One of my more enjoyable assignments for the last five years at KU is the annual JayRock student-athlete talent show. I might moan and groan about another night assignment, but I always have a great time. Watching outstanding athletes perform is eye-opening, sometimes bizarre but always uproarious. Various KU sports teams display their skits live or on video. Many are based on popular movies, games or videos of the day. Last night’s show was heavy on references to The Hangover and the Miley Cirus video for her Party in the USA.
Yet, it was an old classic that was the runaway winner. The KU softball team’s take on the Wizard of Oz was remarkable. From costumes to their attention to the movie’s details took hours of practice and work. I’ve always believed in having fun, so watching these tight performances says a lot to me about the camaraderie of a team, which, in turn, says a lot about how that team will perform on the field or court. A team can practice all they want, but if they can’t have fun, can they really win?
No group epitomizes that belief more than men’s track and field. They have been a dominant force in JayRock since its inception. Whether it was dancing to A Million Ways in 2007 or taking Mike Tyson’s video game Punch Out live on stage, T&F, led by many distance runners, seemed almost unbeatable and threatened the very life of the JayRock event. That worry led to what I believe is the greatest display in JayRock history, the two-part video show and dance titled Jayhawk Destiny in 2008. Track & field came forward to announce they had decided not to compete. Suddenly, they found inspiration in the words of KU academic guru and renowned self-motivator Paul Buskirk. The video of them getting back together for another go followed by their soulful dance live was an instant classic. Check it out here and here along with other performances on You Tube.
In recent years, the women of the pool have come on strong. The swimmers and divers rocked Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 2008 and Weird Al’s Eat It parody of another Michael Jackson classic in 2009. Believe me, swimmers need the calories and surely do know how to get them. Funny how two sports that require lap after lap staring at a black line in a pool or logging massive miles on the road have led to such creative efforts. It’s not like they don’t have time to develop great ideas in exercise-warped minds.
That is not to say all acts are great. Some are downright embarrassing in a good way. Just because an athlete displays amazing grace, power and skill in their sport or event, there is no guarantee they can dance, act or avoid stage fright. People who compete in front of thousands can seem stiff and akward on a stage in front of their peers. There are also the teams that are just out there. They don’t seem to care how they look doing whatever they do. Baseball is that team.
One year, baseball dragged trash cans, marshmallows and some soda onto the stage. They stuffed their faces with the spongy confection and washed it down with soda until each one puked into the trash cans. Last one barfing was the winner. Now, that is talent worth pursuing. Last night, they showed off their baseball bodies and suggestive dance skills in a hilarious video to the Cyrus song Party in the USA that proved they certainly are not self-conscious and earned them a third place trophy behind softball and the combined efforts of both men’s and women’s track & field.
There are two forces behind this hilarious night. The first is the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). SAAC works to involve teams and individual student-athletes in the life of their community. They work with Special Olympians, reading programs with elementary students, local law enforcement outreach and the Haskell Indian Nations University. They learn that being involved can also be great fun. The second force behind this is SAAC’s leader Mike Harrity. He has one of the best job at KU because everyone involved in SAAC loves Mike. He’s like their cruise director. Commitment is the core of SAAC but the wrapping is pure fun.
Last night’s JayRock was another great example of why college athletics needs such fun. The people seem so young and so alive. They have kept this old man young in heart and mind for many years now. Thanks. Bravo.