Billy Mills, KU Seniors Honored at Jayhawk Senior Celebration

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas Athletics recognized some of its top current and former student-athletes and presented the 2022 class of 92 graduating seniors their K Rings at the Jayhawk Senior Celebration inside the Kansas Union Monday night.

Kansas track and field legend Billy Mills was presented with the K Club Lifetime Service Award, while five Kansas seniors were awarded with top student-athlete honors.

K Club representatives presented the K Rings to the student-athletes as they were announced by their respective coaches to open the ceremony before KU Chancellor Douglas Girod and Director of Athletics Travis Goff gave the welcome address.

Kate Steward (swimming & diving) and Ochai Agbaji (men’s basketball) and Zach Bradford (men’s track & field) were named the Dr. Robert E. Frederick Senior Scholar Athletes of the Year, while Shelby Gayre (softball) and Casey Burnham (baseball) were presented with Prentice Gautt Postgraduate Scholarships during the ceremony, which followed a reception inside the Union Ballroom.

“The word to emphasize tonight is the word exceptional.  This group of student-athletes represent every attribute about what exceptional is,” Director of Athletics Travis Goff said. “I think we can all appreciate what this group has faced as we look back over the four or five plus years here at the University of Kansas.”

“The dedication, sacrifice, resilience, time management, consistency and work ethic that you all demonstrate is recognized and is highly valued both in sports and in the workplace,” KU Chancellor Douglas Girod said.

Mills was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by K Club former KU six-time track & field All-American Candace Dunback. At KU, Mills was a three-time All-America cross country runner. He won the 1960 Big Eight Championship and was a member of the Jayhawks’ track team that won the 1959 and 1960 NCAA Outdoor National Championships.

After graduating from KU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1962, Mills joined the U.S. Marine Corps. While serving in the Marines and qualifying for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Mills set a world record and became the only American to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000-meters.

Mills was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1984, received the KU Award for Distinguished Service in 1993, the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama in 2012, awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Award – the highest honor bestowed by the NCAA in 2014, and received the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Mills founded the non-profit Running Strong for American Indian Youth, an organization that supports cultural programs and provides health and housing assistance for Native American communities. His humanitarian work, perseverance, and conviction has made him a role model to all youth and an inspiration to countless others to follow your dreams. In 2018, Lawrence Public Schools (USD 497) renamed South Middle School to Billy Mills Middle School. Also in 2018, Mills was a member of the inaugural class of the National Native American Hall of Fame.

Steward, Agbaji and Bradford were recognized as the top senior scholar-athletes and give the award named for Dr. Robert E. Frederick, former Director of Athletics and Professor at the University of Kansas. The award, presented by Dr. Bernie Kish and Goff, pays tribute to Dr. Frederick’s dedication to excellence at KU and was named in his honor when he retired as the Director of Athletics in 2001.

Earlier this month, Steward was named the 2022 Women’s Swimming Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. This season, Steward was also honored as the 2021-22 Dr. Marlene Mawson Exemplary Women Student-Athlete recipient, awarded to one Kansas student-athlete who plays an integral role on her respective team and demonstrates strong character and leadership qualities, while also being a strong competitor in the classroom and in the field of play.

In the pool, Steward led an outstanding Kansas career that consisted of three individual Big 12 Championships and five school records. In 2022, The Bartlesville, Oklahoma, native qualified for her first NCAA Championships, where she finished off her career in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard breaststroke.

The Final Four and Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Agbaji was a 2022 Consensus All-America First Team honoree. Agbaji, from Kansas City, Missouri, was named the unanimous 2022 Big 12 Player of the Year after leading the conference in scoring with an average of 18.8 points per game. A four-year starter for KU, set the record for consecutive games of three-point field goals made at 53. He concluded his KU career ranked 15th on the KU career scoring list with 1,652 points, fourth on the three-point field goals made (250) and fourth on three-point field goals attempted (670).

Bradford is a six-time All-American in pole vault at Kansas having earned the distinction four times in indoor and two times outdoor. The Bloomington, Illinois, native won the last two Big 12 Indoor pole vault titles and the 2021 outdoor conference crown. He holds the KU indoor school record clearing 5.81m (19-0.75 ft.) in spring 2021. Bradford also owns Kansas’ outdoor school record with a clearance of 5.77m (18-11 ft.), while holding the Rock Chalk Park and and Anschutz Pavilion Facility Records.

To honor the lifetime service of Prentice Gautt, the late Associate Commissioner of the Big 12, the conference established 24 postgraduate scholarships to be awarded to two seniors from each institution who have demonstrated their commitment to excellence in academics and have pledged to continue their education in graduate school. Grayer and Burnham were presented the award Monday by Paul Buskirk, associate athletics director for student-athlete support services, along with faculty athletics representative, Dr. Susan Stagg-Williams.

A redshirt-senior form D’Hanis, Texas, Gayre has been an anchor behind the plate for Kansas each of the last five seasons. She was named Softball America All-American Second Team in 2020 and is a three-time Academic All-Big 12 First Team selection. In 2018 Gayre was a member of the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team and she is a nine-time member of the Athletic Director/Big 12 Commissioner Honor Roll. For her career, Gayre has played in 159 games while at Kansas.

Burnham received the 2022 Dr. Gerald Lage Academic Achievement Award, the Big 12’s highest academic honor. The Grand Island, Nebraska, outfielder led the KU in on-base percentage in 2021 and is a two=time Academic All-Big 12 First Team honoree in 2020 and 2021. In 2019, Burnham was a member of the Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team. A seven-time Athletic Director/Big 12 Commissioner Honor Roll member, Burnham has played in 105 games while at KU.

KU football player Chris Hughes delivered the senior address to those in attendance.

The ceremony concluded with former KU track & field standout and K Club board member David Johnston orchestrate the K Ring ceremony.