Allen Fieldhouse holds a special place in the hearts of Kansas basketball fans across the country. From current students to former players to alumni of decades past, the memories created in that building last a lifetime.
I was recently lucky enough to witness one of those memories being made through the eyes of a young fan making his first trip to “The Phog” and ended up making some for myself that I will cherish forever.
First time for everything
On a whim a couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to purchase tickets to see the Jayhawks play that following Monday night against the Cincinnati Bearcats. General admission tickets were cheap, and I hadn’t been to a home game at that point in the season, so I figured, “Why not?
Catching a game at Allen Fieldhouse is something I love doing with friends and family, but this time around I decided to ask someone different. I decided to take a special guest named Tyler.
Tyler and I met through Big Brothers Big Sisters Kansas City and have been paired as “Big” and “Little” for nearly a year now. He’s an inspirational kid who battled and overcame leukemia at the age of 3.
After eight years of being cancer free, he is now a fun-loving 11-year-old who enjoys playing sports, so I thought going to a KU game would be a fun activity for us to do together.
To my surprise when I reached out to his mom to confirm that he could come, I learned that it would be his first time inside Allen Fieldhouse. He comes from a KU household but never had the opportunity to make it to Lawrence to see the Jayhawks play.
“He’s super excited!” Tyler’s mom Tina said leading up to the game. “This is a special opportunity and I truly thank you for letting him experience it!”
Knowing it was his first time immediately added to my own excitement for the game. I couldn’t wait to show him everything – from the national championship trophies to the original “Beware of the Phog” banner to James Naismith’s Original Rules of “Basket Ball” hanging nearby.
I knew it was going to be a memorable night, I just had no idea how memorable it would be.
A new perspective
I have been lucky enough to go to Allen Fieldhouse countless times, and I’ve seen just about everything the building has to offer. But for Tyler, everything was new and eye opening.
The statue of Phog Allen in front of the fieldhouse which I’ve walked by dozens of times turned into a photo op and quick history session about what he meant to the school and why the building is named after him.
The Booth Family Hall of Athletics – which usually acts as a sort of maze in route to my seating section – became a learning lesson for Tyler about Kansas basketball and a reminder for me of all that’s been accomplished in that building and at KU.
Seeing him stand in awe of the more-than-130-year-old documents that started the game of basketball made me feel extremely thankful to have those hanging in our building and to have had James Naismith at Kansas.
Things that I normally would have passed by or not paid as much attention to game in and game out all of a sudden became things I appreciated more having seen them being witnessed for the first time by someone else – none more so than the pregame video on the jumbotron.
Seeing the look on Tyler’s face as he gazed up at the video board watching the clips of so many former Kansas greats and so many accomplishments of the last 60-70 years brought a genuine smile to my face and an overwhelming sense of pride of being a Jayhawk because I could sense that he was beginning to understand the magnitude of Kansas basketball more than I could ever put into words (and trust me, I tried).
It’s easy to take a place for granted after being there so many times, whether that be a home, a restaurant, or an unassuming old basketball arena. But after getting to experience Allen Fieldhouse through the eyes of a first-timer, I will never take for granted how truly special that place is.
And thankfully, it appears to have made a lasting impression on the first-timer too.
“I’ll never forget tonight,” Tyler said on the drive home. “Best night of my life.”
Thanks to the generosity of the KU radio broadcast crew (Brian Hanni and Greg Gurley) and the Kansas Athletics Development team, Tyler was featured as the #KUCancerFighter of the game and was able to watch his first game at Allen Fieldhouse from the front row. Rock Chalk.