T.J. Sparr was present when the players arrived on Friday for the 2013 Kansas Barnstorming Tour stop at Wichita East.
“It’s crazy. They pulled up in this huge van, and we were like, ‘These are real celebrities,’ ” Sparr said. “When they put on our baseball hats, it was really cool. All these KU all-star basketball players wearing East High baseball hats. It seemed like they loved it.”
Sparr, a member of East’s baseball team, helped greet five former Kansas basketball players to the school for an autograph session, auction and scrimmage to help raise money for East’s baseball program.
“We are just thankful that KU can do this,” East baseball coach Ryan Bensch said. “The facilities that we have, the uniforms that we have, the things that we get to do, are unlike any other City League schools. We are very fortunate for that.”
This was the eighth year the tour has come to Wichita, all at East High. KU fans started lining up as early as 3:30 p.m. for autographs even though the doors didn’t open until 6 p.m.
Representing the Jayhawks were four seniors from this year’s team: Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Kevin Young. Conner Teahan, a 2012 KU graduate, joined them as the fifth player and coach for the scrimmage.
The Jayhawks’ opponents were a collection of area high school seniors. East’s Jordan Hester, Deshawn Terrell and Luke Nespor played alongside Kapaun Mount Carmel’s Braden Hullings and Jeremy Lickteig, Andover’s Brady Carter and Dallas Bruner, and Bishop Carroll’s Logan Bullinger.
“I had a lot of fun playing with them,” Bullinger said. “You watch them on TV and you never really think you will get to play against them. So it’s just fun.”
Bullinger had the honor of getting one of his shots rejected by Withey, a 7-foot center known for his shot-blocking skills.
“I probably saw it coming,” Bullinger said of the block. “You couldn’t get around it really. It happens.”
KU won the scrimmage 70-65 after being tied at halftime.
East baseball players helped work the event.
“It’s hard for them (the baseball players) to understand how much hard work and effort that we put into it. We’ve set up for this the last month and a half,” Bensch said. “They reap how we are benefiting from it, from the things we get to do as far as the field and the indoor facilities that we have.”
Randy Boling, the event director and father of East High graduates, helped bring the tour to the school eight years ago when East didn’t even have its own baseball diamond and hadn’t had new uniforms in five years.
“With the bond issue and everything we’ve had with USD 259, it can’t fund everything,” Boling said. “So we had to have an event this size to actually get the things that we want to do for the baseball players.”
Boling first saw this same event in Salina. Boling led the effort to get KU to Wichita, and the event has taken off since.
“We bidded on it, and we got it. We’ve been successful ever since,” Boling said. “Hopefully we get to continue to have them come back.”
At its core, the tour is a fundraiser that benefits the host institutions as well as the KU basketball players. With their college careers over, the players are now able to profit from their skills by attending these functions.
But at the end of the day, the players are just enjoying the success of a four-year run that included four Big 12 championships and one Final Four appearance.
“We were in the locker room joking around with them,” Bensch said. “They are just like the rest of us. Just down to earth guys and they are here for us.”