Rock chalk rocks De Soto
Fans turn out to back Jayhawks’ championship bid
J-Mart clerk Karen Williams didn't have much to do at 9:30 p.m. Monday. A television screen sitting on a display shelf across the room revealed the reason. It, like probably the vast majority of televisions in De Soto, was tuned to the NCAA national championship game between Kansas University and Syracuse.
"We were busy for a time before the game," Williams said. "It's slow now."
Not all businesses suffered from the game. At the Kill Creek Pub, Virgil Goodin, said business was good. The bartender divided his attention between the game and his customers, eight of whom lined the bar. Four others occupied a table nearby, and a party of six tracked the game on the restaurant side.
Donna Rice and Tony Krawat said they came to the bar every Monday night after their De Soto Park and Recreation League team's volleyball games.
Despite cries encouraging the Jayhawks to "tear up that zone," the Syracuse defense and sensational freshman Carmelo Anthony soon put KU in a hole.
"He's incredible," Rice said as Anthony led the Orangemen to a 20-point first-half lead with his rebounding, passing and shooting. Nearby, Dennis Wiley noticed something else that denoted Anthony's star quality -- he benefitted from officials' calls.
"That really wasn't much of a foul," he said as Anthony went to the line to complete a three-point play.
Wiley recently moved to De Soto from Bonner Springs. He was watching the game at Kill Creek Pub with his friend Raul Villarreal because he still hasn't unpacked his television, he said. The two men work together at the fire alarm company appropriately named Jayhawk Fire. More of Monday's work hours were spent thinking about the Jayhawks than about fires, they said.
"I didn't get a lot done," Wiley said. "My mind was on the game."
Rice and Krawat, who work together at Danisco at the NewCentury Air Center near Gardner, said they fought the same battle for focus Monday.
"We didn't have a party," Krawat said. "We have Mizzou fans."
A drive across town on strangely deserted streets found cars filling the parking lot of the Linden/Tripkos VFW Lodge.
Lawrence Steele and Herb Wood said the lodge would be nearly empty on a normal Monday evening. But with the Jayhawks on the cusp of a national championship, fans were naturally drawn to the VFW to watch the game.
"This is a KU bar," Steel said. "Look at the door."
Below the red door's VFW emblem are two decals reading Kansas and two cartoon Jayhawks.
"This is the best KU bar outside of Lawrence," Steele said.
Everyone in the VFW was wearing at least one article of crimson-and-blue clothing, and several women were decked out in KU's colors from head to toe. Twelve customers were seated in a semi-circle around a big-screen television while an equal number followed the game on two smaller sets above the bar.
As for Kill Creek Pub, it was a "K-State bar," one customer said. "I know those people."
The Jayhawks' 11-point halftime deficit didn't deter the seasoned fans accustomed to KU comebacks. Monte Evans, whom Steele called the "biggest KU fan in De Soto," was confidently staying with his prediction of a four-point KU win. Eleven points was nothing for this Jayhawk team, he said, pointing out it had already shaved off nine points from an early 20-point lead.
The team's five-game run to the championship contest shared headlines with speculation Jayhawk head coach Roy Williams would return to his alma mater of North Carolina. Williams wasn't going anywhere, Evans said. His alma mater didn't offer the coach any more than what he had in Lawrence with five key players returning and one of the nation's top recruiting classes, he said.
Besides, Williams wouldn't want anything to do with the prima donnas that cost his one-time assistant Matt Doherty his job after two years as the Tar Heels head coach.
"I don't see him going to a program where the players and administrators dictate how they play," he said.
Evans, who was wearing a KU shirt he bought 18 years ago, said there was nothing better than college basketball. But his obsession didn't keep him from concentrating at work Monday.
"I've got to be at work at 5:30 tomorrow morning," he said. "I'll be there."
The fans' confidence looked well placed as KU started cutting into the Syracuse lead soon after halftime. The comeback, greeted with chants of "rock chalk," waned after Anthony drew the fourth foul on the Jayhawk's leading scorer, Keith Langford.
Sitting at the bar, Steele said the game would be going better had he brought his 9-year-old daughter, Madison.
"She's my good-luck charm," he said. "If she was here, we would be up by a hundred."
With less than five minutes to play, KU made another charge. At the one-minute mark, the Jayhawks had pulled within five and one of the coolers needed restocking.
"We aren't bringing more beer right now," said Evans, who had moved behind the bar.
KU got the ball a final time down only by three. But the team's championship bid ended when Kirk Hinrich's hurried three-point shot sailed wide. With the mood deflated and the post-game celebration abruptly canceled, the Jayhawk faithful headed for home.
"Free throws, free throws, free throws," Arlen Gabriel said as he made his way to the door.
"Get your heads up," Steele told the fans remaining. "They played a hell of a game."
Evans, who was talking about next season at halftime, didn't want to look ahead after the game. As he methodically crushed cans behind the bar, he paid tribute to the achievement the national runner-up Jayhawks.
"This year. This year. This year," he said. "They did well."