Atlanta — If you need a ticket upgrade at the Final Four, just call Kansas University student Megan Haas of Wichita for tips.
Haas and four fellow students won tickets in the KU student ticket lottery. Through her connections at work, Haas made certain the batch sent their way was for the front row at the 53,000-seat Georgia Dome. Some folks without impressive connections were about 100 yards away from the court.
"We participated in the lottery with everybody else," she said. "All I did was say, 'Hey, I'm going and I want to get close.'"Â
KU students Allison and Hilary Smith of Lawrence put their knowledge of Kansas tradition to work in Atlanta.
Stopped by a stranger at an interactive fan exposition, the sisters were asked to explain the Rock Chalk Chant.
"We set him straight," Hilary said.
For the uninitiated: "Rah, Rah" of the popular Jayhawk cheer was replaced long ago by "Rock Chalk" to symbolize the chalky limestone formations found on Mount Oread.Â
Guarding the backs of KU players and coaches at courtside was Georgia State Trooper First Class Ronald Goodman.
The Jayhawks were in good hands, given that Goodman resembles an Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman.
And, in a law-and-order kind of way, he couldn't cheer on behalf of the KU team.
"There's no yelling," said Goodman, who confided that his wife, Donna, urged him to support her alma mater, Indiana. "I just try to stay neutral."Â
KU freshman Carson Ballard can't get any respect from her peers.
Even at the Final Four, where her cousin Brett Ballard plays for KU, folks don't believe her when she brags about her family connection to the Jayhawks.
"It's like I have to show them pictures," said Carson, of Haviland.Â
Phyllis Gall, who grew up in Sabetha, was paid to attend the Final Four.
Gall, who currently lives in Clinton, Ill., and ran around Atlanta with a Jayhawk painted on her face, was among 10 finalists for the Cingular Wireless contest "Do you love NCAA basketball?"
She received free airfare, hotel and tickets for two, as well as $500 spending cash for cheering for the Jayhawks.Â
Hey, Mark Johnson, there was someone near the Jayhawks bench waving at you during the Kansas game.
Anne Elkins, a Boston paralegal who grew up in Overland Park, couldn't resist twisting the knife into Johnson, a Maryland Terrapin fan who had to work while she played at the Final Four.
"I'm waving at you right now!" Elkins shouted. "See you back at work!"Â
Martin Blair, a burly 6-foot-7 guy who sports a Jayhawk cowboy hat and flashing crimson-and-blue lapel pins, can't be missed, even among crazed KU fans at the Final Four.
But his absence from his own restaurant in San Diego Â Kansas City Barbeque Â will be noticed. After all, it's the official KU game watch location in that Southern California city.
"There will be about 100 people there for the KU game," said Blair, who earned a KU master's degree in 1976.Â
KU devotees Denis Douglas of Topeka and David Douglas of Seattle actually touched the $30,000 trophy that four college basketball teams yearned to earn.
At a display in downtown Atlanta, the brothers had a photograph taken with them standing behind the crystal ball. By Saturday, about 5,000 other people had added to their photo albums as well.
"Even if KU can't have it, a lot of Jayhawks will have a piece of it," said Ray Mallouk, a 1995 KU graduate who was placed in charge of watching over the hardware for his employer, Sears.Â
Gary Burnidge hauled his family Â wife, Joy, and daughters, Briana and Crystal Â from Oklahoma City to Atlanta's Final Four, but not to urge on the homestate Sooners.
"Never OU," said Crystal Burnidge, sporting her Kansas T-shirt for effect. "Just KU."
It appeared to be the appropriate choice, given that she was standing on Phog Allen Avenue at the NCAA Hoops fiesta next to the Georgia Dome.
Her friends in Oklahoma can blame her dad for their odd college basketball loyalty. He graduated from KU in the 1960s.