Standing in front of the television, I could not stop pacing. Would the Kansas Jayhawks make it to the Final Four?
When the game was tied with Duke, I was jumping and screaming so much that I think the whole neighborhood heard me.
And then the most incredible thing happened: The Jayhawks won.
There were parties in the streets of Lawrence and pride — pride in the Jayhawks. Families came together to welcome home the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse and there were tears and joy as they welcomed star players Devonte Graham and Udoka Azubuike.
Everyone knows that March Madness represents an exciting time in basketball when teams play their hearts out on the basketball floor. But for me, my love for the Jayhawks is not simply about supporting a team. It is about supporting what the Jayhawks symbolize, not only in my life but also in the lives of other Kansans.
When I am rooting for the Jayhawks I think of my lifelong friends I made in Kansas that continue to support me to this day. I think about the decency of Kansans toward one another and the kindness found in all corners of the state. As we have become a selfie culture, I am reminded that in Kansas, people continue to be open and have integrity. They are selfless and loving. They will take the shirts off their backs to help a fellow human being.
When anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked, the University of Kansas set up a buddy system to walk Muslims to and from classes safely. The Jayhawks also refused to storm the court even when they beat the K-State Wildcats, their biggest rivals.
How many states welcome their teams home and rally around together as a community? How many coaches openly hug one of their top players when they’ve lost the game? There is a tenderness that is found only in Kansas.
I grew up in Kansas and I remember the expansive sky that can be seen for miles and the gorgeous sunsets. Growing up as an American born abroad, people in Kansas opened their homes to us. They were focused on talking and sharing real deep conversations.
There were the evenings sitting outside a friend’s log cabin listening to the cicadas make their distinctive sounds as the sun was setting. There is a peace in Kansas that surpasses all understanding.
I was sad to leave the state at age 10, but I came back for college. I was never a basketball fan until I attended the University of Kansas. It becomes part of you like a tattoo you never want to remove.
When the Jayhawks play, everyone gathers in the dorm rooms or the college bars to watch them. It is a pastime that continues to this day.
In Kansas people smile as they greet you. They are willing to help you if you have become lost. One time I spilled my drink at a restaurant and the waitress gave me a free soup on the house. Growing up, I could visit my neighbors who let me walk their two doberman pinschers around the block. There was trust amongst individuals.
I remember having my appendix out and not knowing what would happen next but my college friends, all 10 of them were standing over my hospital bed making sure I was OK. They then brought soup and visited. Kansans take care of one another.
When my stepfather was ill, all my friends in the dorm room stood around waiting for answers on his health. They weren’t going anywhere. They remained invested. When I got into a car accident a dear friend of mine helped me to buy a new car. It was a place where you could be yourself and you would not be judged.
There were family friends who never stopped inviting us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I grew up as much in their home as in my own with a single mother. And 34 years later, they are still there in that log cabin in the woods outside of Manhattan, the home of the Kansas Wildcats. They were there and continue to be there through life’s ups and downs. They are considered family.
Living in Florida, it is not every day that I run into a fellow Kansan. But when I did recently he encouraged me to share this story with all Kansans: That we are all connected whether we are near or far.
I am proud to be a Jayhawk and all it stands for.
Livi Stanford is a University of Kansas graduate who has worked many years in the field of journalism. She is a writer for a nonprofit education blog and resides in Palm Harbor, Fla.