Every time Laura and I leave JayRock, the annual KU student-athlete variety show, I think how sad it is that everyone does not have the opportunity to laugh as hard as we do so often during the show. Then I selfishly acknowledge that I really am happy you can not attend. Of all the privileges my work for KU Athletics affords, this is one I really do cherish simply because it is an exclusive gathering.
This is a show by athletes for athletes. There are a few administrators, coaches and staff people, but the audience that fills the Student Union ballroom are the performers’ peers. In front of those athletic friends, there is a willingness to enjoy time on the stage exposing themselves over and over as people filled with enthusiasm for life and all the fun that comes with being young in what is close to the fairy-tale life of college athletics.
The show mixes videos with live stage performances. Tennis kicked the night off with a dance-off by members of the team highlighting the continuing rivalry with the “farmers” from Kansas State and the never-ending hatred of Missouri, even though Mizzou is now playing with their Tiger tails between their legs in the SEC. Soccer followed with their perception of all the KU athletic team’s in a video filled with insights into the unique quirks of each sport. Both were good but only a prelude to the real fun.
Football went through a long period of non-involvement with JayRock until Charlie Weis took over as the leader of the gridiron fortunes. Weis has brought new involvement in campus life for the team, and for the last two shows many of the uninhibited have not been afraid to bare more than just their souls. This year’s revealing number mixed football weight room workouts with a Jazzercise theme that set of a wave of delight through the audience.
The staging of the show allowed time to recover from all the laughter with what are always the most surprising performances because they highlight real musical talent. Rowers Cara Murray and Erin Brogan sang a thoughtful duet. Besides the wonderful voices, Brogan’s plastic cup thumping on a table showed off her handy skills as she flipped and spun the cup to add a percussion line to accompany Murray’s ukulele skills. Turns out Murray often strums her ukulele and leads singalongs on team bus trips.
The women’s golf skit jumped through a wide range of music and dancing styles. For this reviewer the sight of sophomores Gabby DiMarco and Michelle Woods with their expressive faces bouncing on stage in white shirts, suspenders and black glasses had me laughing behind my camera. The show was rolling now.
Without track and field, JayRock might never have lasted through eight editions. A small group of men’s distance runners embraced the event from its creation and dominated the judging in the early years with their dead-on renditions of elaborate music videos laced with hilarious comedy. JayRock took off with every You Tube classic.
Of course, eligibility for JayRock runs out just as it does for athletics. The genius of KU’s harriers disappeared and recent performances surely faced voter backlash. Thanks to middle distance runner Maddy Rich, track and field made a comeback this season even though videos cannot win the overall awards. Playing a video newswoman, Rich’s interviews with everyone from janitorial staff to basketball coach Bill Self came in a halting style that sounded as though portions of her words were being lost in audio technical difficulties. The look on the totally surprised face of Self as he tried to understand her before finally walking off in bewilderment was priceless.
With the evening winding down, the last few acts proved to be the best. Softball’s creative performances the past two years have been show-stoppers. This year, with the help of members of the baseball team, the effort was dynamic again. It all began with softball players bemoaning their game’s exclusion from the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. That led to a dream sequence of the team becoming rhythmic gymnasts.
Here again, talent never seen before abounded. The team was very rhythmic and proved to be good gymnasts. The star of the show was junior Alex Jones, who choreographed the performance and was the lead gymnast. How all this led to the stage Raining Men as the music blared and baseball players prancing onto the stage in various stages of undress is beyond me, but it all added up to a first-class performance.
However, the rowers were going to have a say in the final judging. Their performance was a KU spin on the classic Saturday Night Live skit by Will Ferrell demanding more “cowbell” during the recording of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. With lots of cowbell ringing in everyone’s ears, the final judging began.
As the judges tabulated their ballots one final video captivated the audience. Who would have thought another ukulele-led duet could be so enrapturing? However that is exactly what softball player Maddie Stein and baseball player Ka’iana Eldredge did with the beautiful blending of voices and the ukulele skills of the Hawaiian Eldredge. Their montage of songs was brilliant and a perfect conclusion to the display of KU talent far from the field of play.
Softball and baseball took the trophy home. Rowing came in second and football took third. Yet, I felt like the big winner for getting to photograph another great JayRock.