Yes, I’m a diehard Jayhawk. I get made fun of all the time by haters in my circle. What do I have to say to that?? I once heard that criticism is often a reflection of the critic’s own insecurities. Boom. Mic drop.
Well, to explain why Jayhawks are crazy basketball fans you have to go all the way to the beginning…as in the origins of basketball. Dr. James Naismith was the inventor of the game (1891) and then started the program at the University of Kansas in 1898. Our school is steeped in the longest tradition of any basketball program in the world.
My love for basketball started in high school where we had a long history of turning out Division 1 players. We had 10 state championships and three undefeated seasons in the history of the school – one during my sophomore year. I remember every game was sold out and at times you would see collegiate recruiters in the stands. Coming from a school that was demographically blue collar, we struggled in sports that were geared towards an upper-middle class upbringing (golf, tennis)…so basketball was our chance to shine. Some of our players were even recruited from other schools to come play because our program and coach would most likely guarantee them a college scholarship.
Basically I transitioned from going to one basketball school to another…and with similar school colors to boot! My first basketball game at KU, I had no idea what to expect. It had been the better of 3 years since I had spectated a basketball game from the stands (I was a cheerleader in high school, shocking I know). Spectating at a KU game is a ritual in itself.
Tickets. As students we had the option to purchase an entire season of tickets to home football and basketball games in a package called the “All Sports Combo” for $85 back in 1995. Pretty darn cheap. Football games – you were given the entire season’s tickets upfront. Basketball games – it was redemption vouchers. Each voucher was good for 3-4 designated games, and had to be redeemed during the specified date printed on the voucher. Every game was sold out, so the voucher system insured that students had every opportunity to obtain their tickets prior to releasing them to the public.
Camping Out. Student tickets were all general admission. The student section seating was first-come first-serve. So how does one get those prime seats in the first row behind the backboard? You camp out. Students would form camping groups usually consisting of friends. Camping out for the next game would commence at 8am the day after the previous home game. Groups post their names up on a piece of paper (now it’s all online) and roll call takes place every hour, on the hour. If your group failed to be present during roll call, you got kicked off the list. A couple hours prior to the game, all groups remaining on the list would line up in that order and admitted into Allen Fieldhouse. Groups would then hold seats for their friends. This would get really insane as some groups may have up to 30 people.
Pregame. Tradition is an integral part of cheering on the Jayhawks. From the school’s fight song to the Rock Chalk Chant, you can count on the KU spirit squad to the crowd through each pregame ritual. Even the school’s newspaper, The University Daily Kansan (UDK), gets involved. When the visiting team’s starting line up is announced the student section can be seen “reading the newspaper.” The UDK started publishing clever and artsy spreads in the centerfold on game day.
Game Time. The rituals never stop in Allen Fieldhouse. Students sitting behind the backboard have the responsibility of distracting the visiting team whenever they are up shooting freethrows. Different chants are employed based on what’s happening on the court. During close games, sometimes funny things occur. They say the spirit of Phog Allen, the father of basketball coaching, at times gives a helping hand to the Jayhawks.
Victory. By far the best moment I’ve witnessed in person was the 2008 NCAA Basketball Championship game. With just under four seconds left, Mario Chalmers was able to hit a 3-point shot to put the game into overtime. I remember just a couple minutes prior to this looking around for the nearest exit – planning my escape from all the obnoxious Memphis fans. When the miracle shot went up, the only thought that went through my mind was “oh crap” which then quickly changed to “holy shit he made it!”
Moments later, the game went into overtime and the Jayhawks were able to clinch their 3rd NCAA Championship, with the last one won 20 years prior. Faithful Jayhawks from all over the country had converged to San Antonio for this amazing celebration and reports from Lawrence, KS were full with happy fans on Mass Street. It was a great time to be a proud Jayhawk.
With March Madness upon us, please pardon if I seem distracted with my brackets and yelling at the television incessantly. Haters can hate, but to us Jayhawks (win or lose) it’s the most wonderful time of the year!