Jayhawk Insider: Continuing the family legacy

Each spring Kansas senior student-athletes experience one of the proudest traditions bestowed upon a Jayhawk – receiving their K Ring.

After years of competition in the Crimson and Blue, practices and classes, triumphs and defeats, the senior class joins a group of extraordinary individuals that have poured their hearts and souls into their sport and studies.

The K Ring symbolizes a uniquely shared experience between generations of varsity letter winners at Kansas. For senior rower Bailey Blood, it was an opportunity to celebrate the connection of three generations in her family.

Bailey received her K Ring on April 22 on the tail end of her fourth season with Kansas rowing. When it came to choosing her outfit for the special occasion, she had it planned well in advance. She wanted to honor her late grandfather, Bill Cole, by wearing his Kansas letter sweater – another treasured item that was earned by Jayhawks during his competition days.

“She called me out of the blue one day back in September,” recalled Martha Blood, Bailey’s mother. “She said, ‘mom, I want to wear the letter sweater of your dad’s to the K Ring ceremony.’ And I thought, that is such a great idea.”

With her senior season months away and lots of rowing still to do, Bailey had her eye on one date. April 22. She was going to receive her K Ring and wear one of her mother’s most prized possessions.

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“She loved wearing it,” Martha said of Bailey wearing her dad’s letter sweater. “She was very excited to have it on and a lot of people did comment on how cool of a sweater it was and asked where she got it. It meant the world to me and the only thing missing that night was him.”

Bill Cole began a tradition of bleeding Crimson and Blue, which has lasted now for three generations. A native of Hutchinson, Kansas, Cole lettered in track and field during the early 1940s. Following graduation in 1943, Cole went on to serve in World War II and then came back to Kansas to earn his law degree.

“Ever since my sister and I were like three years old, all he ever said was you can go anywhere you want for college as long as it’s KU,” Martha said. “As a child, we came up to every home football game from Hutchinson. That was just a thing, you went to the KU football games on Saturday’s and you went to KU as a student.”

The journey to reaching that special Monday night took a little longer and an extra stop before Bailey became the third generation in her family to attend KU and the second to earn a Varsity K.

Before Bailey joined Kansas rowing in 2015, she spent her first year at University of Sioux Falls chasing her long jumping dream.

“I wanted to be the same parent my dad was and say you can go anywhere you want for college just as long as it’s KU,” said Martha. “But as she kept pursuing athletics, I didn’t know if KU was the place for her with the long jumping dream.”

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After a year in Sioux Falls, Bailey’s dream changed and she wanted to look at opportunities closer to home. Those opportunities were rowing at her mom and grandfather’s alma mater, Kansas.

“I know my mom always wanted me to go here,” Bailey said of attending KU. “She wants me to have experiences and opportunities that she had. Being here in the same sorority (Delta Gamma) as her, that’s meaningful to her and we can connect in that way. I have that connection with her through the sorority and I have this connection with my grandpa through athletics.”

It wasn’t until the end of July 2015 when Bailey moved into her apartment that it became real for Martha.

“She was living across the street from Delta Gamma and it was actually the same apartment building that my sister lived at,” Martha said of moving Bailey to campus. “It was all coming back to me. Until you do it every day, the trip down Emery Road is super cool.”

For Bailey, it’s a moment and memory that she will always cherish.

“I have this distinct memory of my mom after we moved everything into my apartment,” said Bailey. “She doesn’t get emotional, but she was teary and said he would be so proud of you.”

In that moment, it all came together for the duo and Bailey was home.

“I felt like all of a sudden she was home and where she should be,” Martha said.

During her first year at Kansas, Bailey joined Delta Gamma. Just like her aunt and mother did. She now shared that life-long bond as sorority sisters. By the end of her freshman season, Bailey also followed in the footsteps of another member of her family – her grandfather. She earned her Varsity K after rowing in the First Varsity Four as a freshman.

“That’s a milestone (on earning letter jacket) and I think a lot about those little milestones,” Bailey said. “It was cool because I had earned that. My parents were so excited. I have a picture of my grandma in my jacket.”

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Bailey’s middle name is Cole after her mother’s maiden name, so the connection to her grandparents began long before she earned her Varsity K. But that connection is a special one and one shared just between Bailey and her grandfather.

“We are two people that mean so much to her that have this connection,” said Bailey. “It does mean a lot to me. As I go down the road and look back on things, this is a special time. As I grow up and begin to have more life experiences, I realize how much my time here has helped me or prepared me for the real world, and I will feel even more grateful for my time here.”

As Bailey begins to look back at her time in Lawrence, she has learned more than she could ever imagine. Her decision to move home and continue the family tradition is one of the best she has made.

While it is a casual expectation in the Blood household to go to KU, Bailey’s dad didn’t and graduated from Kansas State. Despite his allegiance to the Wildcats, he has happily worn a Kansas shirt and carried a K-State cup for the last four years, cheering on his daughter and Kansas rowing.

Despite growing up in a Kansas-Kansas State divided household, KU was also number one for Bailey. She started out a fan and legacy, but created her own path at KU and is leaving her mark with Kansas rowing.

In her final season with the Jayhawks, Bailey has earned a seat in the First Varsity Eight and helped KU claim a gold medal at the George Mason Invite. Although the K Ring ceremony has been celebrated, Bailey and the Jayhawks still have a few more opportunities to race and plan to leave it all on the water.

Her days of competition will end and Bailey will hang up the oars one last time in the boathouse, but she will always be a Jayhawk. A bond that she now shares with her mother, grandfather and lifelong friends she has made during her time in Lawrence.