by Mark Janssen
MANHATTAN, Kan. - It was the World Series, of sorts ... the Super Bowl of the season for members of Kansas State's Jr. Wildcat Club Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum in the morning, and Bill Snyder Family Stadium Saturday afternoon.
"It's about kids," said Kansas State men's basketball coach Frank Martin as he signed autographs and posed for pictures for an endless parade of young 'Cats, not to mention the even more hyper parents and grandparents. "This is a day to devote all the attention to the kids in our community who choose to support all of our teams."
An estimated 130 4- to 12-year-old club members turned out for the club's annual Fantasy Day, which included interaction with the men's and women's basketball teams in the morning, and the football team and Wildcat cheerleaders in the afternoon.
"It's the big event of the year for the Jr. Wildcat club members as they actually get to play with the K-State athletes," said Darchelle Martin, associate director of alumni programs with the K-State Alumni Association. "They really do think it's the greatest thing in the world."
"The kids get the opportunity to talk to their heroes and it really is a day where they have a smile on their face all day," said Drew Claassen, a graduate assistant in KSU's Fan Experience Department. "They get to see the players in uniform and their game equipment, which really makes for a fun day for them."
A mini-poll during the morning session had Ashley Sweat the near unanimous favorite Wildcat player from the women's side, however one little pony-tailed girl shouted, "Shalee Lehning," from the KSU team of 2008-09.
Jacob Pullen had the majority of the votes from the Jr. Wildcats as their favorite men's player, but one offered, "Jamar (Samuels). He always seems so happy."
Saturday, Samuels was one of those happy to be in attendance at the Fantasy Day.
"It's a chance to give back," said the Wildcat sophomore. "They're young fans, but they're our fans who support us in a special way. It's just a small way for us to say thank you."
Saturday's event, which included tours of the locker rooms, was co-sponsored by KansasStateCars.com and Liberty Mutual.
"This really is a remarkable turn out," said Martin, who on Sunday left on a vacation to Paris. "It says a lot about our Alumni Association and our Fan Experience group that put the day together."
Earlier in the season Jr. Wildcat Club members were treated to special days in five sports, which included everything from going on the field prior to a K-State football game, forming a tunnel for the men's and women's basketball teams as they entered the court, to even doing a bit of public address announcing at one home baseball game and an autograph session in volleyball.
Claassen added, "On one road trip, the athletes will also send the Jr. Wildcat Club members postcards from where they're competing. This past year it was the football team sending a postcard from the UCLA game, the volleyball team from the Texas Tech match, the men's basketball team from Puerto Rico, the women's basketball team from Las Vegas, and the baseball team from Florida."
In addition to the grand finale Fantasy Day, throughout the year members also received a t-shirt, birthday card, a free gift, a newsletter, invitations to special events for football, volleyball, men's and women's basketball and baseball, plus free tickets to home volleyball, baseball and women's basketball games.
Jr. Wildcat Club memberships will be available next fall for the 2010-11 K-State sports year. Discounted memberships are available to Alumni Association members. Visit www.K-State.com/jwc for more information.