For an 11 a.m. game on a Tuesday, the stands were pretty full for the Kansas University women’s basketball game against Iowa.
The attendance of more than 3,500 students, teachers, parents and administrators representing Lawrence public elementary schools helped.
Tuesday was the first time that KU planned a health and fitness day with such a large group. Students in third through sixth grades from all of the city’s 15 elementary schools cheered on the Jayhawks and learned a thing or two about what it means to be a student athlete.
Women’s head coach Bonnie Henrickson was impressed with how well the youngsters seemed to know the game.
“Elementary school kids have great basketball IQ in Lawrence because they really knew when we needed help,” she said after KU won, 76-55. “They got loud when we needed them to be loud.”
The kids were more than happy to help cheer on the women.
“It was pretty cool,” said Anya Dickinson-Cove, a fifth-grader at Schwegler School. “Once they got the lead, it was no doubt they’re going to win.”
There were even a few future coaches in the crowd.
“They played really well today,” said Joshua Thomas, a sixth-grader at New York School. “Next time they play, I think that they should do a little bit more defense.”
Before the game, sixth-graders spent time learning about safety, nutrition, fitness and goal setting from the athletic staff and players.
Afterward, some Jayhawk athletes took to the court to answer questions.
“Being an athlete is tough,” said senior Marcus Herford, a wide receiver for KU’s football team. “It’s a tough deal, but we take it on each day with vigor.”
Junior softball outfielder Ally Stanton said she was surprised how many kids were in the stands.
“We felt like little rock stars. They’re so cute,” she said.
KU Athletics and their sponsors paid for everything for the students, from lunch to T-shirts.
And this first experience was a positive one for the school district and student athletes alike.
“We have kids that may or may not be able to do something like this with their families, so to give them this opportunity is just great,” said Anne Hawks, a curriculum specialist for the Lawrence district.
Students also had the chance to get autographs from the women’s basketball team after the game.