KU fans congregate all over Wichita to watch game

There’s a nervous, excited energy in the air. It’s in homes and on streets corners, permeating the local sports bars packed with Jayhawk fans.

With six minutes left in the first half, Kentucky is up 23-17. University of Kansas fan Palmer Kiefer quietly nibbles a cookie as he takes in the score.

“Kentucky is doing pretty well right now, but I want KU to win,” said Palmer, 8. He’s decked out in the No. 15 KU jersey he put on more than two weeks ago before KU’s first game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It’s lucky, said Palmer’s dad, Mark Kiefer, from a lawn chair parked beside his son.

“Lots of people are rubbing it.”

He hasn’t let his mom, Susan Kiefer, wash it, either.

“He’s such a boy,” Susan Kiefer said, smiling. “Rock Chalk!”

The Kiefers were among about 40 people gathered Monday night outside of Don and Angela Wright’s house on the corner of Old Manor and Second Street, near Edgemoor, to watch the game in a big way. The couple and others in the neighborhood decided to strap a projector to a 12-foot ladder and project the game onto a 17-foot-by-25-foot, outdoor screen made of PVC pipe and bed sheets, set up across the street.

“I was sitting on my patio on Saturday morning, thinking about the game, thinking the house would work as a good screen,” joked Don Wright, a plate of food in hand. His sons – Keaton, 16, Brecken, 7, and Crois, 5 – play with the Kiefer kids: 11-year-old Finley, Palmer and Bennett, 6.

“We’ve got a lot of honks by those driving by. … It’s like a drive-in.”

Halftime, at Heroes in Old Town: Kentucky 41, KU 27. Nearly 280 people packed into the sports bar and grill to watch any of the restaurant’s 36 TVs, all of which were tuned to the KU-Kentucky match-up.

The crowd is quiet.

“I think they are excited, but there’s a lot of nervous energy,” said Ryan Gates, who owns Heroes Sports Bar and Grill with his father, Bud Gates. “There’s a sea of KU fans so it (the game) will hush a crowd in a hurry.”

Outside, Ron Crisler, 62, watches the game with friend Margo Parks. He’s a self-proclaimed “loyal KU fan.” Crisler said he hopes Kentucky slips up, leading to a quick turnaround for the Jayhawks.

“They (KU) pulled off a miracle in 2008,” he said. “Let’s see if they can do it again.”

Parks agreed.

“A lot of things can happen,” said the 67-year-old KU fan, who said she “ran off the Kentucky fan” sitting beside her earlier in the night.

“The second half can turn out.”

Marlon Rhodeman wasn’t as optimistic for a KU win, but that didn’t stop him from being labeled KU’s “best cheerleader” by Parks and Crisler, whom he met Monday night.

“I skipped Genesis (where he works) tonight, and I’m trying to root on the Jayhawks,” said Rhodeman, 27. “They are a great team.”

But Kentucky is better this night. The Wildcats beat KU 67-59 to win the national championship.

Despite the disappointing loss for KU fans, Palmer Kiefer’s legacy – and stinky jersey – will live on, said his mom.

“I think that we’re just going to frame it as is,” Susan Kiefer said, when asked what’s next for the unwashed shirt.

She paused, shook her head, then gulped.

“I’m going to wash it. Of course I’m going to wash it,” she said, before tacking it to her son’s bedroom wall.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle