The mentality of March Madness is ‘survive and advance’ or your season will become a casualty of the tournament. Along with defeat, the hopes and dreams of fans and alumni can die in pursuit of that one shining moment, and that loss can be tough to take. Now imagine how it must feel when the symbol of your team, your school’s mascot, literally passes away.
Like losing a family member
The University of Colorado announced this week that Ralphie IV, also known as “Rowdy,” was laid to rest near Boulder as fans mourned the passing of their beloved buffalo mascot. This has been a tough year for live mascots, as LSU’s Mike the Tiger VI succumbed to cancer last October and had to be humanely euthanized. Texas’ Bevo XV sent flowers, as did Reveille from Texas A&M. Bevo XIV had passed just a year prior.
When a school’s mascot passes on, fans and alumni mourn the same as if they’d lost a member of the family or a cherished pet.
“Losing ‘Rowdy’ is like losing a family member,” said former associate athletic director Gail Pederson who oversaw the Ralphie program at CU for 20 years. “I know all Buff fans, and especially the Handlers that had the honor to run with her, will always have her in their hearts, especially when Ralphie V and all the future Ralphie’s take the field each fall.”
While they’ve been in the news more lately, the practice of having live mascots to represent university athletic teams dates back more than a century. KU alumni may not know that some of the university’s earliest mascots required feeding, and we’re not talking about birdseed.
Before Big Jay
KU teams have been called Jayhawkers or Jayhawks since around 1886, when Professor E.H.S. Baily first coined the famous Rock Chalk chant, but the sidelines of KU’s first football games were guarded by a bulldog, common at many schools around that time. The bulldog even made its way onto pennants and postcards symbolizing the KU team (Frank Mason would be proud).
Then for a brief time in 1909, KU’s gridders were pictured with a pig. According to KUhistory.com, the proud porker–a gift from an assistant coach–was known as Don Carlos, and the sow only appeared for one year.
KU’s history with live mascots was short-lived, as the mythical Jayhawk came to life only in the illustrations of Henry Malloy in 1912, leading off a parade of cartoon variations of Kansas’ beloved bird. Today, the famous symbol of KU pride appears court side in the costumed form of Big Jay and Baby Jay.
Animal rights activists abhor mascots kept in captivity, but age-old college traditions die hard. At LSU, officials made sure the next Mike the Tiger would have an accredited tiger sanctuary. According to a January 2017 news release, “Becoming an accredited sanctuary means that LSU has met high standards of excellence in animal care and is operating ethically and responsibly.” Doing so, however, means Mike will never again run onto the field at Tiger Stadium, ending a tradition that dated back to 1936. Killing the tradition was the trade-off for keeping–and caring for–a live mascot on campus.
Meantime, Ralphie V, Rowdy’s successor, remains in good health as fans witnessed when he ran onto the field at last weekend’s spring game. The fan-funded program lives on at Colorado, even while alumni mourn the loss of Ralphie IV. And the loss feels very real.
Jayhawks send condolences to our former Big 8 brethren in Boulder.
“Out of the 16 or 17 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never seen so many people in the waiting room waiting to hear a word about how the patient was doing,” said Dr. Emmanuel Daon, thoracic and cardiac surgeon with the University of Kansas Health System. “Not even close.”
Dr. Daon was talking about the friends and supporters of Dr. Scott Ward, d’91, g’94, g’96, better known as “Scooter” to those he counts as friends, and if you’ve ever met him, you’re a friend.
“What it tells me is that this is somebody who’s special.”
In October, Ward suffered an aortic dissection requiring emergency heart surgery. The procedure was needed to repair a partial rupture in Ward’s aorta, the largest blood vessel in the human body. Ward, who was already paralyzed from neck down since breaking his neck in 1986, faced long odds, including a survival rate under 10%. But he had something else working in his favor: an army of supporters, led by his superhero wife, Robin, g’03.
“They can tell you what the odds are,” she said. “They can tell you how bad this is. They don’t know Scooter.”
Family, friends and former student-athletes descended on KU Med from all over the country and took over the waiting room. There they held vigil for Scooter, sharing updates via text, Twitter and Facebook, and soon after a movement was born. With KU volleyball still in season, and men’s basketball getting underway, the rallying cry #rootforscoot took over social media.
“That initial support was so amazing that I don’t think there was any other choice than to survive,” Ward remembers.
Incredibly, Ward survived the initial surgery and was on his way to recovery when he suffered another aortic tear and a more perilous prognosis. A second surgery would be needed, and the success rate, according to Dr. Daon, was more like one-in-a-million. Scooter remembered taking a deep breath before adding his trademark lighthearted humor and hopeful optimism.
“Quoting a bad movie, I said ‘so we have a chance,'” he recalled in a recent interview, just months after surviving a second, life-saving heart surgery.
A heartfelt tribute
February is heart health awareness month, and our friends at Charlie Hustle are helping raise awareness and funds to support the American Heart Association in Kansas City. Charlie Hustle’s chief marketing officer, Katie Martincich, b’10, d’10, g’13, also played volleyball for KU and worked alongside Scooter as an academic and career counselor for Kansas Athletics, so she helped the Kansas City company connect with the Wards to share their story.
Scooter’s journey, told in this video below and posted on the Charlie Hustle Facebook page, is a touching tribute to a Jayhawk so beloved, you can’t help but root for him.
Former KU volleyball star ends epic year getting picked for HGTV show
2016 will indeed be tough to top for Ashlyn Driskill. The former KU volleyball player started the year having just helped the Jayhawks reach their first Final Four in program history. She followed that up by getting engaged and buying her first house with fiance Foster Vielock. To top it off, the happy couple was selected to appear on HGTV’s House Hunters, set to air later this year. Ashlyn agreed to share her story with KU alumni.
How were you picked for the show?
My fiancé and I actually applied for House Hunters because our realtor was on an episode about 5 years ago. They had told him that they really enjoyed him and would love to have him on the show again. He thought we would have a good shot at making the show due to our sports backgrounds and age. (Editor’s note: The couple’s realtor was also a Jayhawk, Brett Budke, c’05. Driskill began her volleyball career playing at Wichita State before graduating in 2015 and completing her eligibility at KU. Her fiance, Foster Vielock was a pitcher for the Shockers’ baseball team from 2011-2014.)
Later that night I signed us up, and the next morning we received an email saying we made the first cut. We needed to fill out some paper work to see if our style of house fit what they are looking for, and after our phone interview, our HGTV interviewer told us that she really enjoyed us. The final step was to make a 20 minute YouTube video and answer a set of questions that she provided. Less than a week after posting the video, we discovered we had made it to the final 4 candidates! Shortly after that, they sent us a congratulations email with all the filming information and dates!
What was the experience like?
The experience was honestly much better than I was expecting. A camera man, producer, sound guy, and producer’s assistant were they only four people they sent for the filming, and they were very laid back and fun. Their personality made it so that we weren’t as nervous as we thought we were going to be.
We filmed the house we had already closed on during the first day, followed by our current living situation and couple interview the next day. A lot of the interview questions were very similar to the YouTube video questions. We also had to restate our answers in various way to allow the editors to “give us the personality” that will fit with the episode. As for the looking at the house portion, it was a blast! We had to film our comments in each room approximately five times the same exact way so the camera man could get a ton of different angles to look like there were multiple cameras filming. They planned to come back late January to film us looking at two other houses, as well as the renovations we have done with our house.
Any memorable moments or surprises?
For surprises, it would probably have to be how many times we had to film doing the same exact thing so it would appear like there were multiple cameras. Also, we had to get approval from Foster’s mom’s neighborhood to film at her house since that’s where we are living until the renovations are done. The HOA president is also the owner of KC Home and Style magazine, so she is putting us on the cover of her magazine once we are finished with all our renovations and talking about the HGTV experience.
One memorable moment was when they had to refilm us driving up to our house and talking about the details of the house outside because it started snowing heavily while we were looking at the inside of the house. The producer thought it would look weird if it had looked sunny when we were outside, then suddenly have it snowing when filming near windows.
What are you doing now?
Currently, I am working at KU Med in the In-Patient Pharmacy and finishing up my Master’s in Business Administration. I will be applying to medical and pharmacy school in the summer. My fiancé is an Account Executive for Canon Solutions.
We actually just got engaged right before Christmas. He just informed me that he told HGTV that he was going to ask me to marry him and get me another puppy before they came back for their second round of filming, so I feel like that had some pull in us getting picked.
And how’s the house?
We are currently doing a complete kitchen remodel, a complete bathroom remodel, and we put 30 can lights in the entire house. We ran into a lot of issues when we took down a wall in the kitchen to make it more open so that slowed down the process a lot. In the spring, we are putting up a privacy fence for our dog, painting the house, and doing a complete remodel of the master bathroom. We’ll have plenty of pictures of the before and after!
We can’t wait to see them! We’ll look out for your episode of House Hunters, set to air this summer, and we’ll let alumni know when to watch. Meantime, congratulations, Ashlyn and Foster, on your new home AND your engagement! HGTV couldn’t have found a cuter couple.
The KU School of Business, the Langston Hughes Center and KU Athletics hosted “The Power of Sport: A Conversation on Business, Race and Sports” last week at the University of Kansas.
The event featured a panel discussion with former KU student-athletes, including former KU women’s basketball and WNBA player Tamecka Dixon, and former KU track athlete and Olympic gold medalist, Billy Mills. Shawn Alexander, associate professor and graduate director of African & African-American studies and director of the Langston Hughes Center moderated the discussion.
Following the panel discussion, sports sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, Harry Edwards delivered the keynote address to a crowded ballroom in the Kansas Union. Edwards has consulted on diversity issues for the MLB, NBA and NFL. He is the author of numerous articles and four books focusing on issues of race and sports.
The event’s organizer, Shawn Alexander, anticipated the conversation would attract strong interest from the KU community.
“Sport is a microcosm of society that allows us to talk about many issues, including corporate power, race, gender, homophobia, urban planning, health and labor,” Alexander said. “For the past two years, KU has been at the forefront of this discussion with its annual symposium.”
Last year’s event, featuring The Nation’s sports editor and author Dave Zirin, was live streamed by the KU Alumni Association, and the video can be watched here or on the Association’s YouTube channel. New York Times sports columnist and author William Rhoden delivered the inaugural keynote address in 2015.
This year’s event was co-sponsored by the KU Alumni Association, the Office of the Provost, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the K Club and the KU departments of African & African-American Studies; Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences; Sociology; and Political Science.
The event was free but registrations filled up quickly. A full rebroadcast of the event is available below and at kualumni.org/powerofsport. It can also be viewed on the Association’s YouTube channel. Alumni can follow the discussion on Twitter by searching the hashtag #KUracesports.
We’re recounting the most memorable moments and biggest KU stories of the past year. With help from our crack team of KU experts, a.k.a. your hard-working KU Alumni Association staff, we’ve assembled and ranked the top ten of 2016. Read on as we present the best of KU…
10. Basketball Rules
The new home of Naismith’s original rules of basketball hosted a housewarming party when the DeBruce Center held its official grand opening celebration on Saturday, July 23. Hundreds of loyal fans and alumni made the pilgrimage to Lawrence to pay tribute to the game’s inventor and tour the new building connected to Allen Fieldhouse.
9. Winning week
A big basketball win over Duke, a double-overtime Border War win for soccer, KU’s first Big 12 volleyball title and an upset football victory over Texas. It was more than just a great week to be a Jayhawk. From Sunday to Sunday, it was a week for the athletics ages.
8. Open for Business
In May, we took a sneak peek inside the School of Business’ new building, Capitol Federal Hall, where expansive, flexible design encourages collaborative learning and innovation is welcome. More details and images of the school’s new space can be found in the May issue of Kansas Alumni magazine.
7. KU Endowment announces results of Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas
The largest higher education fundraising effort to date in the state, Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, raised $1.66 billion, far exceeding its $1.2 billion goal. The campaign, which ended June 30, boosted student support, faculty, facilities and programs at the University of Kansas and The University of Kansas Hospital.
6. Twelve straight Big 12 Conference titles
Highlights of the 2015-16 season included a gold medal at the World University Games in South Korea; the championship trophy at the 2015 Maui Invitational in November; a 12th-straight Big 12 Conference regular season; and the Big 12 Postseason Championship title. It truly was an amazing year.
5. KU student earns Rhodes Scholarship
University of Kansas senior Shegufta Huma is one of 32 American students to win a Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious recognitions of scholarly excellence. Shegufta Huma, from Bel Aire, is majoring in political science with a minor in Spanish, and she is particularly interested in working toward justice for Muslim immigrants. Huma is KU’s 27th Rhodes Scholar.
4. KU School of Business dean Neeli Bendapudi named Provost
“I am thrilled for the opportunity to serve my alma mater in a new capacity and look forward to working with people across campus to make it an even better place for our students, our faculty and our staff to learn and to work,” Bendapudi said. “This is a truly wonderful place that means so much to me and my family, and this opportunity is a dream come true for me.”
3. KU Sesquicentennial
In 2016, KU celebrated a 150-year tradition of educating leaders and serving the state of Kansas. The KU Alumni Association contributed to the momentous occasion with a number of commemorative activities, including a KU150-themed birthday celebration at the 2015 Jayhawk Roundup in Wichita, a special edition of our annual alumni calendar with historic images of KU and a reprise of our popular Jayhawks on Parade with three one-of-a-kind Jayhawks to celebrate KU.
2. Chancellor Gray-Little to step down in summer 2017
Bernadette Gray-Little, the 17th chancellor of the University of Kansas, has announced she will step down from the position in summer 2017. “It has been an honor to lead the University of Kansas,” said Chancellor Gray-Little. “KU has always been a special place with terrific people and an instinctive spirit to change our world for the better. Leading this remarkable institution is a privilege I always will cherish, and I’m grateful to the entire KU community for believing in our mission.”
…and the biggest KU story of 2016 (drumroll please)…
1. KU alumnus wins Nobel Peace Prize
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at ending a civil war that has ravaged his country for more than 50 years. “This great honor only adds to the immense pride KU alumni around the world have felt for their fellow Jayhawk since President Santos devoted himself to the cause of peace in Colombia,” said KU Alumni Association President Heath Peterson. “This Nobel Peace Prize also brings honor to the long-established mission of University of Kansas faculty, administrators, students, staff and alumni to make our heartland campus a welcome home to students from around the world. Our international missions, as educators and alumni advocates, will continue with an energized pace thanks to President Santos, whom we are proud to call one of our own.”
How did we do? Was your favorite KU moment mentioned or did we forget another unforgettable moment? Let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and check out more stories while you’re here. It’s been a great year worth celebrating, and we know our chant will rise in 2017!
If you have ever thought to yourself that James Naismith bore a striking resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt, you’re not alone. In fact, KU’s very own Junior James Naismith, a.k.a. Harrison Leiszler, proved the point, and with the help of his industrious (and clearly creative) father, Chris Leiszler, c’01, little Harrison had a Halloween costume that truly rocked.
Dressed as Mount Rushmore, the bespectacled Harrison battled the Captain of the Titanic for the top costume at the KU Symphony Orchestra annual Halloween concert at the Lied Center of Kansas. The popular event hosted by the KU School of Music included spooky music, costumed musicians and an instrument petting zoo (where kids could toot their own horn, or try a violin).
As fate would have it, Mount Rushmore happened to celebrate its 75th birthday on October 31, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Pictures of Harrison became so popular online that the South Dakota Department of Tourism reached out to ask Chris and Anne Marie Leiszler, b’00, to feature him on their Facebook page. The proud parents agreed, and the rest is, well, history.
KU student Tom Babb delivered a keynote address at the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity’s 177th General Convention in Oklahoma City in August. Tom was paralyzed while swimming in the ocean during a family vacation to Hawaii his freshman year.
Before taking the stage, Tom was introduced by his sister Claire, who shared the story of Tom’s accident and the influential role the fraternity played in his recovery. Claire even admitted her initial jealousy of Tom’s new fraternity brothers shortly after her brother arrived at KU in the fall of 2015. Once immersed in life at KU as a Beta pledge, she felt that he had become too busy to return her calls, and she wondered whether the fraternity was right for him. “Who did those boys think that they were,” she shared in her remarks, “to call my brother their brother?” After the accident, however, the constant support and camaraderie sparked Tom’s recovery and gave him renewed energy to face what he called his “new normal.”
Although it is nearly impossible to watch with a dry eye, the story will warm the hearts of KU alumni.
Tom is already back at KU enrolled as a student and living in the Beta house, which was renovated during the summer to better accommodate Tom’s disability. His fraternity brothers also held a fundraiser in the spring to support future KU students with disabilities. The TomStrong 5k raised more than $47,000 for the Tom Babb Student Accessibility Scholarship.
For the fraternity’s efforts, the Alpha Nu chapter of Beta Theta Pi was recently awarded the Mary Ann Rasnak Access Champion Award by KU’s Academic Achievement and Access Center. The award, recognizing significant contributions to campus and classroom accessibility, is named for the center’s former director. Though typically awarded to an individual, this marked the first time an organization has won the Rasnak Award.
Contributions to the Tom Babb Student Accessibility Scholarship Fund can be made to KU Endowment.
On Sunday, August 14, we tagged along with the McKee family for move-in day. Julie McKee, c’87, and her husband Mark, b’83, helped their second daughter, Chandler, move into Corbin Hall, and little sister Brooke was along for the adventure. KU announced earlier this year that Corbin Hall will be restored and renovated in 2017.
Julie McKee, c’87, walked into Corbin Hall and was immediately taken back in time. A few years had passed, of course, and her three daughters were a reminder of the passage of time. Corbin had changed some too, of course. The decorations and some of the furniture were different, but much of the historic building was exactly as she remembered, including the atmosphere- a familiar mix of excitement and uncertainty that comes with a life-changing moment, like going off to college.
Welcome to move-in day.
For more than 90 years, Corbin Hall has served as the largest female-only residence hall for undergraduates at the University of Kansas, which means multiple generations of Jayhawks, like the McKees, have lived there. Corbin was the first home-away-from-home for countless KU alumni, and a new crop of eager freshmen moved in August 14. However, this year’s group of girls will have a unique experience compared to those who will follow; they will live in the same Corbin Hall inhabited by their mothers and grandmothers, and they’ll be the last class to do so.
Earlier this year, KU announced plans to close Corbin in 2017 so renovations–and restorations–can be made to the aging facility. Upgrades to plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems will be made at a cost of around $13.5 million, improving all student rooms, restrooms, public spaces and the entryway. Corbin is scheduled to reopen in 2018. That made this year’s move-in day a special occasion, especially for those who once lived in Corbin. The next group to move in, once restoration and improvements are complete, will experience a much more modern facility that retains all the architectural charm this historic KU building has to offer.
Originally built in 1923, Corbin was extended in 1951 with the addition of the north building. It has been updated through the years, but the structure and layout have remained largely unchanged, which former residents will recall. You might tell a fellow Jayhawk you lived in Corbin. A woman would know to ask “north or south?”
Each wing was known for its quirks and its own culture, history and personality. A bond was created among the girls on each floor that survived bid day, bad dates and changed majors.
Julie McKee, her husband Mark, b’83, helped their daughter unload, unpack and decorate her room with fresh new bedding before speaking with us about their family’s move-in day experience, which was admittedly bittersweet. Chandler McKee, like most KU freshmen, radiated optimism, knowing it was finally her turn to be a Jayhawk.
And her new address would be 420 West 11th Street, better known as Corbin Hall.
When Naismith’s original rules of basketball finally made their way back home to Kansas this year, a budding basketball fan dressed as James Naismith was on hand to witness the momentous occasion. We profiled the pint-sized impersonator, dubbed Junior Naismith by adoring fans, back in February here on the KU Alumni Association blog, where he (and his dad, Chris Leiszler, c’01) talked about the experience of being featured on ESPN College GameDay and skyrocketing to internet fame.
Turns out, that was merely prelude to what would come next.
The young lad, 7-year-old Harrison Leiszler, reprised his role in a video skit for Traditions Night to kick off the academic year. Alumni can count on Junior Naismith to capture your hearts, among other things, as he revisits the new home of the original rules in the DeBruce Center to stake his claim to the original rules of basketball. We won’t give anything away, except to say he steals the show.
“An experience our family will never forget”
We spoke with Chris Leiszler about Harrison’s experience shooting the video for Traditions Night.
“We had an awful lot of fun watching them shoot the video,” Leiszler told us. “The people in the KU Marketing Department and in the Chancellor’s Office were so kind. You can tell they really enjoy what they do. I was amazed at how much effort they have to put in to produce a 2-minute video, but it turned out perfectly. They even let us go into the Chancellor‘s office so Harrison could sit at her desk!”
After the video appeared on the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, Harrison made his grand entrance to thunderous applause, walking hand-in-hand with Chancellor Gray-Little.
“Of course, these are some of the greatest fans in the world, so they made sure he felt the love,” Leiszler said.
The experience must have been surreal–he received an ovation that might have made Bill Self jealous–but Harrison took it all in stride. He rarely broke character, except to answer a few questions, including the quintessential “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His answer? A dentist like his dad, or maybe … KU Chancellor. The crowd went nuts.
“Despite what a lot of people might expect, Harrison is actually a pretty shy and humble kid,” Leiszler said. “So, for him to speak into a microphone in front of a few thousand people at the age of 7, it was a big, big deal. When he was all done and joined us back in the bleachers, he whispered to me from behind his little mustache, ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’”
Hats off to Harrison, who obviously comes from a true blue Jayhawk family.
“We were really proud of the little guy,” Leiszler said. “Being a part of KU Traditions Night was an experience our family will never forget.”
The official Traditions Night video will be posted on KU’s YouTube channel. Until then, check out this video and behind-the-scenes photos contributed by the Leiszler family.
The KU Alumni Association released a new mobile app this week just for KU students. The app, highlighting KU traditions, is the Association’s second app, joining one dedicated to alumni that launched in May.
The KU Student Alumni Association Traditions app allows KU students to earn points for participating in KU traditions and getting involved in campus activities while at KU. Research shows that students who are engaged on campus are more successful and more likely to graduate on time. Engaged students are also more likely to stay connected to their alma mater after they graduate. The KU Traditions app was designed by the KU Alumni Association to foster engagement and campus involvement among KU students.
Built by MobileUp, the app was a collaborative effort created with input from students, alumni and multiple campus offices, including KU Endowment, the Office of First Year Experience, Student Affairs, the Student Involvement and Leadership Center, Student Senate and KU Athletics. More than 50 activities listed in the app encourage KU students to master the following KU traditions:
• Wave the wheat
• Sway to the Alma Mater
• Master the fight song clap
• Fill the stadium
• Join a club
• Meet your professor
• Read the UDK on Wescoe Beach
• Hug a mascot
• Have a Wang burger at the Wheel
• Visit the KU Career Center
• Find a mentor
• Explain Rock Chalk to a non-Jayhawk
• Plus 44 more traditions
Students can complete KU traditions–by taking a photo or entering text–and join the Student Alumni Association (SAA) through the app.
The Association also announced earlier this summer that all fall 2016 freshmen would receive a four-year gift membership in SAA. The gift membership, provided in partnership with KU Endowment, is redeemable through the app and online. The initiative removes financial barriers that might have prevented some students from joining SAA, one of the largest student organizations on campus.
The change also supports university goals to increase retention and graduation rates by encouraging student involvement. The KU Traditions app, along with the gift membership, help position SAA among the strongest student alumni associations in the country.
Learn more about KU Alumni Association mobile apps.