Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk!

My maternal grandmother was a huge University of Kansas basketball fan.

Like me, my grandmother grew up playing basketball in school. While I’m sure that had something to do with her passion for KU Basketball, my mother tells me that her mother became more interested in KU basketball when the family moved from Iola, Kansas, to Lawrence, Kansas, sometime around 1955.

My grandmother’s employment on the KU campus seemingly fostered more of an interest in campus life in general and collegiate sports in particular. The fact that her daughter and future son-in-law were attending KU and occasionally played in the pep band for at least some of those Jayhawk games no doubt also contributed to her becoming a fan. According to my father, at one time at least, she and my grandfather even had season tickets for home games at Allen Fieldhouse, an interesting article on which can be found here.

My father as a music education major at the University of Kansas: in rehearsal and in his KU band uniform. ca. 1959

Current KU Band Trombonists root for KU on Monday, April 4, 2022, at the Caesar’s Superdome during the 2022 NCAA Men’s Championship game. photo by: Chris Conde/Lawrence Journal-World

Regardless of how it all started, my grandmother’s passion for KU Basketball continued long after my mother and father graduated from KU and left Lawrence and, later still, left the state of Kansas and moved to Oklahoma where I grew up and where my parents still reside.

I well remember visits to Lawrence where a lull in the conversation presented my grandmother the opportunity to turn up the volume on the radio to check the score in the KU game. I remember this happening both at my grandparents’ home in Lawrence and later, after my grandfather passed away, at the Presbyterian Manor where my grandmother resided.

There is no doubt that my grandmother found a community of KU fans at the Manor. Regular visits by KU athletes and by their mascot were greeted with much enthusiasm by my grandmother and the other residents.

My grandmother and the KU mascot at the Presbyterian Manor in Lawrence, Kansas, sometime in the 1990s.

Because college basketball coincides with the opera season at the Metropolitan Opera where I perform, it is difficult for me to follow college hoops. Not only does work get in the way of my following more closely, but I also welcome a break from my own “fandom.” As a long-time New York Mets season ticket holder who attends most home games at Citi Field, once the MLB season is over, I frankly enjoy the respite from keeping up with the performance and record of and the off-the-field stories and trade rumors about my team that have consumed me for the previous nine months.

I have never created a bracket and have rarely even taken notice of rankings or of how any one team is faring during college basketball season.

That is, unless either of my own college teams—Wichita State and Temple—or my grandmother’s beloved Jayhawks are in the mix.

Once KU got to the Final Four last week, I was tuned in—for my parents, who closely follow NCAA Men’s basketball well before the madness in March, as well as for my late grandmother.

As happy as I was for KU’s defeat of Villa Nova on Saturday, the game itself did not make for an exciting one. The adage “be careful what you wish for” was applicable in last night’s subsequent Championship game. It did not look good for the boys from Lawrence at the half, but they seemingly found a fifth gear in the second half, resulting in the greatest comeback—a deficit of 16 points—in the history of NCAA Men’s Basketball!

Thousands of KU fans storm Massachusetts Street last night after KU’s 72-69 win over North Carolina in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
photo by: Mike Yoder

I am smiling this morning, thinking of how thrilled my grandmother would have been today and wishing I could call her to talk about how dramatically the momentum of the game had shifted from North Carolina in the first half to KU in the second: whiplash on the basketball court!

Even though it’s not possible to share this win with my grandmother, in her absence there are thousands who still carry the banner for the Jayhawks, many of whom filled the streets of Lawrence last night, with loud chants of “Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk, KU!”

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