This time of year, there is no shortage of holiday traditions among friends and family.
The same is true for Kansas University’s women’s basketball team.
Jayhawks players and coaches continued a long-standing late-December custom Tuesday morning with a visit to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where they met various patients and passed out KU garb.
The holiday visits to LMH began, Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson said, back when Marian Washington (KU coach from 1973-2004) led the program. The Jayhawks have maintained the annual trip for 19 years.
“It’s obviously one of the best things and most enjoyable things for the players and the staff to be able to participate in,” Henrickson said.
The Jayhawks’ tour of the hospital began with a stop by the nursery, to visit with the mothers of newborn babies and their families, which, according to senior Aishah Sutherland and junior Carolyn Davis, is always a highlight.
Never missing an opportunity to coach, Henrickson even gave Davis some tips on how to hold a newborn.
From there, the team split into groups, each bringing with them a cart of KU gear to hand out to patients and their family members.
“Matching sweatshirt for the grandma,” Sutherland said, after presenting some Jayhawks threads for an infant and mother.
Davis said the holiday hospital visit is usually a fun time for the team.
“A lot of the patients, as soon as you walk in, are really happy,” Davis said. “They don’t get a lot of visitors sometimes. Just to have us there and giving them presents and stuff, it makes them really happy.”
The Jayhawks’ visits, Henrickson said, are a way for the team to do “what little we can” to pass out holiday cheer and some “Jayhawk love.”
“All of us understand it’s an opportunity for us to give back,” the coach said. “This is a really joyful LMH time of the year for a lot of people, but it’s a very difficult time of the year (for some).”
While patients often share stories of their time at KU or games they have been to or remember, some simply appreciate the interaction.
Said Sutherland: “They might be sad or sick or something, and to brighten their day and see them smile, it’s rewarding.”
The players always feel good about passing out gifts, Davis said, and a friendly conversation with a patient can have an impact, too. Davis said a visit she had last year still resonates with her now.
“One patient said this was like the best gift they could have all year,” Davis recalled. “That’s just awesome to hear someone say that and genuinely mean it. And to know that all you did was come in and say hi, and maybe give them a shirt, but that wasn’t even the best part.”
Every year, Henrickson said, the players leave LMH with a feeling of fulfillment.
“They feel privileged to have an opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face,” she said.
The gifts passed out on the visit came from KU’s Trademark Licensing Office, which collects the items from officially licensed vendors. Products are donated by the vendors for the hospital visit each year. This year, according to Paul Vander Tuig, KU trademark licensing director, the licensees donated over 1,800 items with a retail value of approximately $21,000.