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Archive for Saturday, November 2, 2002

balloon aims to lift Jayhawk spirits

November 2, 2002

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Steve Libel has fearlessly flown his giant Jayhawk-adorned hot-air balloon in Missouri.

"It draws some comments when you go out of state," he said. "But nobody shoots at you or anything."

Today, the balloon  which he calls Air Hawk  will greet a friendlier crowd. Weather permitting, it will be on display from 11 a.m. until the 1 p.m. kickoff of the Kansas University-Kansas State University football game at Memorial Stadium.

Unless it's rainy or windy  the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies  the balloon will be tethered to the ground near the stadium. It won't be available for rides.

Libel, who lives near Bonner Springs, bought the balloon when Wayne Simien committed to the KU basketball team three years ago. Libel and his wife, Carol, are longtime friends of Simien's parents, Wayne and Margaret Simien, and often attend games with them.

Carol Libel works with the Simiens at the Hallmark plant in Leavenworth. Steve Libel is general manager of Asphalt Sales Co., which has headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., and has a plant in Lawrence.

Libel said he'd been a KU basketball fan since moving to the Kansas City area in the early 1980s, and it just made sense to combine his love of the Jayhawks with his love for ballooning. The Air Hawk, which cost about $25,000, was his third balloon purchase. He said he had been ballooning for about 16 years.

Libel said he flew the balloon 50 to 60 times a year. In October, he flew at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which drew more than 750 balloons to New Mexico.

KU isn't the only Big 12 university represented by a hot-air balloon. Libel said he'd seen balloons with logos for the University of Missouri, University of Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. He also heard that someone is ordering an Oklahoma State balloon.

Libel is hoping for dry, calm weather for today's Sunflower Showdown so he can show off his Air Hawk.

"Hopefully we can get the thing to fly for the KU-KSU game," he said. "I don't know what our chances are (for winning). I guess our turn will come with basketball."

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