K-State football head coach Bill Snyder stands next to K-State Director of Development Mike Clark and speaks with Wildcat fans at the Great Bend Catbacker Tour evening event.
July 11, 2014
By Kelly McHugh
Just like every summer, K-State Athletics and the K-State Alumni Association have teamed up and hit the road for the annual, summer-long Catbacker Tour. More than half way through the tour, K-State Athletics and Alumni Association staff and Wildcat coaches and student-athletes have traveled upwards of 2,000 miles across the state visiting with fans this summer.
From golf tournaments to kids clinics to banquets for all, the uniqueness of Catbacker Tour gives K-State Athletics the opportunity to give back to and get to know some if it's most passionate fans.
K-State Sports Extra caught up with two Catbacker Tour veterans, Director of Development Mike Clark and Voice of the Wildcats Wyatt Thompson, to see how the 2014 tour has gone.
"I think it's been great, the crowds have been fantastic," said Clark sitting in his office as Thompson walked in. "I think the excitement for Kansas State and Kansas State Athletics is as good as I've ever seen it. Throughout the state, from west to east, we've had great turnouts. People are looking forward to football season, they're excited about what's been going on and I think it's as good as I've ever seen it in the 27 years I've been doing this."
Thompson, who is now in his 13th year on the tour, walked in the office and sat down in the chair across from Clark's desk.
"I second that," Thompson added. "I think the reality of it is that our numbers have been equal to or above. Mike said it well, because of the strength of football, basketball, the North End Zone Project, they're excited; and they should be excited because there's a lot of things to be excited about."
Since mid May, beginning with a 700-mile, five-stop tour of Western Kansas, the two have visited 25 different towns across the state. From Dodge City to Kansas City, from Hutchinson to Iola, Thompson and Clark have covered a lot of ground this summer.
"The travel, it's grueling at times, but the thing about it is once you're there and you're with the excitement of the fans, you get recharged," said Clark. "They charge us up and we're excited. That gets the adrenaline running."
At each stop, the respective area's Catbacker Club hosts a banquet unique to itself in the evening and most also hold a golf tournament during the day. From playing croquet with the Northeastern Kansas City Catbacker Club to celebrating the annual Catbacker Fry in Scott City, each event is different and special in its own way.
"So far, the highlight for me was in Seneca when Oliver Russ auctioned his pants off," Clark said with a laugh reminiscing back to the Nemaha County Catbacker Club banquet in mid June. "He auctioned off his big overalls, I'm not sure I've ever seen something quite like that."
Clark continued laughing as he described the scene. In the middle of the Nemaha County event's auction, Russ walked to the front of the room wearing purple and white overalls. The bidding began and, 450 dollars later, Russ' took off his overalls then and there ("He had another pair underneath!" said Clark) and gave them to the lucky bid winner.
Another highlight of the tour came close to home for Clark and Thompson. At the Manhattan Catbacker Golf Tournament, Mike Sieben, former president of the Manhattan Catbacker Club, hit a hole-in-one on his first shot of the day.
"You go to a lot of events like that, but it's not every tournament you see a hole-in-one," said Thompson. "You just never get them. I think in my tenure on the tour, this is only the second one we've had, and I don't even remember where the other one was to be honest with you. So that was really neat."
Another highlight for Clark and Thompson?
"What was it in Seneca? A rib eye sandwich for lunch and prime rib for dinner?" Clark said with a smile glancing at Thompson. "Every place we go it's like that. They put out great spreads. A whole hog at Marysville. In Belleville, my god, the rib eye, it had to be a 14 ounces! Every place we go has really done a great job. If we didn't work out or do something, Wyatt and I would weigh about 700 lbs."
Thompson laughed in agreement and added, "and you can add that I usually have to spend July and August trying to lose what I gained during the tour."
The two laughed and reminisced over their busy summer. While there are numerous highlights at each stop, nothing is more anticipated than spending time among the Wildcat fans and rekindling old friendships they have made during their years on the Catbacker Tour.
"We have friendships throughout the state because of it," said Clark. " We look forward to seeing them. It's really neat. Some people you see them maybe briefly at a football or basketball game, but to genuinely see them and talk to them and see how things are going with their lives, it's a great opportunity for us to connect with the people who drive to Manhattan for games. It's an opportunity for us to drive out to their region and see how things are going for them."
The Catbacker Tour takes a break for majority of July, but it begins again with a trip to Topeka on July 24, and concludes on Aug. 24, with a trip to Junction City. For more information on the remaining stops of this year's Catbacker Tour, click here.
"There are communities where the K-Staters circle that day on their calendars," concluded Clark. "You can see that with these crowds, with their enthusiasm. It's like their home game; it's their home gameday for Kansas State."
To check out pictures from this summer's tour, check out these albums from the K-State Sports Facebook page:
Wellington Catbacker Event, click here.
South East Kansas/Iola Catbacker Event, click here.
Manhattan Catbacker Event, click here.
Emporia Catbacker Event, click here.
Wichita Catbacker Event, click here.
Hutchinson Catbacker Event, click here.
Marysville Catbacker Event, click here.
Northern Kansas City Catbacker Event, click here.
Atchison Catbacker Event, click here.
Salina Catbacker Event, click here.
Great Bend Catbacker Event, click here.
Winfield Catbacker Event, click here.
Beloit Catbacker Event, click here.
Nemaha County Catbacker Event, click here.
Hays Catbacker Event, click here.
Colby Catbacker Event, click here.
Scott City Catbacker Event, click here.
Garden City Catbacker Event, click here.
Dodge City Catbacker Event, click here.