“‘Twas the night before an NCAA Women’s Soccer first-round match. All through Lawrence, snow was falling at a level to give a groundskeeper fright, while this photographer wanted to dash to his car and make my way home for the night.
Suddenly, my cell phone began to clatter, a text message proclaiming, ‘We are removing snow tonight.’ I sprang to my car, all the while chattering, ‘There are pictures to be made this snowy night, that is all that matters.’”
Enough of this feeble homage to the Clement Clark Moore’s Christmas classic, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” This photograph will always represent to me my wholehearted thanks to the facility crews of Kansas Athletics. Without them, many of the photographs I will be presenting to you over the next months might never have happened.
In today’s photograph, you see Frank Masterson, the Director of Rock Chalk Park, the KU sports facility located in west Lawrence that now hosts the soccer, track & field, tennis and softball competitions. Like all of the Jayhawk athletic facilities, Rock Chalk Park gleams. The playing surfaces rise to standards only a few other schools can meet.
On that night in early November 2018, Masterson was blowing the thick, wet snow out of the goals before KU played Saint Louis the next evening in an overtime victory. Others were carefully plowing the grass turf. Sunny skies, but freezing temperatures, were predicted the next day. Without removal, the field could freeze. No one wanted to see “Soccer on Ice.”
Those facilities standards haven’t always been that way during my 23 years working for KU. Walking to the football practice fields southeast of Allen Fieldhouse with KU’s new football coach, Mark Mangino, after his introductory press conference in December 2001, a variety of administrators accompanied the new coach. Known for his non-too- subtle opinions and delivery, Mangino took one look at the turf and let everyone know how unacceptable the state of the fields looked and that improvements were expected immediately.
When I arrived at KU in late August 1997, the softball and baseball stadiums were worse than most high schools. Allen Fieldhouse was historical but needed more than a new coat of paint. The tennis teams (there were men’s and women’s then) played home matches in Kanas City, Topeka and four different campus facilities. Soccer had a field and some stands, but often hard rains flooded the field. Kansas City, Topeka and even Perry, hosted their matches. Swimming & Diving still uses Robinson Natatorium, but new light improved its former dungeon-like darkness.
All this changed when Lew Perkins became Director of Athletics in June 2003. He demanded improvements, and even more so, cleanliness. The facility crews met the demands and have never wavered since. I have traveled to many university sites for a wide variety of sports. It is stunning how unkept other facilities are in comparison. At KU, that can only come from pride in a job well done.
When sports resume, walk into any facility and thank these people for what they do for all Jayhawks. These wonderful people have called me day and night, as did Masterson. They built anything I needed to get the photographs they understood I so desperately wanted to make. Even more importantly, they knew when to turn their heads and let me do something others would never have allowed. We will always be friends.
“So hear me exclaim as I wrap up this story. My thanks to them all, and to all a good life story.”
About Jeff Jacobsen
Jeff Jacobsen has photographed practically every big event the sports world has to offer during a professional career that spans over 54 years. Jacobsen has seen things up close that only a diehard sports fan could in their dreams. His work for the Topeka Capital-Journal, Arizona Republic, Kansas Athletics, Inc., many national publications and now Action Images Photography, Inc., cemented his reputation as one of the nation’s finest sports photographers.