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Wichita And KU Matchup Fuels Fan Demand For Rivalry Game

Greg Echlin

The city of Omaha made a lot of money over the weekend on college basketball fans who followed the Kansas Jayhawks and Wichita State Shockers to their NCAA matchup.

The most devout fans did anything they could to get their hands on seeing a game that, until Sunday, hadn’t been seen in a long time — it has some wondering if the two teams would play each other again soon.

When it was apparent that Wichita State was going to advance from Friday’s game against Indiana, Shocker alum Tony Townsend knew he had to find a way from his home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Omaha. He looked for tickets online.

“With about four minutes left in the game, I saw the prices going up and I felt I better grab them while I can, so I grabbed it,” said Townsend. He paid $125 each for two tickets, about $50 more than face value.

This was the game he had been waiting for as a Shocker fan. He says before he even knew the outcome that he felt it was the chance-of-a- lifetime game.

“It’s been 22 years since they played the Jayhawks,” said Townsend. I wasn’t missing this one.” The next step was finding a place to stay, so he approached his buddy in Omaha, Paul Fewell, about staying at his place. The only problem is that Fewell is a KU fan. So they worked it out: Paul Fewell got the second ticket at no cost in exchange for putting Tony Townsend up for the night at his place.

Fewell imposed no conditions. Like forcing Townsend to wear KU gear.

“No, no. I know he wouldn’t do it in the first place. I’m from Kansas and he’s from Kansas, too, so either way we’re both going to be winners I guess you could say."

They joined the crowd filing in for this much-anticipated showdown. Their seats were in the top row of the upper section. Side-by-side, a Shocker fan and a Jayhawk fan.

Wichita State finished the first half with a 13-2 run to grab the lead. Tony Townsend said he liked what he saw.

"I figured it’d be a close game. A defensive battle and, of course, that’s what it’s turned out to be. Shockers playing tough defense, denying the basketball. No one’s in foul trouble. I expect it to go down to the last minute."

  More important through the first half, there were no fisticuffs between Townsend and Fewell. Not that any were inevitable. They got along as rival fans through one half with another half to go. Fewell was clearly frustrated by what he saw from the Jayhawks. It didn’t go down to the last minute as Townsend predicted.

“When Perry Ellis got hurt in that first half and they were up 8, he went out and things just went downhill after that,” said Fewell. But he was a good sport about the final result.

“That’s it. Congratulations Wichita. I throw my hat in," he said.

The bottom line is that Fewell and Townsend, wearing rival colors, had fun. Which begs the question: Why couldn’t fans be a part of this during the regular season?

It’s clear that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who attended the game, doesn’t want any part of that debate. Only at the NCAA tournament could a governor do a “Big Dance” around the question of whether these two teams could play a game in Kansas.

“Oh, that’d be great if we had that. People will go where the game is and what I like is that it’s close enough where a lot of people could come,” said Brownback.

KU coach Bill Self has always felt there’s more for KU to lose than what would be gained if they played the Shockers. After an emotional season-ending loss, Self wasn’t ready to address whether the Jayhawks would take on the Shockers down the road.

“An extra perspective on (this)? I don’t know if I can answer that," Self said. "If we had been playing anybody else, it would have meant the same. Advancing or going to the Sweet 16. It just so happens that we played an in-state team.”

Which means extra flak since the Jayhawks didn’t win, and Self expects criticism this off-season.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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