Kansas softball focuses on Jayhawk Way during fall slate

LAWRENCE, Kan. – From the moment a student-athlete steps on campus, Kansas head softball coach Megan Smith and her staff begin the process of instilling the Jayhawk Way into their team. The philosophy guides the Jayhawks in competing on the diamond, in the classroom and being a part of the community.

There are several core values that the Jayhawks learn to live by while playing at Kansas: family, academics, character and hard work. Each week throughout KU’s fall lineup, the Jayhawks will share the importance of each of these values and how they are applied to their daily lives, on and off the field.

The family-oriented atmosphere is what attracts many student-athletes to Lawrence. The idea that the Jayhawks are a family eases the transition for the student-athletes, whom are away from home for the first time. The family-like mentality also makes the hard days as students, athletes and people easier to get through.

Just like Kansas football stood behind the Hayden family, KU softball followed suit and dedicated one of its fall games to Cole Hayden, son of Assistant Athletics Director – Academic and Career Counseling Shanda Hayden. Cole Hayden is currently undergoing chemotherapy in his battle against undifferentiated sarcoma.

It’s no surprise that the Jayhawks wanted to stand behind the Hayden family and join KU football in raising awareness for childhood cancer. Whether it’s the Kansas Athletics department as a whole or the KU softball team, the Jayhawks are family and are always there to support a member of their team.

The dugout at Rock Chalk Park is evident of how enthusiastic the softball team is, but give the Jayhawks a cause, especially one that effects one of their own, and the team will rally behind it. Last spring, KU hosted its annual ‘Jayhawks for a Cure’ game which raises awareness for kidney cancer, another cause that hits close to home. Smith’s husband, Paul Buske, passed away from kidney cancer in 2011 and each year the Jayhawks remember the life of one their biggest fans.

During the ‘Jayhawks for a Cure’ game, the Jayhawks sported orange, the color of kidney cancer awareness, wherever possible. Hair ribbons, t-shirts and painted nails could be found on just about everyone in the dugout. It’s always an emotional day for Smith, but with her team rallying behind her, it makes for a special day.

It doesn’t take a tragedy or hard time to see how close KU softball is. The Jayhawks spend a lot of time together away from Rock Chalk Park attending other KU sporting events, camping, fishing and volunteering in the community. Softball and the activities away from the field all help better the Jayhawks as individuals – on and off the field.  

The bond and culture that Smith has fostered allows for the Jayhawks to move as one on the diamond. The family-oriented mentality translates to better team chemistry on the softball field. Whether the Jayhawks are celebrating an achievement on the field or helping a teammate through a rough practice, Kansas softball sticks together, like all families should.

The family atmosphere isn’t the only value that the Jayhawks learn once entering the Kansas softball program. Academics, character and hard work are also among those core values ingrained into the student-athletes. While winning on the diamond is important, Smith teaches the Jayhawks that being involved in the community, working hard and being successful in the classroom are equally important.

Athletic accomplishments are not the only achievements that Smith is proud of the Jayhawks for earning. Academic honors, graduation and receiving degrees are equally important. Smith puts an emphasis on the student component of the student-athlete experience and competing in all aspects of life.

For the last six seasons, Kansas softball has had five or more Jayhawks earn Academic All-Big 12 honors. In 2014 and 2015, KU had back-to-back Jayhawks earn the Big 12’s highest academic honor as Alex Jones and Maddie Stein both were named the Big 12 Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

Whether it’s in the classroom, weight room, tutoring or the field, the Jayhawks are taught to give it 110 percent effort day in and day out. To Smith, it’s not just important to work hard at every aspect of being a student-athlete, but to also work at it with high energy and enthusiasm. That energy and enthusiasm can be seen at early morning strength and conditioning workouts, afternoon practices or lending a hand in the Lawrence community.

Being a part of the Kansas softball family means that the Jayhawks are also active members of the local community. Despite a hectic schedule, the Jayhawks find time to give back in Lawrence-area schools and families. Recently, members of the KU softball team visited with a local kindergarten class and read books, while the entire team adopts a family around the Holidays to buy gifts and clothes for. Meeting members of the community, especially the children that look up to the Jayhawks, is a rewarding experience for the entire program.

While competing at a high level and winning championships is a top priority for Kansas softball, so is developing young ladies to succeed both on and off the diamond. With the Jayhawk Way, the Jayhawks are learning just that and more during their time at Kansas.

KUAthletics.com: The official online source for Kansas Athletics, Williams Education Fund contributions, tickets, merchandise, multimedia, photos and much, much more.