Traditions Night: Junior Naismith steals the show

Posted on Aug 25, 2016 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

Junior Naismith with Chancellor

A star is born

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.

IMG_news_jrnaismithchancellor.jpg“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.

–David Johnston

Junior Naismith walks in Strong Hall with the Chancellor
Junior Naismith in the Chancellor's office
Junior Naismith and Naismith
KU Traditions Night is a production of the University of Kansas: ©2016, KU Marketing Communications.

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KU traditions go digital with new app

Posted on Aug 23, 2016 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

KU Traditions App

Student involvement? There’s an app for that.

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. KU-traditions-out-screenEngaged 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.

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Cheese ball for everyone!

Posted on Feb 3, 2015 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

It’s Cheese Ball Day here at the Adams Alumni Center. Not that we need an excuse for snacks, but today we have a good one: celebrating what would have been our dear Miss Betty’s 50th work anniversary.

Betty Howe Otto | www.kualumni.orgRecords specialist Betty Howe Otto started working as a graphotype operator for the KU Alumni Association on Feb. 3, 1965, back when we were headquartered in Strong Hall and people still knew what a graphotype machine was. (I once asked Betty to explain the mysterious contraption, which she patiently did, and I still didn’t have the slightest clue, so please don’t ask me to explain it here.)

And then every year afterward, Betty on Feb. 3 celebrated her Alumni Association anniversary by bringing in one of her famous, ginormous, nut-encrusted cheese balls and a big box of crackers.

Don’t like cheese balls, you say? Then you never had one of Miss Betty’s.

“This date was very special to her. She absolutely loved working at KUAA,” records specialist Julie Lowrance wrote this morning in an email to her colleagues here on Oread Avenue. “While I’m sure this store-bought cheese ball won’t be nearly as delicious as hers, I wanted to do something to honor her.”

True, the energetically orange ball-o’-cheese nested in a bed of crackers is not as good as Betty’s. But it is delicious, if only for the memories.

Over the course of her 47 years at the KU Alumni Association, Miss Betty installed herself as the keeper of traditions within our wacky warren: hand-crafted Christmas decorations for everybody in the building, for instance, and our ritual of bringing in treats to celebrate work anniversaries and birthdays. Munchers minis, cinnamon twists, even the occasional veggie-and-dip platter are standard fare, and now the back counter also includes a well-stocked tray of healthy-ish snacks, available for inexpensive purchase, as well as a huge, seemingly bottomless tin of spiced popcorn from a local barbecue restaurant.

The cheese ball, though, that’s the golden ticket, and we’ve gone too long without one.

Miss Betty retired in June 2012; we lost her for good on July 23, 2014.

We’ve hired quite a few new staff members since Betty left, and whenever we welcome them to the crew I feel a fleeting dash of melancholy. As good as their experience will hopefully be here, they’ll never know Miss Betty. Well, that’s how the wheel turns, and our new colleagues will surely create and cherish their own Alumni Association rituals, traditions and memories.

Just do us old-timers one favor: Go ahead and forget all about us, we know you will, but don’t forget the Feb. 3 cheese ball, eh? It’s not for us. It’s for Miss Betty, and honoring her is worth the effort.

Because nobody ever, ever loved the KU Alumni Association and all that it represents—alumni members, Jayhawk traditions, the great good fortune of finding oneself associated in any manner with this university on a Hill—more than Betty Howe Otto.

Quoting Julie: “Miss you, Betty.”

—Chris Lazzarino

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A tradition is born: ‘Welcome to KU’

Posted on Aug 25, 2014 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

The goosebumps-inducing video “Welcome to KU,” which debuted on the big-screen scoreboard at Traditions Night Saturday evening in Memorial Stadium, quickly rushed to Internet stardom among Jayhawks old and new after being posted to KU’s Facebook page Sunday, and for good reason: Spoken-word poet Topher Enneking (who went by Chris in his playing days as a KU offensive lineman from 1995 to 1999) delivers an inspirational message of growth, inclusion and tradition that mirrors his own personal journey through KU and beyond.

“We don’t want to be heavy handed about all these great things that KU is about because what KU is really about is providing a place for people to come and to grow, and that grows our tradition,” Enneking, c’08, a para-educator at Lawrence’s South Middle School, said Monday. “It was a unique experience for me, and a cool dynamic, because I was asked, as a poet—something I wasn’t when I was at KU—to come back and try to bring out some more of that tradition while also being asked to add to it.

“So I was kind of asking them [incoming freshmen] to do that same thing.”

Enneking discovered his voice as a writer and poet while coaching at a private Jesuit school in Colorado. He also worked as a maintenance man at a state park in return for being allowed to pitch his tent, and while there he began keeping a journal.

“One day I saw what I had written and I was like, ‘Hey, I think that’s a poem. Let me try that and see if that’s something that I could do,'” Enneking recalls. “It kind of fell into place. I really enjoyed it and really liked what I got out of it, so that’s when I started writing, and I actually started performing when I happened into an open-mic night.”Topher Enneking

Last year he performed his poem “Son of Lawrence, Kansas” for incoming freshmen at Traditions Night; eager for more, officials at KU’s Office of Marketing Communications asked Enneking to write another poem, this time about KU traditions, and perform it for a video production.

Enneking wrote “Welcome to KU” in collaboration with Tim Seley, associate director of digital media, who emphasized that he wanted to hear Enneking’s personal take on the KU experience.

“I’m a fan of spoken-word poetry, that style and that format,” Seley says. “I think it adds a lot of gravitas, and Topher, he’s just this kind of guy that when he speaks, people listen. We had a few meetings back and forth, so it was a little bit collaborative, but the majority of the poem was him. We tried to be intentional about not making it be the voice of Marketing Communications. We wanted it to be the voice of Topher, speaking on behalf of KU.

“Topher did his thing and we just tried to support that and let the words speak for themselves.”

Andrew Lee was the video’s lead editor, with help provided by student video assistant Dylan Snyder. Seley directed, MarComm’s Frank Barthell was producer, and production assistant Steve Rausch also helped with the camera.

“KU is a 150-year-old institution next year, and we have all this nostalgia, so tradition is a really big word,” Seley says. “But we wanted to sort of invite students into this tradition, as they’re going to carry that forward.”

… The top of the world is just up that Hill, where our natural history is an awestruck echo of worlds, fair and equal, past, present and future, prelude and sequel, where our flags fly above plains, where we build in chalks that can’t be erased, stone edifices made to last so you would walk past their doors, down their halls, and let your voice fill their rooms, because only in an empty silence can destruction loom.

So stand tall, wrap your arms around this crowd, sing our alma mater and sing it out loud. Let your voice join in chorus and reach other nations, beckoning new Jayhawks to spark new collaborations, because you are the mortar that will hold these walls upright. Your future, your dreams, are why Jayhawks did fight, for the tradition before you was merely prelude to what will come next now that you’re at KU.

“We wanted it to be something that people would connect with in different ways than they get from the standard fare of tradition videos,” Enneking says, “to breathe some life into it so that people would see how that tradition ebbs and flows and how much they’re a part of it.

“Hopefully people see that and start thinking, ‘Wow, I wonder what my look on it is going to be?’ Most of these traditions that we have weren’t intentional traditions; it starts out from something and then it builds from there. You plant that seed.”

—Chris Lazzarino

Watch an interview with Topher Enneking from 6 News Lawrence.

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Students kick off new year at ‘Hawk Fest

Posted on Aug 25, 2014 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

KU students kicked off a new school year at ‘Hawk Fest, the Student Alumni Association’s annual welcome event. Held in lot 91 near Memorial Stadium, the festival included the Student Involvement and Leadership Fair featuring 150 student organizations.

Check out our slideshow with a few photos from ‘Hawk Fest and Traditions Night, held immediately after in Memorial Stadium.

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Two year old superstar sings the Alma Mater

Posted on Mar 7, 2014 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

The internet has given us many things, and one of the greatest is the ability to instantly find pictures and video of cute puppies, kittens and babies any time of the day.

Eric Morrison, b’99, l’02, recently tweeted to us and shared a video of his young daughter singing the Alma Mater. You can watch it below:

Here’s what Eric had to say about his daughter’s new talent:

Quinn is two-and-a-half years old and is a constant performer. She was a very early talker (and singer) and has a vocabulary as big as her personality. There isn’t a day that goes by that she’s not singing, twirling and performing throughout the house.

Since birth, Quinn has been exposed to a lot of Jayhawk talk, sports and music. With two parents who graduated from KU (mom is Brandy, c’02, j’02) and who are both huge KU sports fans, Quinn watches all the KU basketball and football games that don’t fall at bedtime or naptime.

We sing to her every night before she goes to sleep. In addition to the classic songs like “Rockabye Baby” and “Hush Little Baby,” we mix in other songs. KU’s Alma Mater has a great melody so I sang it to her one night. Apparently Quinn liked it, because she asked me to sing “the mater” again the next few nights. I knew we had found her new song. Within a week, we heard her singing a few bars of it on her own, and by the next week she had it down.

We’ve been doing our best to steer her in the right direction.

Great job, Eric and Brandy! We love to see our youngest future Jayhawks sharing their KU pride. Perhaps someday we’ll hear Quinn sing the alma mater from the floor of Allen Fieldhouse.

Don’t forget, the KU men’s basketball team wraps up the regular season tomorrow when they travel to Morgantown to take on West Virginia. Click here for a list of official alumni watch parties around the country. Rock Chalk!

If you have a photo or video of your youngster demonstrating their school spirit, email it to us at You can also tweet us at @kualumni or post on our Facebook page.

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When camping actually meant camping

Posted on Nov 19, 2013 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

This is a guest post by Curtis Marsh, j’92, director of KU Info and avid Jayhawk basketball fan. Curtis shares what camping out for basketball seats was like in the early days of the KU tradition. Students today might be surprised at the differences between then and now.

My wife proudly sports a luggage tag that reads, “I love not camping.” That may be the sentiment of many current and past students when it comes to seats at the KU men’s basketball games. Camping in many ways is a necessary evil, and none would argue it is a perfect system. But it remains a large and exciting component of the student section experience.   I was part of the camping experience in its infancy, and keep close tabs on its current state. It could be the subject of a full sociological research study!

Camping began during the Larry Brown era. I became a student during Coach Brown’s last year (yes, the national championship year). Camping picked up significantly during the first few years of the Roy Williams era, but it looked markedly different than it does today. The big difference?   We camped. In tents, overnight. Even for games in January and February.

I will stop short of claiming we got to the Field House by trudging barefoot through the snow, uphill both ways. But seriously, we camped overnight! Because of that, we were fortunate to have smaller numbers of camping groups. These days, there are between 50 and 200 groups that line up two hours before tipoff. We had perhaps 20 to 30, and the number of groups willing to stay overnight for the most coveted seats was never more than a dozen.

We also benefited from limited competition. The most hardcore camping groups did not want the same seating areas. One or two groups wanted to sit behind the bench, one or two under the south basket and two or three under the north. When it came time to charge the seating area, we laid out on the benches, set down newspaper pages–we saved seats like bench hogs. We thought it was our right, having slept in the cold for those seats.

Mayhem   eventually gave way to common sense. In the early 90s, Kansas Athletics staff members began stringing extension cords for us to prevent hypothermia. We brought heaters and electric blankets–and Nintendos and stereos. Staff members would arrive at work some mornings to find blown fuses.   That was when they banned camping: “Please leave when the building shuts down for the night, and return when we reopen in the morning.”

The rest is history, best chronicled by a current student. Camping for games is a badge of honor, regardless of how it occurs. For many reasons we can claim the best game day experience in the country–whether it includes a collection of tents outside Allen or 2,000 students congregating at 6 a.m. for a lottery to get tickets to the KU vs. Pittsburg State exhibition game.

Student Section in Allen Fieldhouse |

The student section in Allen Fieldhouse in the early 1990’s looked a lot different than the current-day student section.

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Make plans to attend ‘Hawk Fest

Posted on Aug 22, 2013 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

The Student Alumni Association is excited to welcome students to the Hill! Plenty of events will be held this weekend to introduce new and returning students to the great things KU has to offer.

’Hawk Fest, SAA’s fall kickoff event, will take place on Saturday, Aug. 24, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. All KU students are invited to join us for free food, giveaways, music and performances by the KU Spirit Squad.

Hawk Fest 2013 | www.kualumni.orgThe event also includes an Info Fair featuring 150 KU student organizations– if you’re looking for things to get involved with at KU, this is the place to go.

This year’s ’Hawk Fest will be held in parking lot 91, which is just south of Memorial Stadium and the football practice field. Students, be sure to share the event on Facebook and invite your friends!

At 8 p.m., join fellow students, faculty and staff for Traditions Night in the stadium to learn the history, songs and cheers that are part of Jayhawk life.

And, immediately following Traditions Night, enjoy the sixth annual Night on the Hill concert hosted by Student Union Activities and KJHK 90.7 FM. Chicago-based duo The Hood Internet will perform their version of hip hop and indie rock music.

Thank you to our partners at the Student Involvement & Leadership Center and the Office of First-Year Experience for co-sponsoring ’Hawk Fest! Click here to see a full schedule of Hawk Week activities for students.

Student Alumni AssociationHave you joined the Student Alumni Association? SAA provides opportunities for students to meet alumni, friends and faculty, attend events and receive lots of KU goodies throughout the year! Click here for more information or to join.


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Warning: Cute baby singing the Alma Mater

Posted on Jul 19, 2013 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

It’s never too early for future Jayhawks to learn about KU traditions like waving the wheat, the Rock Chalk chant and the Alma Mater.

Bennett Chan, who turns three at the end of this month, is learning from his parents, Laura Lindberg Chan, c’01, and Brady Chan, j’01.

The youngster sings the Alma Mater every night with his mom as part of his bedtime routine. Laura said, “Since his Nana (Beverly Chan, d’68) is also a KU graduate, I had been trying to get him to sing the song to her, but he won’t do it in person.” Because he loves cameras, he happily obliged when Laura pulled out the camera to record his performance.

Click here or anywhere on the image below to watch the video.

Future Jayhawk |

Apparently, Bennett thought he’d be able to see his Nana after he finished singing; at the end of the video, he asked “Can I see Nana?”

You’ve got a great future ahead on the Hill, Bennett.

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Waving the wheat

Posted on Jul 5, 2013 in Alumni News, Campus News, and News

Wheat harvest with the Riffey family |

Waving the Wheat is a long-standing KU tradition.   There is great speculation on when and where the tradition originated, but as spring turns to summer, it takes only a short drive down a Kansas road to see why Jayhawks still wave the wheat proudly to represent the state’s flagship university.

Kansans are treated to the largest amount of amber waves of grain in the United States, and the 2013 wheat harvest is in full swing. Angie Riffey Storey b’04, g’07, associate development director for KU Endowment,   grew up on a wheat farm in Sawyer and enjoys returning for harvest each summer.

“When I think of waving the wheat, my mind immediately turns to growing up on the farm, helping with wheat harvest each summer.   Even after attending KU and currently working for the University, I love sharing the wheat harvest tradition with my husband and daughters by returning to my family’s farm each summer.   Whether I am on the farm in June listening to the wheat rustle in the Kansas wind, or watching the student section wave their arms after a Jayhawk touchdown, I am filled with Kansas pride every time.”

The Riffey family has been farming in south central Kansas for more than a century.   The fourth-generation farmers manage 2,000 acres each year.

U.S. farmers grow nearly 2.4 billion bushels of wheat on 63 million acres of land in 42 states.   A bushel of wheat makes about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.

Watch the video below to see harvest in action on the Riffey farm.

Wheat harvest with the Riffey family |
Special thanks to the Riffey family for allowing us to document their wheat harvest.

–Dan Storey

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