The way Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis sees it, Jayhawk games just became a lot safer thanks to Friday’s decision by the KU administration to begin removal of the track around the field at Memorial Stadium next week.
“I know for the fans it’s more cosmetic,” Weis said Saturday afternoon. “But for me, it’s more about safety, and I’m very pleased about both aspects.”
During a Friday discussion with the Journal-World, KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger emphasized the safety element of the decision to yank the track and replace it with more turf. The field at Memorial Stadium soon will have 37 feet of turf and 10 feet of drainage asphalt between the sideline and the stands, a move that will allow for the benches to be on the turf and provide a better landing zone for tackles near the boundary.
The whole issue likely hit a littler closer to home with Weis because of the head injury suffered by KU receiver Tony Pierson during the 2013 season. Pierson, one of the Jayhawks’ top weapons on offense, was tackled near the sideline during a home loss to Texas Tech and wound up landing on the runway for one of the jumping pits before coming to rest on a small strip of turf between the track and the runway.
Pierson was never quite the same after that early-October game and missed most of the rest of the season.
“I can’t see anyone on our team or any supporter of Kansas not being excited about this,” Weis said, “even the diehard track people. Now that we have Rock Chalk Park, which is the mecca of tracks, the track at the stadium is no longer needed and therefore wanted, even though there’s a lot of wonderful history there.”
When Zenger first showed Weis the plans for the six-week project that will begin Tuesday and is expected to be completed in time for KU’s fall camp and ready for the start of the upcoming season, the third-year coach said he was in “100 percent agreement” that taking the track out needed to be done and called it a “great first step” toward reinventing Memorial Stadium.
“Everyone wants renovations to the stadium done overnight,” Weis said. “But it just doesn’t work that way. I can’t possibly think of any better first step.”
Weis also tipped his cap to the anonymous donor who pledged to cover the roughly $500,000 cost of the project.
“People always say that people won’t step up,” Weis said. “But whoever that donor is, I’d like to personally say thank you on behalf of our football team and also professionally thank him. This has put us in the wonderful position of having a better-looking field and having a much safer field as well.”
Fundraiser a hit
Weis’ major Hannah & Friends fundraiser of the year took place this weekend at Prairie Band Casino and Firekeeper Golf Course just north of Topeka.
It marked the 11th year of the event and the second year the annual gala has been in Kansas and was a huge success once again. A bunch of Weis’ former players, several members of the KU athletics department and football program and people from all four corners of the country showed up for the Friday night festivities and Saturday golf tournament.
“Everything went great,” Weis said. “Support was great, and we raised a lot of money for Hannah & Friends, which will help a lot of people with special needs, and that’s the most important thing.”
Weis and former Notre Dame and NFL quarterback Brady Quinn emceed the event, and Weis’ son, Charlie Jr., put together the winning team in the golf tournament for the fifth time in six years.