Thanks to the more than 800 alumni, friends and University partners who participated in the 2019 Hawks & Highways events! The ongoing series supports Chancellor Douglas Girod’s priority to strengthen KU’s statewide outreach.
The KU Alumni Association and Kansas Athletics coordinated this year’s events, which featured the chancellor, athletics director Jeff Long, head football coach Les Miles and leaders from KU Endowment, KU Admissions, KU School of Medicine-Wichita, the Spencer Museum of Art, the KU Medical Center Alumni Association, the schools of Journalism and Social Welfare and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.
We’re grateful to Alumni Association members and donors and Williams Education Fund donors whose support is critical to this program. Together we will continue to bring the best of KU to communities throughout Kansas.
Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09
See pictures from the Hawks & Highways events in the slideshow below, or click here to view or download them from Flickr.
Ross Randall, the coach and mentor who recruited Gary Woodland to the KU men’s golf team after Woodland spent a year playing basketball at Washburn University, was “always to the point. There was no sugarcoating it, at all,” Woodland recalls.
Coach Randall, who passed away two years ago, wasn’t the only KU coach with a straight-talking reputation, and Woodland says he was especially glad to have closed out his first major-tournament victory, Sunday’s final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, so he wouldn’t catch heat when exchanging post-tournament text messages with his pal Bill Self.
“You talk about not sugarcoating anything,” Woodland, c’07, said with a laugh Thursday while driving to his home course in Palm Beach County, Florida, for his first practice session since a three-stroke victory over Brooks Koepka. “Coach has been hard on me at times when I haven’t finished, so I was glad to finish this time so he had nothing bad to say to me. He couldn’t get on me like he does some of his guys.”
Woodland, a Topeka native who now lives with his wife and son in South Florida while also maintaining a home in Lawrence, told Kansas Alumni magazine that he’s eager to return to Kansas and celebrate with family, friends and fans, and he promises he’ll bring along the gorgeous U.S. Open trophy when he does.
That’s down the road. For now, it’s back to work. Woodland entered the U.S. Open No. 9 on the PGA money list and exited at No. 4. He also vaulted from No. 12 in Presidents Cup standings to No. 7; the top eight automatically qualify for the U.S. team in the biennial match between the best American and international (minus Europe) golfers.
The Presidents Cup, this year set for December in Australia, has long been a goal for Woodland, as has the even more prestigious Ryder Cup, which features spirited matches between American and European stars. The next Ryder Cup is Sept. 25-27, 2020, in Wisconsin.
“I’ve always believed in myself, but it’s hard sometimes to get other people to buy in without results,” Woodland said. “I think I’ve proven that I’ve become a more complete player and I belong on the bigger stage. I have to continue to get better and continue to go out and prove myself, but I think I’ve proven that I belong.”
Among other highlights from Kansas Alumni’s conversation with Woodland: He again emphasized the joy he felt in sharing the spotlight with his young friend Amy Bockerstette—a Special Olympics golfer who had her own star turn on NBC’s “Today” show, during which Woodland surprised her with his unannounced visit—and bringing attention to Folds of Honor, an organization founded by retired fighter pilot Maj. Dan Rooney, c’96, g’97, that delivers scholarships to family members of fallen members of the U.S. armed forces.
“I’ve been a huge part of Folds of Honor since 2009, when Major Dan, a fellow Jayhawk, got me to buy in. Men and women who go sacrifice for us to be free and to follow our dreams while they go sacrifice everything, it’s pretty special and it’s an honor to give back.”
Woodland also revealed that he’s spent the past year and a half working on his putting game with his new coach, Pete Cowen. They started retooling his full swing in December, and only recently Cowen also convinced Woodland to change his preshot routine.
“I’ve had the same routine—I’m a creature of habit—since I was in college,” Woodland said. “He changed it all about a month ago and it’s really been clicking for me.”
Told that his inspirational U.S. Open victory had convinced many of his fellow KU basketball fans to now make time to follow him on the PGA Tour, Woodland, who keeps a Jayhawk emblem on his tour bag, affirmed his devotion to the crimson and blue.
“Obviously I’ve been a fan my whole life,” he said, “but I’ve matured, I grew up, I became a man at the University of Kansas, and I’ll never forget that.”
Estelle Johnson, a four-year anchor on some of the most stifling defensive units in KU soccer history, this week launched her FIFA World Cup dreams as a member of the Cameroon National Team, which opened its Group E play against Canada Monday in Montpellier, France.
Johnson, c’11, who grew up in Colorado, is eligible for the Cameroon squad because she was born in the Central African country to an American father and Malian mother. Her father, Jerry, worked with subsistence farmers across the continent until moving the family to Fort Collins for a job at Colorado State University when Estelle was 7.
“I had been thinking about playing for Cameroon since 2015,” Johnson told the Sun newspaper, of Edmonton, Canada, shortly before the Cameroon-Canada match, “when I saw them play in the last World Cup.”
Johnson appeared in all 85 games of her four-year KU career, from 2006 to 2009, and was named to multiple All-Region teams. She began her professional career with the short-lived Philadelphia Independence, then stepped away from the game for graduate school at Avila University in Kansas City. After earning her MBA, Johnson returned to professional soccer with the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit; she now plays with New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC.
Johnson was unable to reach any team officials in Cameroon until coach Alain Djeumfa took over in January, and she didn’t make her first international appearance with Cameroon until shortly before the World Cup began.
“I’ve been playing professionally now for nine seasons, so I’ve played with some of the best players in the world,” Johnson told the Fort Collins Coloradoan. “Just watching them achieve this and knowing I can hang with them … that’s when it hit me: I think I can do this and I want to actually try to make this happen.”
Cameroon advanced to the second round in its first World Cup four years ago in Canada. After Monday’s match, a 1-0 loss, Johnson and her Cameroon teammates face the Netherlands on Saturday and New Zealand on June 20.
Each spring Kansas senior student-athletes experience one of the proudest traditions bestowed upon a Jayhawk—receiving their K Rings.
After years of competition in the Crimson and Blue, practices and classes, triumphs and defeats, the senior class joins a group of extraordinary individuals who have poured their hearts and souls into their sports and studies.
The K Ring symbolizes a uniquely shared experience among generations of varsity letter-winners at Kansas. For senior rower Bailey Blood, it was an opportunity to celebrate the connection of three generations in her family.
Bailey received her K Ring April 22 on the tail end of her fourth season with Kansas rowing. For the special occasion, she honored her late grandfather, Bill Cole, by wearing his Kansas letter sweater—another treasured item earned by Jayhawks during his competition days.
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.
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.”
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 inaugural KU Kickoff event in downtown Topeka took place Aug. 9 outside the Celtic Fox at 8th Street and Kansas Avenue. The celebration featured food, music, promotional items and the opportunity to win tickets and more.
Brian Hanni, the Voice of the Jayhawks, hosted the event. Featured speakers included Chancellor Doug Girod, football head coach David Beaty and women’s soccer head coach Mark Francis.
Check out some of the event’s highlights below in our compilation of social media posts! Future events will be held in Wichita, Prairie Village and Lawrence.