Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Tonganoxie natives leap into yell-leading roles on KU spirit squad

November 5, 2003

Jake Dornbrack didn't run track at Tonganoxie High but he does run track at the University of Kansas.

OK, Dornbrack doesn't compete for Stanley Redwine's Jayhawks. More accurately, the 2003 THS graduate runs on the track.

After every Kansas touchdown at Memorial Stadium, Dornbrack takes a lap around the track while carrying a giant blue flag with one of these red letters -- K-A-N-S-A-S.

Dornbrack, a yell leader for the KU spirit squad, said carrying the flags is the most demanding requirement of being a yell leader, especially against Jacksonville State when the Jayhawks jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first quarter.

"That's probably the toughest part because we scored so many times in the first quarter," Dornbrack said. "I'm not the biggest guy on the squad, but I'm probably the most conditioned.

"I run every time."

And Dornbrack isn't the only KU student from Tonganoxie on the squad.

David Magee, a sophomore in chemical engineering, is in his second year on the squad. Magee attended Tonganoxie Elementary through the fourth grade and was home-schooled after that.

Last year, Magee cheered on Kansas throughout the NCAA Tournament and hopes to get back this season.

Getting started

Dornbrack has been in yell leading for three years. At the urging of then-THS cheerleader Samantha Hassinger, who now is on the Pittsburg State squad, Dornbrack joined the Chieftains' squad. Dornbrack also played some soccer at Tonganoxie, but focused on yell leading his senior year. He's been one of just a handful to yell-lead at THS.

But as Hassinger coaxed Dornbrack into joining the high school squad, Dornbrack convinced Magee that he, too, should be a yell leader.

It shouldn't have been too rough to persuade Magee. After all, the current Kansas spirit squad members have been best friends for much of their lives -- Dornbrack's grandmother even was Magee's babysitter as a youth.

On one occasion, Magee helped his best friend out and gave him a lift to Lawrence for a cheerleading practice at Dance City.

But it turned out he would be more than a chauffer.

"They pretty much shoved a girl at me and said, 'Here you go,'" Magee said. "I was hooked."

Making the grade at KU

To make the squad in Lawrence, Dornbrack Magee had to go through tryouts in the summer, which included clinics and an evaluation. Then came the formal tryout when hopefuls had to perform various stunts.

Dornbrack was successful in tryouts and was one of two freshmen yell leaders to make the squad.

Magee made the squad for the second consecutive year. Each year, no matter class or years of experience, squad members have to try out for the upcoming school year.

"It keeps everybody up to their skill level so they don't slack," Dornbrack said. "It's so they're not real good the first year and just chill the rest of the three years."

And as with other sports, if a member isn't in top form, their "playing time" can be reduced.

"Every game is evaluated as to whether you perform," Dornbrack said. "You can get benched for many different things -- not having right skills at the time or whatever."

Beak 'em Hawks

Magee and Dornbrack have become addicted to the spirit squad, but Magee admitted that having prime seats for athletic events was a plus. That especially was true last April when Kansas played Syracuse for the national basketball title in New Orleans.

"Needless to say, that was one of the main reasons I came back," Magee said. "You can't beat those seats, let me tell ya."

And being in the Superdome with rows upon rows of people behind him took Magee aback.

"It was totally awesome," Magee said. "Just the number of people was uncountable."

Then came the waning moments of the title game against Syracuse, when Kansas' comeback and championship hopes were dashed.

"It was amazing, I'll say that," Magee said. "It was coming down to the wire. We were all in the corner praying.

"We thought we had it."

Of course, not all squads shared Magee's hopes during the tournament.

"Marquette talked a lot of trash," Magee said, referring to the Golden Eagles' spirit squad. "Arizona way more than Marquette."

Dornbrack hasn't had those experiences yet, but he, along with Magee, did witness the Kansas football team throttle Missouri, 35-14, last month in sold-out Memorial Stadium.

"The fans were into that more than ever before," Dornbrack said. "And it didn't hurt the fact that we won."

Although most of the crowd was wearing KU blue, Dornbrack didn't stand too far from the Tiger fans.

"I was warned that the Missouri fans were going to be a big problem, but they bit their tongue and didn't give us any problems really.

"Their mascot was pretty humble himself. He didn't get real crazy or anything."

Magee appreciated the sold-out crowd, but he was all about the post-game exuberance.

"I was right there when they tore down goal posts and everything, Magee said. "It was amazing."

On the road

Dornbrack left Oct. 3 to Boulder, Colo., for his first away event, the football game against Colorado on Oct. 4.

The squad didn't make the first road game to Laramie, Wyo., because costs were too high. Dornbrack said it was "in the middle of nowhere" and the team would have needed to get there by "plane, train and automobile."

For home basketball and football games, the squad usually has six couples cheering, while away games and volleyball home matches are limited to three.

Cheer, yell, cheer

Work, school and practice consume much of the week for Dornbrack and Magee.

When they're not working or attending classes, the friends have squad practice four times a week for three hours each night.

Pile on attending KU sporting events to that schedule, and the two don't have much free time. Dornbrack now lives in Lawrence, but Magee still commutes from Tonganoxie.

And KU will participate in the United Cheer Association Nationals in Florida later in the school year.

Until then, they'll keep their busy schedules.

But as Magee said, he probably wouldn't be doing anything else.

"I honestly don't know what I'd be doing if I weren't doing this," Magee said. "There's almost a need to do it.

"You get to a point when you get to break. If you don't stunt for a week, you kind of go stir-crazy. It's kind of addictive."

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