KANSAS CITY, Mo. — UMKC Athletics rolled out the red carpet for Logan August and his friends.
Plane tickets to Kansas City. Rides around town in a van adorned with the snarling Kangaroo. Prime seats as the Roos took on Seattle. But like anyone spending a Saturday in mid America, they couldn’t avoid the line at the gas station on 47th Street.
Dealing with the wait at the original Joe’s Kansas City BBQ — which, yes, is wedged in a gas station — was about the only thing that wasn’t first class for August and his 10 friends.
The group was flown in from all over the country — Chicago, Phoenix, Boston — to take in their first UMKC men’s basketball home game. None went to the university, and just one had even been to Kansas City before, but it wasn’t the first time they’d thrown on blue and glue and watched the Roos in person.
Four years ago, the group was on a bachelor party in Las Vegas when they stumbled upon the WAC Tournament. Looking for a team to latch onto, they gravitated to the logo that stood out: the Kangaroo with Walt Disney origins.
A tradition was born, as they’ve gone back to the tournament in the desert each year since to root for UMKC, and have plans to go this March (and every March that follows). It’s a story that’s gotten its national shine, but took its next step as the school upped the ante by flying the group to the source.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” August said.
The group did a spot on local sports radio on Saturday, and were featured by the local NBC affiliate. They swung by the Roos’ Saturday shoot around to spend time with the team. As UMKC held a two-point lead at halftime they were pulled in different directions, with a group picture on the court followed by one of the 11 throwing on a headset for an interview on the Roos radio broadcast.
So why the royal treatment for a group of college basketball fans that usually cheer for Wisconsin, West Virginia and other power programs?
Like most things, it had a greater point, as the weekend was a part of UMKC’s efforts to jump start the atmosphere in its on-again, off-again and now on-again campus home. The Roos played at Municipal Auditorium from 1986-2010, and then from 2013 until the non-conference portion of this season. It was a home literally unlike any other, as the historic, 9,987-seat downtown arena has hosted more Final Fours than any building in the country.
But the team moved back to the Swinney Recreation Center — its on-campus arena where it played from 2010-2013 — for the foreseeable future when WAC play began. It’s a move that unites an intimate atmosphere with close proximity to students, and flying in the Vegas-born fan contingent was a part of that fresh beginning.
“We’re trying to prove a point that if you show up to the games and make some noise, you can actually make an impact on the game,” August said.
That’s been felt on the court already this season. The Roos — which are 3-1 at home in league play — notched a back-and-forth win over Chicago State in their Swinney opener, and sophomore guard Brandon McKissic talked about the atmosphere after the game.
“It felt like a more packed-in vibe,” said sophomore guard Brandon McKissic, who led the Kangaroos with 21 points. “When you made baskets there was a little louder presence. I was really for moving back to Swinney. Muni was our home, but Swinney is where everything gets done.”
That was the case in a loud environment in what turned out to be a nine-point win over the Redhawks. The punch of yellow that was August and his 10 friends won’t be around to lob noise in Swinney the rest of the season, but there was a comparatively significant student presence at the game as well.
That’s what the celebrity weekend — and the all attention that came with it — was all about. Each day Municipal Auditorium stays shuttered to Division I college basketball is a shame, but in the present, the move back on-campus seems like the right play for its most frequent tenant.
It’s off to a buzzing start.