Kansas Jayhawks: Know Your Legends And Traditions


February 02, 2013; Lawrence, KS, USA; General view of the exterior of Booth Family Hall of Athletics and the statue of Forrest “Phog” Clare Allen before the game between the Kansas Jayhawks and Oklahoma State Cowboys at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar has rolled to August, the annual pilgrimage to Lawrence has begun. License plates from nearly every state, including Alaska and Hawaii, have sprung up in the last few days and retail stores are filled with beleaguered parents and wild eyed students buying supplies and dorm necessities. As happens each year, the incidents of cars traveling the wrong direction on Lawrence’s one way streets is on the rise. Lawrencians expect and plan for this yearly happening and adjust accordingly.

It seems to take about two months for the newbies to get used to the roundabouts and one ways. With these signs of autumn, a fresh excitement always falls over the city as summer creeps towards fall, classes are beginning, and of course, that means the start of College Sports season will soon be underway!

Every University has it’s unique traditions, and Kansas is no exception. Some are sanctioned and encouraged by the University, while others tend to be more student led,and passed from one class to another, until eventually it becomes a part of the culture. As new new students arrive it is a good time to learn and review the unique traditions that makes living in Lawrence, and being a part of KU such a special experience.


As new students or residents filter in, they may hear Lawrence referred to as “Larryville”. This is in reference to Coach Larry Brown who guided Danny and The Miracles to the 1988 NCAA Championship vs Coach Billy Tubbs and The University of Oklahoma. Brown’s popularity has never waned, and he is further immortalized on the pregame video of every home basketball game saying, “There’s no better place to coach, there’s no better place to go to school, there’s no better place to play than Kansas.” It really cannot be said any better than that.

The Steam Whistle

Known by the more astute historians of Jayhawk history as “The Big Tooter,” the steam whistle was originally intended as an alarm clock and curfew marker for students of the early 1900’s. On quiet clear days, the whistle can be heard most anywhere in Lawrence.

The whistle has had a rocky relationship with some staff in the past who did not like being reminded of the times they were to let students out. However, since 1912 it’s high pitched note has marked the end of hourly classes and remains doing so to this day. For returning Alumni, it is a sweet sound, bringing back a host of collegiate memories and great times at The University of Kansas.

Crimson and Blue

The University’s colors have been crimson and blue since 1896. Early in KU’s history, there was some discussion of using maize and sky blue, but in honor of Colonel John McCook, a Harvard graduate who had given money for athletic fields, Crimson was chosen.

Many early staff members were graduates of Yale and wanted Yale blue honored as well. In a compromise recognizing the importance of both Yale and Harvard in the birth of the school, Crimson and Blue became the official colors with sprinkles of Maize to be found everywhere including on the beak and feet of the famous Jayhawk.

Mar 24, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas Jayhawks mascot runs out onto the court before a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at the Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Jayhawk

This mythical bird is quite simply the most unique mascot anywhere and is recognized the world over as representing only one very special place – The University of Kansas. With origins firmly rooted in the anti slavery past of Kansas and Lawrence, it has a historical significance of which few places can boast.

By the end of the civil war, “Jayhawkers” were recognized as the symbol of Kansans’ fighting for a Free State and the pioneering spirit of those who lived in Kansas.

The Jayhawk made it’s first official appearance during an 1890 football game. Although there have been several variations to the Jayhawk over the years, the Jayhawk of 1946 has remained essentially the same and is the symbol most fans know today.

The Jayhawks of years past can be found many places on campus, and are honored prominently in a decorative floor design in The Kansas Union building. The Jayhawk is a rugged, resilient, and noble bird, and in fact, is the call sign The United State Coast Guard has designated for the helicopters they fly daily in saving lives and protecting the interests of The United States.

Waving The Wheat

Long before baseballs wave, the tomahawk chop, or the Wabash Cannonball, there was the Waving of the Wheat at Kansas. It honors the agrarian past and present of the state, and is incredibly mesmerizing to watch when thousands of fans in unison wave back and forth as if they are stocks of golden wheat swaying in the Kansas wind.

This tradition is performed when an opposing player fouls out of a basketball game and the Kansas crowd waves goodbye to the end of his playing time and “escorts” him to the opposing bench. It is especially impressive to watch at Kansas football games when fans Wave the Wheat in mass unison at the scoring of each touchdown.

Campanile and The Hill

Campanile is a KU landmark honoring all of the fallen soldiers of World War II who attended The University. It overlooks Memorial Stadium and The Kansas Union, and marks the skyline from almost anywhere in Lawrence. It is perfectly perched proudly on the famous “Hill”. The Hill is a peaceful place of tree lined sidewalks and benches that overlook Memorial Stadium, and offers a fantastic view into the football field, although recent additions to the football complex and stadium have diminished this view to some extent.

On snowy winter days The Hill is filled with local school children sledding and playing. It is breathtaking and ablaze in color in the fall when leaves of native Kansas trees prepare themselves for winter. Campanile and The Hill also is the spot where graduates walk down and into Memorial stadium at graduation. Local legend has it that any student who walks through Campanile before they graduate never will.

Nov 17, 2012; Lawrence, KS, USA; A Kansas Jayhawks helmet on the sidelines in the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones at Memorial Stadium. Iowa State won the game 51-23. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The Rock Chalk Chant

No discussion of Kansas traditions is complete without mention of The Rock Chalk Jayhawk Chant, which started out as a chant for the geology club at Kansas.

President Teddy Roosevelt proclaimed it the greatest college chant of all. The Rock Chalk Chant was performed at the 1920 Olympics for The King of Belgium who wanted to know what a typical college yell sounded like. All of the athletes gathered and agreed it had to be The Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant and performed it for him.

The Rock Chalk often marked the arrival of Kansas soldiers and raised the spirits of fighting men and woman from the Boxer rebellion to today. Starting at a low and haunting murmur and rising to a thunderous closing the chant raises goosebumps on those who are it’s allies and fear and regret in those opposing the mighty Jayhawks.

Many defeated players have commented on the the absolute haunting and demoralizing feeling they get when walking off the court of Allen Field House after a loss. Much like the Jayhawk there is simply nothing like The Rock Chalk Chant anywhere.

There you have it a small listing of several of the more famous traditions of The University Of Kansas. While there are many more these are absolute necessities to know for any self respecting Jayhawk fan. Armed with this and the knowledge that one way street signs must be obeyed, any new resident or student coming to Larryville will fit right in with those of us who bleed Crimson and Blue.