BYU football fans, who are known for traveling well, will most certainly frequent numerous local hotels, restaurants and merchandise stands when they flock to Lawrence this weekend for a Big 12 showdown between the (3-0) Jayhawks and (3-0) Cougars.
As if boosting the economy isn’t enough, the Cougar faithful will be arriving with gifts in hand, expecting nothing in return.
As part of the BYU Alumni “Cougs Care” program, BYU supporters on Saturday at a pregame tailgate party will present approximately 1,500 books they’ve purchased as part of an effort to benefit Lawrence Public Schools Native American Student Services.
The tailgate, which will feature KC Barbecue for 1,000 or so fans who purchased tickets, will run from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Buford M. Watson Jr. Park (727 Kentucky Street) in advance of a 2:30 p.m. KU-BYU kickoff at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
This weekend’s Cougs Care book giveaway project is co-sponsored by the BYU Midwest alumni chapters and the BYU Education Society.
The kindness being exhibited by BYU fans — the school has embarked on charitable endeavors on all football road trips since 2019 — is in line with the school motto, “Enter to Learn; Go Forth To Serve,” Michael Johanson, executive director of the BYU Alumni Association Board, told The Star on Monday in a phone interview.
The KU book drive follows last weekend’s trip to Arkansas in which BYU, which defeated the Razorbacks 38-31, sponsored a food drive to benefit St. James Missionary Baptist Church, which runs one of the largest pantries in the Fayetteville, Arkansas area. Cougs Care wound up donating approximately 40,000 pounds of food to fans of the team in SEC country.
“The work we are trying to do and that we’re trying to represent in competitive collegiate athletics is different than what most people might think when they think of competitive collegiate athletics. At BYU we’ve been given a charge to be unique in all the world, and this is one of those ways that we feel we can be unique and to be examples to some others and to show love for our fellow journeyers,” Johanson said.
“We believe that we’re all children of God and we should treat each other like that. (We) hope that there’s a competitive experience on the field or on the court, and outside of that we’re brothers and sisters,” Johanson added.
Other projects taken on by BYU football fans at Cougars road games the past few seasons:
A coat giveaway and food drive at Tennessee
A distribution of $2,500 worth of diapers at South Florida
A donation of 1,541 books at Liberty
A drive to donate funds to support area refugees at Oregon
Handing out of 1,500 pairs of socks and gloves before the Cougars’ 2022 bowl game versus SMU in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Also, a donation of 910 pounds of food, 200 winter coats and 300 boxes of diapers at Georgia Southern and a drive supporting the USF Head Start program in Florida.
BYU’s players and coaches provided Razorback fans with a surprise right before last Saturday’s kickoff. The team ran out of the tunnel onto the field waving a Razorbacks flag that all the BYU football players had signed. The Cougars were honoring the memory of former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who died on June 27 at the age of 35, and former UA running back Alex Collins, who died on Aug. 13 at the age of 28.
Taking an interest in the opponent is “something we’ve built into the culture of our university that is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Johanson said. “We adhere to those principles of faith and of service and giving back to our fellow journeyers on earth.
“We think wherever we go we should be looking for opportunities to lift and to serve. It’s not just a fancy tagline that makes us look good on TV, it’s in the DNA of our graduates. It’s in the DNA of our athletes. We want to give more opportunities for that to happen. In the communities we go to, they are such great hosts they bend over backward to welcome our fans coming in and our team coming in. We just think it is the right thing to do.
BYU’s football opponents have noticed the good deeds.
Razorback fan Jimmy Henderson wrote this of BYU on social media platform X after Arkansas’ narrow home defeat Saturday: “You can’t hate this (BYU) program. BYU has become my second team.”
Nebraska Hog fan wrote on X: “OK but for real. I was in Provo (home of BYU) last year. The BYU fans are nothing but class. If you encounter them, be nice. I’m not telling you to be quiet during the game, I’m just telling you to make their experience in Arkansas what ours was in Utah.”
And according to UA fan Ali Noland: “BYU fans delivered a truck of food to a Fayetteville food pantry and are collecting food donations at their tailgate party at Wilson Park today. Cougs, your hospitality in Provo is legendary, and Razorbacks fans thank you for your generosity and kindness.”
KU fans have mixed with Cougar fans just six total times in football and basketball.
The football Jayhawks prevailed 23-20 in the 1992 Aloha Bowl in Hawaii. In basketball, the two teams have competed head-to-head five times, with KU leading the series 4-1.
“Kansas is a great program, a great storied university. We are excited to be there and be part of that tradition that exists there in Lawrence,” Johanson said.
More on BYU’s efforts with Kansas football
Saturday’s BYU tailgate, which is expected to attract approximately 1,000 BYU supporters in the park located at 727 Kentucky Street, is the place BYU alumni, fans and friends will complete their book drive while dining on Kansas City BBQ.
Merchandise will be for sale including game-day T-shirts that read: “FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE PRAIRIES - Inaugural Big 12 Conference Game - BYU at Kansas - September 23, 2023.”
On Friday night, BYU Alumni is hosting a literacy night with Lawrence Public Schools Native American Student Services from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Billy Mills Middle School, 2704 Louisiana Street.
Native American Student Services families are invited to attend this event where they will listen to speeches from Haskell Indian Nations University athletes, take part in a Native American Hoop Dance and interact with “Cosmo” (BYU’s Cougar mascot), the BYU cheer squad and KU’s “Baby Jay” mascot.
Wrapping up the book drive: An Amazon wishlist for books all fans may purchase is available at the web address https://alumni.byu.edu/byu-vs-kansas.
Prior to the game, BYUtv.org will air several pieces meant to make BYU fans aware of feel-good stories involving Lawrence and KU. BYUtv.org which is a free app and streaming service, sent a crew of five to Lawrence in July to interview KU football and basketball radio network play by play announcer Brian Hanni about his Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, which annually raises money for area families battling cancer.
The network representatives spoke with Hanni, football radio analyst David Lawrence, former KU hoops guard Tyrel Reed, KU chancellor Douglas Girod and a family battling cancer that has benefited from the fundraiser.
BYUtv.org also will air a piece on the Folds of Honor scholarship program for children of fallen soldiers and veterans.
These stories will appear on the “Sports Nation Game Day” show to start at 11:30 a.m. at BYUtv.org.
“We hope so,” Johanson said, asked if the coverage results in some donations sent to Hanni’s charitable cause and and Folds of Honor.
Hanni is impressed by BYU’s support of causes in cities in which the Cougars visit.
“I think it’s one of the most original and impactful ideas any opponent or media group have ever come up with. Truthfully I’m inspired by it and think it’s a good example for all to follow,” Hanni said.
Airing on the BYU radio podcast Big Stories (free on the the BYU radio app and at BYUradio.org) prior to the game will be an interview with former BYU and NFL quarterback Steve Young regarding Young’s friendship with former KU great John Hadl, as well as a feature on football playing brothers Kwinton Lassiter (KU) and Darrius Lassiter (BYU).
KU fans who travel to games can expect welcoming crowds during the Jayhawks’ appearances in football and basketball in Provo in upcoming seasons, Johanson said.
“A year ago when Arkansas came to Provo (for football game) … one of our traditions to welcome our visiting fans is to give them free ice cream from our homegrown creamery here on campus. It’s really good (ice cream),” Johanson said.
“Most people don’t know about that. We want to keep it that way because it is a surprise and shocks some people. We hope we can make them feel welcome when they come here.”