Memorial Stadium memories: A conversation with Howard Graham

Posted on Apr 12, 2019 in Campus News, News, and Sports

Memorial Stadium Football

As David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium approaches its 100th year, one researcher has set out to find untold stories of the historic building.

Howard Graham, g’09, spends his days in the Office of First Year Experience as associate director of academic programs. He’s also a doctoral student in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

Graham’s dissertation has him deep diving into the history of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. More than just memories from football games, Graham is looking for the experiences students, alumni, and fans have all shared in the building.

“I want to make sure we have living memories,” said Graham. “I want living stories for future researchers, for students, faculty and staff to be able to go into the archives and read your stories, and to best understand how Memorial Stadium has been a part of this community.”

Conversation with Howard Graham

David Johnston, vice president for strategic communications and digital media at the KU Alumni Association, sat down with Howard Graham to discuss the history of the nearly 100-year-old center of campus.

Part one includes discussions on the commonality of Memorial Stadium experiences, and Johnston, j’94, g’06, shared his own Memorial Stadium memories from attending the Kansas Relays as a boy, which led to him competing for the KU track and field team.

(If listening on a mobile device, click “Listen in browser.” If you already have the SoundCloud app installed, or want to install it, click “Play on SoundCloud.” 

Part two’s topics include the first walk down the Hill for Commencement, the annual Traditions Night to welcome freshmen, and how the game of football has changed from its violent beginnings.

Alumni are invited to share their memories of Memorial Stadium, whether they include football games, track meets, traditions night, commencement, or any kind of gathering in the historic stadium set at the foot of the Hill.

If you have a Memorial Stadium experience you’d like to share, email your stories to Howard at

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‘Raise the Chant’ campaign to add to Memorial Stadium’s history

Posted on Sep 27, 2017 in Campus News, News, and Sports

On Friday, September 22, Kansas Athletics and the Williams Education Fund launched Raise The Chant, a $350-million fundraising campaign, focused primarily on a major renovation of Memorial Stadium.

University of Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod and Athletics Director Sheahon Zenger presented renderings of the multi-million dollar project, lead by a $50 million pledge from Kansas alumnus and benefactor David Booth, c’68, g’69.

The Booth gift will launch facility improvements with the construction of an indoor football practice facility immediately following the 2017 season.  Improvements to the south end zone and the west side of the stadium will follow after the completion of the 2018 season, with enhancements to the north end zone and the stadium’s east side to begin later.

1911: Fans watch a game against Nebraska at McCook Field. The Jayhawks played at McCook from 1892 to 1921, when Memorial Stadium was built.

“In listening to Sheahon’s vision of many years,” Booth said, “and believing in where Coach Self’s program is and where Coach Beaty’s program is headed, I am proud to support my alma mater’s athletic program.  I believe Sheahon’s plan for football and basketball is essential not only to the future of Kansas Athletics, but also to the university as a whole.”

Memorial Stadium

“The Raise The Chant campaign, with its primary focus on football, addresses an institutional priority for the University of Kansas,” Chancellor Girod said.  “A competitive football program benefits the entire university and is important for KU to continue being a strong member of the Big 12 Conference.  In recent years, we have transformed the university with nearly $1 billion in new and renovated facilities, and this is the next step in that transformation.  I have the utmost confidence in Sheahon and believe we have the right people at the right time for this campaign.”

1967: KU Hosts Missouri in the Border War

The campaign continues a trend of rapid growth in athletic facilities, including soccer, track and field, softball and tennis at Rock Chalk Park, and the construction of the DeBruce Center, home of the original rules of basketball, and McCarthy Hall, where the men’s basketball team and other students reside.

Also announced as part of the campaign was a $10 million pledge from volleyball benefactor Stewart Horejsi, b’59, and his family, to build a new, 3,000 arena for the defending Big 12 volleyball champions. Baseball’s long-time home, Hoglund Ballpark, is also in line for renovations and improvements during the “Raise the Chant” campaign.

1978: Memorial Stadium after receiving a $1.8 million dollar renovation

“We want to extend a heartfelt thanks to our generous donors,” Zenger continued, “in particular David Booth, and Stewart Horejsi and his family.  They, once again, have not only bought in to our vision of what Kansas Athletics can be, but also have actively participated in that vision.  We appreciate very much the leadership they have shown, and we are confident that others will follow their lead and help make that vision a reality.  I’d also like to express our appreciation to Dale Seuferling and the KU Endowment Association for its leadership as we embark on this important campaign.”

Learn more

To learn more about the campaign or to donate, visit


Top: Rendering of projected renovations to Memorial Stadium

1911: Fans watch a game against Nebraska at McCook Field. The Jayhawks played at McCook from 1892 to 1921, when Memorial Stadium was built.

1924: Aerial view of Memorial Stadium

1967: KU hosts Missouri in the Border War

1978: Memorial Stadium after receiving a $1.8 million dollar renovation

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Outland’s dream fulfilled: The Kansas Relays

Posted on Apr 18, 2014 in Campus News, News, and Sports

relays_coverJust in time for the 87th edition of the Kansas Relays, a KU alumnus has published a complete history of the meet all the way back to its origins. In The Kansas Relays: Track and Field Tradition in the Heartland, Joe D. Schrag, g’68, chronicles this history of the meet, which along with the Drake, Texas and Penn Relays, is one of the most storied collegiate track and field meets in the country.

This year, the Kansas Relays will relocate to Rock Chalk Park, vacating Memorial Stadium where the meet first took place in 1923 and has resided since on the third weekend in April, giving thousands of high school students (and future Jayhawks) from across the Midwest their first glimpse of the University of Kansas.

Alumni and fans who attended the Relays will recall history-making performances from legends like Jim Ryun, Al Oerter and Wes Santee, each of whom are featured among many others. Look for the book to arrive late April from Adina Publishing. Here, the author provides an exclusive excerpt from the first chapter describing the origins of the Kansas Relays.


Dr. Outland’s Dream Fulfilled: The Tradition Begins

“From the sun-kissed slopes of Mount Oread, on the banks of the majestic Kaw, there was sent in the spring of 1923 a call to athletes of America inviting them to meet on the Kansas memorial stadium field in a major outdoor relay classic.”
— 1926 Kansas Relays meet program

When a University of Kansas multi-sport athlete named John Outland made the decision to attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, the Kansas Relays was conceived. Outland gained fame for his exploits on the gridiron as he was named the first football player to be named All-American at two different positions. Most sports fans who know of him today don’t think of track and field. They know Outland by the trophy he brainstormed that now bears his name. He believed tackles and guards deserved more credit, so the Outland Trophy was established in 1946 and awarded to the best interior lineman in college football.  

Outland starred in baseball and football at Kansas in 1895 and 1896, after which he went to Philadelphia to pursue a medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania, where he continued to play football.  Here he became enamored of the Penn Relays, which was established in 1895 and almost immediately was reputed to be the largest track and field meet in the world in terms of participation.  

In 1900, Outland returned to Lawrence as Dr. Outland, established his medical practice, and coached football at KU for a year. He then moved his practice to Topeka, Kan., and coached football there at Washburn University for two years before joining the Trinity-Lutheran Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., as a surgeon. While practicing in Kansas City, he served on the KU athletic board with such notables as Dr. James Naismith and Dr. Forrest C. “Phog” Allen. Especially with Allen, Outland shared his vision of a large-scale track and field meet similar to the “carnival” at Penn.  It would be, Outland said, a way to promote the university. As he said in a Relays “pep” convocation prior to the 1924 Relays, “The name of Kansas can go further through the Relays than any other form of athletics because of the numbers competing” (University Daily Kansan, April 15, 1924).

While KU’s geographical location in the heartland of American was an advantage, there were no facilities adequate to hold such an extravaganza. That all changed in 1921 when construction of Memorial Stadium, built to honor KU students who served and died in World War I, was completed. The venue is recognized as the first stadium built on a college campus west of the Mississippi, and claimed to be the eighth oldest collegiate stadium in the nation. Allen, football coach for one year in 1920, coached in the last football game at old McCook Field. On Monday after that game, a 20-20 come-from-behind tie with Nebraska, exuberant students and faculty pledged over $200,000 toward the building of a new stadium. Construction of the facility began, under the watchful eye of Allen, who was also director of athletics.  Allen envisioned a horseshoe-shaped, concrete stadium and insisted that a track be built inside. A “Stadium Day” on May 10, 1921 brought more than 4,000 students to demolish McCook Field in what is considered the groundbreaking date for the new stadium. It was ready for football on Oct. 3, 1921, a 21-7 victory over the rival Kansas Aggies (Kansas State), which the Jayhawks won 21-7 in front of 5,160 fans.

With this edifice, Outland’s dream of a large-scale track meet could become a reality (although the horseshoe didn’t connect the east and west bleachers until 1927). The university’s athletic board gave the go-ahead. Head coach Karl Schlademan, who in his first four years had built KU into something of a regional track power, was given the responsibility of putting it all together in time for the 1923 season. This job of directing the Relays became the responsibility of the head coach in the formative years of the Relays.  
Once the decision was made to hold a relays carnival, the next order of business was to find a suitable date. Already in place was the State Inter-Scholastic Track Meet, which Chancellor Frank Strong established in 1904 as a ploy to get students on campus at a time when recruiting by athletic teams was illegal (see Chapter 4 for more on the origins of the high school meet). This one-day meet had been held successfully for 19 years on an April weekend at McCook Field, so it seemed logical to put the university relays, also conceived as a one-day meet, on the same weekend. Thus the two separate events were permanently linked as the Kansas Relays.

University ArchivesIn the inaugural Kansas Relays, the Saturday schedule of collegiate and university events included two Kansas high school championship relays and three high school open relays, which made it possible to get non-Kansas students on campus. After the first year, the two Kansas relays were dropped and four open high school relays were contested on Saturday.       

On April 21, 1923, people arrived by Model T, bus and train to attend the first Kansas Relays. Stadium capacity at this stage of construction was 22,000. Entered in the event were over 1,000 competitors (about 400 from high schools alone) from 23 universities, 19 colleges, four military academies and 35 high schools. The program consisted of 18 relay events and nine individual events. Almost every event was run in steady rain, and a downpour the day before left the track a muddy mess. Still, an estimated 7,000 fans endured the windy and cloudy conditions, paying 75 cents to $1.50 for the privilege of doing so.  

The visions of Outland, the “Father of the Kansas Relays,” and Allen, “The Founder of the Kansas Relays,” had come to fruition. The Kansas Relays, which skeptics called “Phog’s Folly,” became, and continues to be, one of the premier track and field carnivals, not only in the Midwest but also in the nation.

Presaging future years, the inaugural KU Relays featured notable performances and star athletes. Despite a soggy track, the Kansas quarter-mile relay team ran 43.0 and missed the world record by one-fifth of a second.

Two Kansas athletes would become Olympians for the 1924 Games in Paris, France. All-American Tom Poor won the high jump at 6 feet, 1 ¼ inches and defended that title the next two years.  He placed fourth in the 1924 Olympics. Merwin “Marvin” Graham jumped 22 feet, 1 ½  inches in the broad jump. Graham placed ninth in the hop-step-jump in Paris.  

For more information about The Kansas Relays: Track and Field Tradition in the Heartland, by Joe Schrag, go to

– David Johnston

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