leading to some awkward questions about their whereabouts on game days.
The identity of the students behind the masks are never publicly revealed. You can’t look them up on any website, and there’s no trace of their mascot exploits on social media.
But when Commencement comes, the graduating seniors get their one day to share with the world the activity that made them both a campus icon and completely nameless.
Laura Ballard, d’08, g’09, spent three of her four years at KU cheering for the Jayhawks from the sidelines as Baby Jay. As a sophomore, a graduating senior explained to her the tradition of wearing the boots for the walk down the hill.
“One of the first rules I learned as a mascot was to never be partially dressed in the suit – it ruins the ‘magic’ of the mascot,” Ballard said. “That’s when it hit me how truly special Commencement is. We spend our mascot career doing our best to perform anonymously, and graduation is the one time when we can be both Baby Jay and ourselves.”
“I overheard lots of people commenting on my shoes. A few thought it was a random way to stand out in the crowd, but I heard many exclaim, ‘She must be Baby Jay!’ I was really proud of all I had accomplished at KU as a student and a member of the Spirit Squad, so it felt good to be recognized. I was even asked to take a few pictures with random students, which actually felt very normal since I posed in many pictures with random people as a mascot.”
To learn more about Commencement, including the history of class banners, honorary degrees, and when the walk through the Campanile got started, read our full feature, The Walk.
Andrew, b’14, and Erin Forbes, j’14, were married in Kansas City on June 3, 2017. The couple sent us some pictures of their wedding, which included a very recognizable special guest. We had to follow up to hear more of the story. Nothing brings people together like the University of Kansas (and Baby Jay)!
How did you two meet?
Our sorority and fraternity (Tri Delta and Delta Chi) were partnered for Homecoming in 2011, our sophomore year at KU. It all started somewhere between a few Jayhawk Jingle practices and pomping our float for the parade!
What was your engagement story?
We’ve since moved to San Francisco after graduating from KU and Andrew proposed near Sutro Baths. It was a very foggy day and he took me to a restaurant that overlooks the ocean. As we wrapped up the meal the clouds began to clear up and we walked down to the water where he proposed.
Who came up with the idea to take a photo with all of the KU grads?
Erin did! We had seen photos from other weddings with the alumni holding a statue of their mascot, we figured we could do one better and just invite Baby Jay to the reception. And I’m glad we did, it was great to capture so many Jayhawk grads of all ages in one place: from the 1960’s to 2016! Everyone loved taking photos with Baby Jay, whether they went to KU or not.
Justin Law is the first to admit that his spouse is much better at compromising than he is—especially when it comes to watching college sports. But he’s no stranger to compromise either.
Justin, b’99, g’04, a diehard Jayhawk, lives in Manhattan with his wife, Kelly, a K-State graduate. They met in Kansas City in 2004, thanks to a friend who played matchmaker. An engagement soon followed, and the young couple decided to ditch the big city and move to a smaller town.
“Manhattan wasn’t necessarily on the list at the time,” Justin recalls wryly.
That changed when Kelly accepted a job at the K-State Alumni Association. The Laws have been in the Little Apple ever since.
Despite the fact that Justin bleeds crimson and blue, and Kelly’s pride is purple, the two make it work. “She’s come to KU basketball games with me but not against K-State,” says Justin. “I’ve been to K-State football games when they’re not playing KU. I’m a little more competitive and more interested in the outcome of sporting events, especially against K-State—especially living in Manhattan.”
Kelly, who now works at USI Insurance Services and counts the KU Alumni Association as one of her clients, has softened her stance against her intrastate rival. “I will willingly go to KU games when they’re not playing K-State, and I’ll cheer for KU,” she says. “But I typically wear pretty neutral colors.”
Justin gets a little support from their daughter, Kherington, who’s almost 7. The young girl, who at first favored the Wildcats over the Jayhawks, has been singing a different tune lately. The future Jayhawk, who is a big fan of Baby Jay and can easily recite KU’s alma mater, proudly sports her Jayhawk cheerleading outfit to school and willingly endures teasing from her teachers and classmates.
“She actually started out a K-State fan,” says Justin. “Around the age of 4, she switched allegiances. I’m honestly not sure how that happened. I wish I knew how, so if she started wavering I could bring her back.”
The Laws keep the family rivalry fun by placing wagers, which include dinner duty or a household chore for the losing fan, on KU vs. K-State games. “We have a lot of family bets,” says Kelly. “It’s always Kherington and Justin against me.”
Although Justin and his daughter often don’t fare well during football season, they look forward to basketball season and rely on their ’Hawks to outplay the Wildcats—if for no other reason than to dodge dinner duty. Here’s hoping they get their win.
The following was shared with alumni members as an April Fool’s Day joke on April 1, 2015. Our playful prank, which included a “new” logo added to the website, fooled more than a few alumni, but by sundown everything was back to normal, and everyone was let in on the joke. We’ve kept the post for posterity, but don’t be fooled again! What follows is pure folly and is not to be believed. Proceed at your own risk:
At the end of 2014, we asked alumni to vote for their favorite Jayhawk, and hundreds of you responded. In January we shared the results of the survey, and the winner, with a whopping 27% of the vote, was the 1941 “Fighting” Jayhawk.
KU alumni spoke, and we listened.
So starting today, a new era begins for the KU Alumni Association, with an old twist. Today we are proud to announce our new logo and brand identity that pays tribute to KU’s history and tradition, while echoing the voice of KU alumni.
The Fighting Jayhawk Returns
Our new logo proudly features the Fighting Jayhawk, originally designed by student Eugene “Yogi” Williams in 1941. Williams, who worked as a cartoonist for the University Daily Kansan, created the Fighting Jayhawk with a more aggressive demeanor, reflecting the mood of campus and the country in the midst of World War II.
Though the Fighting Jayhawk was replaced as KU’s official symbol by a happier version in 1946, Yogi Williams’ version never went away entirely, attesting to its popularity. As of today, it’s been called back into action.
We expect the rest of the university to follow the Alumni Association’s lead, adopting the Fighting Jayhawk everywhere from KU business cards to the center of James Naismith Court, including the mascots. While Big Jay is already imposing enough to intimidate opponents, a new “Fighting Baby Jay” will strike fear into the hearts of children who dare support KU opponents.
Don’t be fooled by today’s announcement, as logos are often here today and gone tomorrow. We appreciate all of the proud members of the KU Alumni Association who voted for their favorite Jayhawk, giving an old bird a fighting chance.
We have a pretty great team here at the KU Alumni Association! While many of our staff members travel around the world hosting events and meeting Jayhawks, many others work behind the scenes. In this new series on our blog, learn a little more about the people who make your Alumni Association a positive force for KU—and a fun place to work.
Emily Ellison, c’11, joined the Alumni Association in 2013 after spending a post-graduation year in her native Portland, Oregon. The former Baby Jay missed Lawrence and the University of Kansas and found a perfect fit as coordinator of alumni programs. She helps wrangle event details and registrations, supervises our interns and and helps keep our staff organized as they travel—all while sharing her endless KU spirit and cheerful personality.
What’s your favorite spot on the KU campus? My favorite spot on campus is the Campanile. I love the tradition it represents, and it is a very peaceful place to sit and let your mind wander, with the exception of graduation and football game days, of course.
If you could have dinner with two people, living or not, who would they be? Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, because I love nothing more then a good laugh.
Put your iPod on shuffle. What are the first five songs?
“The Payback,” by James Brown, “Let the Groove Get In,” by Justin Timberlake; “Cowboy Boots,” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; “Is This Love,” by Bob Marley and The Wailers; “B.O.B,” by Outkast.
Cats or dogs? Dogs! I have a chocolate lab named Phoebe, named after the character on “Friends.” There is nothing better than coming home to a dog who thinks your arrival is the highlight of their entire day.
What’s the last book you read? I don’t have the best attention span for recreational reading, but the last book I read was Are you there, Vodka? It’s me Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler
Tell us about something in your office: a favorite photo, trinket or other object or memento. My favorite object in my office is a photo album my friend Paige made for me when we graduated. It has a collection of pictures from our days as Baby Jay.
What’s your favorite color? Green.
Favorite KU celebrity?
Big Jay & Baby Jay, of course!
Do you have any hidden talents or unique hobbies?
Though I haven’t been able to do this much since I graduated from college, I have been riding horses for most of my life.
Life member Pam Swedlund, c’86, sent us a note this spring to tell us about the power of a sticker—our Jayhawk stickers, to be exact.
I just wanted to let you know I was in Washington, D.C. for my niece’s ninth birthday. I’ve had her, along with her younger sister, enrolled in Future Jayhawks since the program began. While I was there, Kate received a birthday card from Baby Jay. She saw the envelope and said, “Oh! I got a card from Baby Jay. I hope there are stickers in it!”.
She opened the card and was very happy that Baby Jay wished her a happy birthday and sent her stickers. Her sister Ava, who turns six in March, said “I hope Baby Jay doesn’t forget my birthday – I LIKE that Baby Jay!”. I think the program is working!
On another note, Kate had one of the Jayhawk stickers on her school notebook. Another girl in her class asked, “How do YOU know about Baby Jay?” Turns out, her parents are alumni of KU, so my brother and his wife (who are alumni as well) have been able to connect with fellow Jayhawks in D.C.
Ah, the power of a sticker.
If you have a youngster who loves Baby Jay, check out our Future Jayhawks program! It’s open to kids from birth through high school, and members receive an exclusive, KU-themed gift each year along with a birthday card from Baby Jay and other special goodies and invitations throughout the year.