Kansas Recognizes Jayhawk Contributions at Senior Celebration

LAWRENCE, Kansas – Deanna Marks (swimming & diving) and Pat Lewandowski (football) were selected as Kansas’ Senior Scholar-Athletes of the Year and were among 82 Jayhawk senior student-athletes honored and presented with K Rings at the Senior Celebration inside the Kansas Union Monday night. Fellow seniors Maddie Stein (softball) and Aaron Blevins (track & field) were also recognized as the Prentice Gautt Big 12 Postgraduate Scholarship winners and Gary Padgett was presented with the K Club’s Lifetime Service Award during the annual event.

The Senior Celebration – a joint effort from Kansas’ Student-Athlete Support Services, KU Leads and K Club units – opened with the presentation of this year’s senior class and opening remarks by Kansas Director of Athletics Dr. Sheahon Zenger, before a handful of various academic excellence awards were distributed and culminated with the presentation of K Rings to the Jayhawk seniors.

Following Zenger’s address, Padgett was presented with the K Club Lifetime Service Award by current K Club President Jeff Long, commemorating exceptional involvement with the Kansas Athletics’ letterwinners association. A letterwinner in both baseball and basketball, Padgett has personified the Jayhawk spirit and displayed unwavering loyalty to his alma mater. 

Stein and Blevins were then recognized as Prentice Gautt Award recipients, which was presented by Sandra Gautt and Susan Stagg-Williams, KU’s faculty academic representative. 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.

Taylor Rappaport (baseball) and Michelle Woods (golf) from Kansas’ Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) joined Del Shankel to present the Del Shankel Teaching Excellence Award. Established by Jayhawk SAAC, the award is an opportunity for student-athletes to recognize an outstanding member of the faculty at the University of Kansas and was named in honor of Shankel, Professor Emeritus of Biology who has served as Chancellor twice and Interim Athletics Director, twice. Cal Butcher (communications) and Dr. Mariana Candido (history) were two of three candidates nominated for the award, but the winner was Dr. David Besson (physics and astronomy). Besson could not attend the ceremony due to his assignment in Moscow, Russia, but delighted the crowd with a video acceptance speech.  

Marks and Lewandowski were tabbed as KU’s top senior scholar-athletes and recognized with the award named for Robert E. Frederick, former Director of Athletics and Professor at the University of Kansas. The award, presented Monday night by Dr. Bernie Kish, 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.

A four-time, 200-yard butterfly finalist at the Big 12 Championship and the league’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2014, Marks recently concluded a decorated career in the pool and most notably in the classroom. Set to graduate with a double major in mechanical engineering and business administration, Marks has carried a 3.94 GPA while balancing a challenging course load with a rigorous training schedule, also mixing in time for a summer internship in 2014 with Exxon Mobil among other extracurricular activities. This season, Marks posted a personal best in the 50-yard freestyle at the Big 12 Championship and helped Kansas capture needed points in the 200- and 400-freestyle relays with top-three finishes.

Lewandowski saw action in 43 games during his Kansas career, starting the final 18 on the Jayhawk offensive line. He helped pave the way for running back James Sims as he posted back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. He is a three-time member of the Academic All-Big 12 First Team and was KU’s Senior Academic Scholar Award winner in 2014.

Michael Stigler, from the Kansas track & field team, delivered the senior address, a reflection on his four years as one of the Jayhawks’ elite competitors – including a current No. 1 ranking in the NCAA and world in the 400-meter hurdles – and urged his fellow seniors that, “The foundation to live a successful life has been set, work hard and never give up upntil you get to the top…remember what it took to become a Jayhawk and that’s something we’ll always have forever.”  

The event closed with the final presentation of the K Rings, which were distributed by K Club representatives from each Kansas sport as student-athletes were announced by their coaches. K Club member David Johnston and a video essay reiterated what it means to be a Kansas student-athlete and wear the K Ring. Each recipient must be a former letterwinner within their respective sport. K Rings are presented not by team, but by recognizing the class members of various sports, demonstrating their uniquely shared experience. The ceremony is two-fold to signify the conclusion of the collegiate athletic career while introducing the prospective graduate as a new member of the Jayhawk family, reinforcing the Kansas Athletics message of “Once a Jayhawk… Always a Jayhawk”.

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