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.
We’ve relished the 2016 Olympic Games watching so many talented Jayhawks represent their countries–and their alma mater–in Rio de Janeiro. One Jayhawk, Kyle Clemons, even contributed to Team USA’s historic medal haul in Rio, earning a gold medal for his role running a preliminary heat of the 4 x 400 meter relay.
KU alumni were proud of all of our #JayhawksinRio, sharing social posts throughout the games. Even the athletes got into the act, using the hashtag to chronicle their own Olympic experience and share some of the fun with KU alumni.
Special thanks to Tim Weaver, g’97, who sent us behind-the-scenes stories and photos while working for Team USA track and field as a team manager. He sent the following farewell from Rio, pictured prior to the closing ceremony with Jayhawk and Olympic triple-jumper Andrea Geubelle.
We’ll see you in four years in Tokyo, where KU and Olympic legend Billy Mills made his incredible come-from-behind victory in the 10,000 meters in 1964. Based on what we saw in Rio, alumni can expect more historic feats to connect the Jayhawk nation and make all alumni proud.
Jayhawk Kyle Clemons became the ninth KU track and field Olympic gold medalist on Friday night at the 2016 Olympic Games at Rio. The former KU quarter-miler helped Team USA qualify to the final by running the third leg of the 4 x 400 meter relay in the semifinal, clocking an impressive 44.96. The United States went on to dominate in the final, earning Clemons a gold medal in the same way Diamond Dixon earned gold four years ago in London. With the victory, Kyle Clemons becomes KU’s first male Gold medalist since Al Oerter won his fourth career Olympic gold in 1968 in the discus. Relive the excitement of Clemons Olympic experience in Rio below. Congratulations, Kyle! The Jayhawk nation is proud of you and all of our #JayhawksinRio!
Before I take off I want to thank my strong support system for being in my corner during my road to Rio. I love and appreciate y’all
Nobody likes to watch a rerun, especially sports fans. But at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, we watched a rare rerun of the women’s 4 x 100 meter relay, and it was a first (in more ways than one) thanks to the fast efforts of a Jayhawk. Let’s rewind.
On Thursday night during their preliminary heat of the women’s 4 x 100, the U.S. team was bumped during the second exchange. The Brazilian team inadvertently made contact with American Allyson Felix, running second leg, while attempting to hand off the baton. Trying to recover, Felix awkwardly tossed the baton, which dropped to the track. Dazed and confused, unsure what to do next, Felix suddenly remembered what Tim Weaver, g’97, told her. She recounted to ESPN what happened next.
“At our technical meeting, Tim Weaver really emphasized that if something happens, you have to pick up the baton and finish in order to protest,” Felix recalled. So she did, turning around with sudden urgency to retrieve the baton and hand it off. Once convinced that all was not lost, English Gardner took off after the field that had left the U.S. team far behind. Once finished, the protest was filed.
As we shared on this blog previously, Weaver is working in Rio as a team manager with USA Track and Field, helping advocate for American athletes throughout the process of filing protests. As the former meet director for the Kansas Relays, Weaver has seen it all and understands the idiosyncrasies of international track and field. Once the team had finished and was officially disqualified, Weaver immediately flew into action.
Simply advancing the American team for getting bumped wasn’t possible because the final was based on the top times. And there could only be 8 teams in the final because the track only had 8 lanes around it. Since eight other teams had already established the fastest legal times, a run-off was required, and that left only one option.
A rerun for Team USA, against a single, unforgiving opponent: The clock.
If they could finish among the top 8 times, they’d earn a spot in the final. So, in a never-before-seen relay with one team on the track, running in the exact same lane, and in the exact same order, the four U.S. women ran their relay, turning in the fastest time among all qualifiers, earning them a spot in tonight’s final. The rerun, at least according to USATF, was unprecedented in Olympic history.
After qualifying, Felix gave credit to the Jayhawk who helped save the day by getting the team one more shot, which was all they needed.
“After the race, I was texting (Weaver) saying thank you. I was so grateful.”
Sometimes it helps to have a Jayhawk in your corner.
Tim Weaver, g’97, is in Rio with Team USA, working as a team manager for the United States track and field delegation. And since track and field athletes had to wait an entire week to start their competition, Weaver had time to roam Rio and take some great shots of the unique sights and attractions in and around the Olympic Village. Weaver has shared his Olympic experience with KU alumni before, during the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. Check out his images and view a slide show below, or go to Flickr.com/photos/kualumni.
Several Jayhawks will be competing, working and volunteering during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for Team USA and their respective countries. Many have agreed to share their experience with KU alumni. Throughout the games, we’ll be sharing their photos and stories on our blog and social media accounts, so be sure to follow us during the games as we cheer on our #JayhawksinRio.
More than a number: Andrea Geubelle
For each Olympian, there is a story. For each Jayhawk, a journey.
Andrea Geubelle’s journey exceeded her dreams when she earned a scholarship to the University of Kansas and went on become a ten-time All-American and three-time NCAA champion. However, not all that glitters is gold, as she recalls in this video from KU Athletics, chronicling her time as a Jayhawk. For Geubelle, the road to Rio was paved with adversity and heartache.
Four years ago, and only a few months before the London Olympic Games, Geubelle was on cloud nine having just won the triple jump at the NCAA outdoor championship, before victory was snatched away.
“I just broke down,” Geubelle remembers. “I don’t think I’ve ever hurt so bad over athletics, to go from the highest you could possibly be in college athletics, which is winning a national championship, to finding out that it’s gone, and you’ll never get than opportunity back.”
Geubelle not only bounced back, she committed herself and jumped in with both feet—ultimately landing a spot in Rio. Watch her story here, then tune in Saturday at 7:30am CT at NCBOlympics.com to watch her compete in the qualifying rounds of the triple jump in Rio.
“More than a Number” was produced by Second Wind Creative for KU Athletics, with additional footage provided by Rock Chalk Video, ESPN and Jeff Jacobson.
Mason Finley leads a strong group of Team USA discus throwers in Rio. The former KU track and field student-athlete won the event at the Olympic Trials and looks to be a medal contender if he can qualify through to the finals on Saturday. Although the event has historically been dominated by the United States, thanks in large part to legendary Jayhawk Al Oerter, who won four consecutive Olympic titles, no American has won a medal in more than 30 years. Finley will need to bring his A game, but now that he’s in the best shape of his life, anything’s possible.
That wasn’t always the case, as he packed on pounds as a Jayhawk undergraduate. Believing that bigger was better, Finley took advantage of endless training table meals and put on nearly 100 pounds during his three years at Kansas before transferring to Wyoming. It took a toll on his speed, technique and health. He talked about going beyond the typical “freshman 15” in a recent interview with the Washington Post.
“I’m an eater, man,” he said. “There’s no way around it. I like to eat food.”
Since getting a handle on his nutrition, the results have come quickly and he’s seen steady improvement.
“My technique is far better,” Finley told the Post. “I’m healthy—which was really rare in college—and I’m faster, probably same speed as high school.”
Finley moved back to Lawrence to train with KU throwing coach Andy Kokhanovsky. The move also brought him closer to his family. He told the Denver Post, “I wanted to be closer with my mom and family back there. I figured out that family is a really huge support staff. You definitely need it.”
The support—and the coaching—helped propel Finley to the top of his game and the top of his sport.
“I’m able to hold positions faster, move faster and compete healthier,” Finley says.
By the time he made it to the Olympic Trials, Finley was hardly a dark horse. The former 8-time collegiate All-American and high school record holder knew he could compete at the highest level, but after overcoming challenges with his health, speed and technique along the way, last month’s victory was that much sweeter.
“The very last throw, I knew I had won, so it was crazy. But I was thinking I could still throw further,” Finley told the Post. “I wanted 65 (meters) again. … It was a mixture between, ‘I still want to push it further’ but ‘Oh my gosh, I’m an Olympian.’”
A proud Jayhawk and first-time Olympian, Finley joins other Jayhawks in Rio, including Team USA track and field manager Tim Weaver and triple jumper Andrea Geubelle, pictured above. He will enter the discus ring Friday morning for first round qualifying. Check NBCOlympics.com for schedules.