Let’s get this out of the way right up top: Yes, KU has a hockey team. It’s not varsity competition, but it is the next-highest level, University-sponsored club sports, which compete against teams from other schools. As documented a year ago in Kansas Alumni magazine, the hockey ‘Hawks, who play in Independence, Missouri, have made a mighty resurgence, and this season has been their best yet.
The Jayhawks completed their American Collegiate Hockey Association Division 3 schedule 20-0-1, capped by a two-game sweep at the U.S. Air Force Academy Feb. 1 and 2. Next up: a pride game against Division 2 Mizzou, Feb. 21 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“Mizzou has been struggling all year,” says junior Jimmy Samuels, KU’s club president, “but they’re going to be a whole new team when they step on the ice against Kansas, and we’re not going to hold back, either. It’s much more than just a game. It’s a historic college rivalry and we’re one of the few sports that gets to continue that tradition.”
The ice ‘Hawks feature two of the ACHA’s top-10 scorers, who both hail from Overland Park: sophomore Dane Johnson, who has a dazzling 38 goals and 30 assists in 19 games, and junior linemate Dawson Engle, with 28 goals and 34 assists in 21 games. Close behind is hard-charging team leader Preston McConnell, a senior from Liberty, Missouri, who sports 16 goals and 21 assists in 17 games.
“Give a lot of credit to [coach Andy McConnell, j’16],” Samuels says. “He really analyzed each line and their chemistry. He has matched each line with their speed, chemistry, passing abilities, positioning, everything. Every line has great potential to produce amazing plays.”
KU and Mizzou are both depending on strong fan support at the game, which faithfully replicates the intense border contests of old. The ‘Hawks, however, also need fan and alumni support to help them travel their next challenge: the ACHA playoffs.
If, as expected, KU is awarded a bye for the first round of regionals, KU would likely head to the Division 3 finals in Frisco, Texas, at the end of March.
KU’s club sports fund awarded the hockey team $9,000 for its $60,000 annual budget at the start of the season, with the rest being covered by players, their families, and a few faithful supporters. Now the Jayhawks are looking at a likely bill of $15,000 to rent a team bus to travel to and from Texas, secure hotel rooms and buy meals.
They have raised $6,000, and are asking fellow Jayhawks to assist the hard-earned journey by contributing through a GoFundMe account. All donations go directly to the club’s account at KU Endowment.
KU-Mizzou T-shirts will be available at the Feb. 21 game, as will team hats and pucks. Team officials are still working with vendors to produce a KU hockey game jersey available for purchase, but that won’t happen soon enough to help cover expenses for the Texas trip.
Samuels says players and their families will have to cover any budgetary shortfalls for the trip to nationals; should there be a surplus, any remaining funds would carry over and help alleviate player costs next season.
“It’s been a crazy ride the past few months,” Samuels says. “It’s been awesome, and there’s still more to come.”
Photo: KU hockey’s leading scorers, sophomore Dane Johnson (19) and junior Dawson Engle (25).
Read more about the KU Hockey team in the January 2018 issue of Kansas Alumni Magazine.
Rabbi Zalman, as he is known within the Chabad community and across campus, doesn’t know how he was identified for the honor, but he’s glad it came.
“How did they pick it up? I’m not sure,” he says. “I think it’s because of the number of things that happened in the last year that triggered a very strong response, whether it was the kosher kitchen here at KU, whether it was the goodness and kindness campaign, but more than that, I think it’s the fact that it surprises people that in a small town in Kansas, in the middle of America, there’s such vibrant Jewish life.
“People don’t realize how much of a diverse and fascinating community KU really is.”
Working in concert with KU Dining, Rabbi Zalman helped launched dedicated kosher dining, available for the past year at South Dining Commons, a program that he says will expand next fall. In the wake of disturbing mass shootings both in downtown Lawrence and Las Vegas, Chabad created a “Good Card” program that encouraged random acts of kindness, which Chabad followed up with an ark coin-bank program to benefit Lawrencians in need.
Citing 13 years of leadership in Lawrence by Rabbi Zalman and his wife, Nechama, The Forward wrote, “Working from the Rohr Chabad Center, the Tiechtels have done their bit to make KU home to their growing band of Jewhawks.”
Rabbi Zalman praises KU’s diverse student body, as well as leadership decisions that have helped create a welcoming campus within a Midwestern public university where outsiders might not initially expect to find such a hospitable community.
“It’s a big statement. It says a lot about KU, to have been recognized at such a level in the global Jewish community,” he says. “It says a lot about how open and how diverse and how embracing KU as an institution is. This is what this makes us so special: all of the beautiful, different, colorful expressions that we have in this community.
“That’s why everyone loves KU, because of its very unique family spirit.”
Image courtesy of The Forward magazine and used with permission
Money was tight for Joanie DeGraw Jones and her family in the late 1960s, so she was only able to spend her freshman year at KU before returning home and completing her nursing studies in Kansas City, Kansas.
Jones, ’72, made the most of her limited time on the Hill, however, joining the Frosh Hawks pep club and cheering on the football ’Hawks as they stormed through a one-loss 1968 season on their way to a Big Eight championship and a trip to the Jan. 1, 1969, Orange Bowl in Miami.
While watching classmates pile into southbound cars, buses and trains for a trip she could not afford, Jones consoled herself by purchasing two keepsakes: a short-sleeved KU Orange Bowl sweatshirt and the custom-pressed single “Hawk it to ’Em,” by The Tips.
“I am really sad that I didn’t get to finish all four years,” says Jones, now retired from a long nursing career at Providence Medical Center, “but I treasure my things from there.”
She recently pulled the mint-condition sweatshirt and red-vinyl record from a sealed bag tucked safely in the back of her closet, where they’d been stored for 50 years, and asked her children what they might do with the mementos if they inherited them.
“They really couldn’t give me an answer,” Jones says, “and I thought, you know what? I’m just going to call [University Archives, in Spencer Research Library], and the lady said, ‘We don’t have anything like that. We’d love to have it.’ I wanted it be somewhere where it will be taken care of and treasured.”
Jones’ sweatshirt and record recently joined University Archives’ student life collection, significantly boosting KU’s holdings of 1969 Orange Bowl items, including photographs, negatives and color slides donated by the Alumni Association (which can be viewed with an “Orange Bowl” search here); a media guide and game program; and an as-new carry-on bag given to travelers by Maupintour.
“This is one of the best collections that we have that reflects student life at the time,” says Archivist Becky Schulte, c’76. “We don’t really have this much for any other athletic event that I know of. This is really exceptional. These photos of players with fans, signing autographs, lounging by the pool, we just don’t get that kind of stuff.”
As for her own keepsakes, Jones says she “treasured them all this time,” but she’s glad she decided to donate them to University Archives while she’s still here to savor the satisfaction of her decision to pass them along for sharing and safekeeping.
“I’m glad I’m alive to enjoy what I’ve done,” Jones says, “rather than donating after somebody passes away. I wanted to see that they benefited somebody else.”
Cue Wright hopes to one day retire from a successful music career and return to KU as a hip-hop professor. “Helping people,” she says, “is what I really like to do.” The following profile originally appeared in issue No. 3, 2018, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
On Feb. 4, 2017, a new Cue Wright was born. Already having earned two KU degrees and in the early days of a promising career in higher education, Wright shed her naturally shy self and stepped onto the outdoor stage at Mass Street’s Replay Lounge as the hip-hop artist Cuee.
“I knew I could write raps,” says Wright, j’15, g’17, “but I didn’t know I could perform as well as I did.”
A Chicago native, Wright was coaxed into a campus visit by her mother’s longtime employer, “Uncle” Gale Sayers, d’75, g’77. Front-row seats to a basketball game didn’t hurt, but it was Mount Oread that stole Wright’s heart.
Memories of that day are valuable tools in her current part-time job as senior coordinator of student ambassadors. When she meets with prospective students, Wright uses her story to help others write their own.
“I always channel that with my out-of-state students,” she says. “They’re thinking, ‘Why am I at Kansas?’ Well, go out on this campus and let it fill you.”
Finding her way
Wright arrived as a civil engineering major, but felt lost. Her mother asked what she was doing outside of class, to which Wright responded, “Nothin’.”
Wright switched her major to journalism, found her way to KJHK and eventually became director of hip-hop programming. Shortly before winter break of her senior year, her J-School adviser noted her “people-person” personality and suggested she consider a student affairs role in higher education. That required a master’s degree, yet another unknown for Wright, but she dove in. Soon her advanced studies were wearing her thin.
“I need an outlet. I need an other. I need something else. And so I started writing rap. Everything I’m doing is self-taught, but luckily I love to learn.”
Encouraged by family and friends, Wright in 2017 released “Master’s Cap,” in which six songs each explore a year of her college experience.
“My thing is,” she says, “school is cool. I love school. I’m a nerd.”
Wright’s current mixtape, “Shameless,” which she’s dropping online throughout 2018, displays her growth as an artist, both in writing skills (My life is a tornado/The haters all around me, everything will be OK, though) and emotional maturity that “lets the world know who I am.” Her success led to a busy summer schedule in Lawrence and Kansas City, including a prominent gig at the Middle of the Map Fest at Crown Center.
“Pursuing hip-hop in Lawrence has been different. They put me on a lot of alternative shows, and the audience sees this hip-hop opener and it’s totally different than what they’ve signed up for. The rewarding part is when they say, ‘Now I’m a hip-hop fan.’
“I take the blank stares as a challenge, and I love challenges.”
At 6-feet-2, 250 pounds, former KU defensive lineman and part-time fullback TJ Semke knew he was just about the perfect size and body type to play fullback in the NFL. He also knew that NFL offenses no longer feature fullbacks, so career prospects were slim at best.
“That dream kind of died out,” Semke, d’16, says from the North Carolina headquarters of Hendrick Motorsports. “But I still wanted to do something that would keep me competitive and have that locker room feel, be around the guys, and NASCAR ended up being a good fit for that.”
Thrill of victory
Now in his second season with Hendrick Motorsports and his first on the pit crew team for Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Napa Auto Parts Chevrolet, Semke on Aug. 5 got to experience the thrill of victory when Elliott held off the determined Martin Truex Jr. on the Watkins Glen International road course.
It was win No. 1 for Elliott, a third-year driver and son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, and the 250th in the illustrious racing history of Hendrick Motorsports, and nobody celebrated more enthusiastically in victory lane than a jackman from Kansas City who just a few years earlier knew next to nothing about auto racing.
“It was pretty special for Chase to get his first win, and it was the 250th for the company, which is a big deal,” Semke says. “All the pieces fell together and it ended up being a big deal. It was definitely good vibes coming back to work on Monday.”
An unusual path
Even before he became a professional athlete in NASCAR, Semke’s route through athletics was unusual and his story unique.
Semke fractured a vertebra during his junior season at Lee’s Summit North High School; he made it through his senior season while constantly fighting through “a lot of issues with my discs.” When his doctors finally told him to stop playing football, Semke complied and turned down offers to play at Division II colleges.
He grew up a “big MU guy,” and shocked his family when he came to Lawrence and enrolled at KU as a full-time student.
“Something drew me there,” Semke says. “I liked the school when I went on a visit, so I just went there.”
Ripe for recruitment
An energetic and successful student in high school, Semke likewise threw himself into his studies on the Hill, and even worked part-time for his mother’s boyfriend’s bail bond business, tracking down absconders who skipped court dates.
Although work as a bounty hunter provided the occasional adrenaline rush he still craved, it wasn’t the same as football. After two years away from the sport, Semke was ripe for recruitment when he noticed a University Daily Kansan advertisement announcing open tryouts for football walk-ons.
He tried out during the spring of his sophomore year, made the team, and entered his junior year with sophomore standing in football. A natural fullback in a pro-style offense with little need for fullbacks, Semke fashioned himself a high-energy playmaker on special teams; during practice, though, he moved to the scout team’s defensive line.
Putting in the work
“I was a little bit undersized for that,” he says, “but I was just out there every day, working hard, making plays, and I kind of got noticed. So they thought, why don’t we give this a shot? That whole next spring, my redshirt junior year, they put in a lot of time with me, getting me ready to play, and I ended up starting the first six games of my junior year on the defensive line.”
After being featured in Sports Illustrated thanks to his bounty-hunter background, Semke played defensive end as a senior, along with fullback when necessary—like Turner Gill before him, coach Charlie Weis rarely featured fullbacks—and when his KU playing days were done Semke began focusing on the NFL. He performed well at his Pro Day workouts, earning a workout with the Kansas City Chiefs and a minicamp invitation from the New Orleans Saints.
Leaving football behind
Realistic about his chances, Semke left football behind for good when he was invited to join more than 100 other candidates for pit-crew tryouts at Hendrick headquarters.
Hendrick, it turns out, sends a pit-crew coach out on the road with its race teams, and he spends race weeks visiting collegiate football program near every track, searching for potential recruits. At Kansas Speedway, KU coaches put in a good word for Semke, touting his speed, strength, attitude and energy.
Semke lived up the billing he received from his former football coaches, and in spring 2016 he was introduced as one of five new pit crew recruits at Hendrick’s second Signing Day event.
He spent his first full season learning the jackman’s job on a variety of teams and racing series, and this year was named a full-time member on Elliott’s No. 9 Camaro.
Steep learning curve
“TJ is a pretty special guy,” says veteran crew chief Alan Gustafson. “He’s physically gifted, to say the least, to be that big and that fast and strong. He’s a really competitive guy and a fun guy to have on our team. We’ve been really impressed with him and his ability with relatively no experience pitting the car. His learning curve has been amazing. We expect really big things from him in the future.”
Semke’s learning curve got steeper this season when NASCAR announced new pit-lane regulations that allowed for only five crew members over the wall during races, rather than the previous limit of six. That meant double-duty for someone on each crew, and Hendrick’s solution was to make the jackman also responsible for putting on tires, all within the 13-second timeframe of a high-pressure pit stop.
“You have double the work and you’re still trying to be fast,” Semke says. “It presented a lot of challenges, but that’s kind of what’s fun about it. We have a bunch of athletic guys who know how to adapt and change, so it worked out in our favor.”
Brains and brawn
As expected, Semke relishes the vigorous physical environment at Hendrick, where pit crews lift weights under the supervision of a team of trainers, go through full-speed pit training and even spend Mondays doing yoga to improve flexibility.
Perhaps not as expected, though, is the intelligence Semke brings to the team, which pays off in the team’s constant film study. He was named Academic All-Big 12 and graduated with at 3.1 GPA.
“A lot of people might look at me—the tattoos, and I’m a big, strong guy—and they might think, ‘Oh, this guy’s just a meathead, a cave-man type of guy, eats a bunch of meat.’ At a glance you might just think that’s what I am.
“But anything I do I want to be really good at it. I can hit the books and I can hit the weights, both. It definitely feels good to have a degree from the University of Kansas, that’s for sure.”
TJ Semke, No. 9 team jackman, gives fans a closer look inside the Hendrick Motorsports heat training program.
The call came Tuesday and was entirely unexpected:
“We need anthem singers who are music students at each of the Final Four schools. Could you do it?”
Before sophomore voice major Darius Sheppard could fully process this most unexpected opportunity to perform the national anthem at Saturday’s Final Four in San Antonio, he quickly replied, “I’m only 20. I need to ask my parents. Can I email you tonight?”
Sheppard—a tenor who performed a spine-tingling rendition of the national anthem with fellow students from Michigan, Villanova and Loyola-Chicago before the start of Saturday evening’s first game in the packed Alamodome—laughs when he recalls the reply he heard from the NCAA official: “OK, but instead of emailing tonight, can you call back in five minutes?”
Sheppard immediately phoned his parents, and, permission secured, on Wednesday booked his flight and on Thursday arrived in San Antonio, thrilled to represent KU on the biggest stage on collegiate athletics.
“It’s been an amazing week, absolutely incredible,” Sheppard said, shaking his head and smiling broadly. As he returned his attention to the first half of the Michigan-Loyola game, playing out just a few yards from his floor-level seat, Sheppard grinned and shouted over the crowd, “Rock Chalk!”
Shortly before his Jayhawks strode onto the Intrust Bank Arena court for their open practice, coach Bill Self renewed his oft-repeated hope that his players keep a light bounce in their step despite the pressures of NCAA Tournament competition: “Just go out, have fun and let’s enjoy the moment, and let’s play with joy and passion. Play with a free mind.”
When they emerged from the arena’s wings a few moments later, the Jayhawks were greeted with an instant lesson in how to enjoy the moment and embrace the fun: Wichita schools on Wednesday morning bused thousands of school children to the arena, and they lit the place with an energy unprecedented in the sedate history of NCAA Tournament open practices.
Dozens or perhaps hundreds of long yellow buses clogged the streets and parking lots around Intrust Bank Arena, and once inside, the bouncy kids happily cheered each of the teams that emerged for open-practice shootarounds. They were happy to cheer on all the athletes, but anticipation for the Jayhawks’ appearance brought on a high-energy buzz as the children—who filled more than half of an arena that seats more than 15,000—began chanting “KU! KU! KU!” When the KU team emerged to waves of screams, players’ faces lit up and coaches’ smiles beamed.
After singing along to the fight song piped in over the scoreboard speakers, kids carried on with assorted chants of “Jayhawks! Jayhawks!” and “Go KU! Go KU!”, and the kids and other Wichita fans and alumni who filled the arena nearly to capacity cheered heartily when center Udoka Azubuike, wearing a brace on his injured left knee but otherwise looking fairly mobile and healthy, made free throws.
When practice concluded, the Jayhawks huddled at midcourt, then waved to the crowd, encouraging more and more cheers. Big 12 Player of the Year Devontè Graham brought the half-hour affair to a roaring conclusion by draining a jump shot from midcourt.
Kansas, Big 12 champion and the Midwest region’s top seed, faces No. 16 seed Penn at 1 pm Thursday in a game to be broadcast by TBS.
“Our players know after watching tape that [Penn] is definitely not a 16,” Self said. “So they have our attention.”
Azubuike strained a knee ligament during practice before the Big 12 tournament. He has had limited practice with the team this week, and Self hopes the 7-footer can play at least “a few minutes” Thursday, with prospects for more significant playing time should KU advance.
“That 70 percent tomorrow,” Self said, “could be 85 percent by Friday and 90 percent by Saturday if we’re fortunate enough to win.”
Check out a few more photos from practice on our Flickr page. Photos and video by Steve Puppe.
Driven by their love for the game, a group of dedicated sports club athletes is leading a hockey resurgence at KU.
Yo juego hockey.
When his Spanish teacher asked students to introduce themselves to a classmate, Andy McConnell turned to an unknown guy seated nearby and said, en español, “I play hockey.”
When he arrived at KU, McConnell immediately sought out the men’s ice hockey club team. What he found here was not good. There were no prospects for the sport’s return, until McConnell heard his classmate’s reply:
Yo juego hockey.
McConnell closed out his playing career two years ago and has since volunteered his time as the club’s head coach.
Find out how KU’s ice hockey club team was reborn in Chris Lazzarino’s cover story for issue no. 1, 2018, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
For more information about the award-winning Kansas Alumni magazine, click here.
The KU Alumni Association recently mailed the latest issue of Kansas Alumni magazine to association members.
Issue six includes features about the grotesques of Dyche Hall; a hundred-year-old murder mystery solved by alumnus Bill James; and the popular sunflower fields of Grinter Farms.
Monsters of the Mind
A top-floor renovation of Dyche Hall reveals pressing needs for KU’s other mythical beasts: the grotesques that for a century have kept watch on Jayhawk Boulevard from their Natural History Museum perch.
Eroded to near-extinction, the iconic grotesques have found refuge in the Panorama as plans are pondered for their replacement.
Recognized for overall excellence by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the award-winning Kansas Alumni magazine is mailed bi-monthly to members of the KU Alumni Association. Members can log in to read the full issue online or through the KU Alumni app. Nonmembers can access a free preview article from each issue.
In the final minutes before the start of the 2017 Vets Day 5K, Nov. 12 at Memorial Stadium, 24-year Army veteran Scot Bird relished the joy of a rare visit to Mount Oread—“Iowa by birth,” he said. “KU by the grace of God”—and the pleasure he and his wife, 22-year Army veteran Mary Bird, would soon share in their leisurely run down Memorial Drive, Jayhawk Boulevard and Sunnyside Avenue.
“We’re not going for time,” Bird said. Holding up his phone and its camera, he added, “We’re going for this.”
The gray fall morning also brought reflective moods from the Birds, who live in Junction City, where Mary is a community volunteer and Scot works as the civilian transportation officer at nearby Fort Riley. Mary served in operation Desert Storm, Scot deployed to Iraq, and the spirit of Veterans Day weekend was very much on their minds.
“We both lost friends,” Mary Bird said. “It’s been going on for so long, it’s almost inevitable. So, yes, they are in our thoughts today.”
Generations of Jayhawks
As the runners, joggers, walkers, stroller-pushers and a few four-legged companions wound their way around campus—Dan Edidin won the race, in 18 minutes, 16.9 seconds, and Lucy Hardy won the women’s competition in 20:34.5—U.S. Air Force veteran John Forney raced with a rare advantage over the rest of the field: years of practicing and racing a similar 2-mile course around and atop Mount Oread while running cross-country at KU, from 1948 to ’50.
“This is in honor of coach Bill Easton,” said the jubilant Forney, c’51, who won the men’s 75-99 age group.
Forney, a third-generation Jayhawk who is now retired in Denver, was joined in the Vets Day 5K by his son, David, e’88, and grandson Sam, both of Charlottesville, Virginia. Cheering them on was Forney’s wife, Eleanor Kothe Hardy, c’57.
“When Grandpa called and said, ‘We’ve got to run this Vets Day 5K,’ we signed up immediately,” Sam recalled. “It’s not just my first visit to KU; it’s also my first time in Kansas, and we’re having a great time.”
High-five for the participants
Honoring KU ROTC’s centennial and hosted by KU Student Veterans of America and the Veterans Alumni Network, the Vets Day 5K attracted 391 registered participants, ranging in age from 7 to 88 and hailing from nine states and two countries (the U.S. and Thailand).
All participants received impressive medals, and age-group winners were awarded custom cooler cups as trophies. (A special shout-out to Kansas Alumni photographer Steve Puppe, j’98, winner of the men’s 40-44 age group.) And, a lucky few were also treated to a homestretch high-five from Ryker Butterworth, young son of racer Matt Butterworth, c’15, who served eight years as an Air Force crew chief.
Still riding a wave of euphoria after completing the 5K, Scot Bird explained another level of motivation driving him: He is a cancer survivor who finally forced himself to begin exercising again in February 2016, after months of recuperation following his intensive treatments. After starting with walks of little more than a few dozen yards, Bird rapidly progressed back to something resembling the fitness of his soldier days, and he is now a regular competitor at regional races of all distances.
“She’s really the runner,” Bird said of his wife, Mary, “and I was tired of sitting there watching her go out the door. So, I got up off the couch. I’m vertical because of her.”