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Backing the 'Cats

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

It's a long drive from Manhattan to Hays just to have a few casual drinks and give a short speech, but Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz and Athletic Director John Currie know how meaningful it is to the Wildcat faithful.

"Both President Schulz and I are honored to have this opportunity to be here in Hays," Currie said. "You see so much passion. We have probably 40 percent of our season ticket holders drive more than 100 miles to come to one of our games, so that certainly includes our fans here in Hays.

"It's the least we could do to come out and have dinner, tell a few stories, and talk a little K-State athletics."

Schulz and Currie were at the Hays VFW on Monday night for the Hays Alumni/Student/Catbacker Event, hosted by the Heartland Catbackers.

Co-sponsored by the KSU athletic department and the KSU Alumni Association, the Catbacker clubs are primarily a fundraiser for the university.

The Heartland Catbackers is one of 31 such clubs in the state of Kansas, serving fans and alumni in Ellis, Graham, Ness, Rooks, Rush, Russell and Trego counties.

Approximately 80 people were in attendance Monday. It cost $35 per adult, $10 for children 12 and younger, and was free for high school juniors and seniors. A dinner, causal meet and greet with Schulz and Currie, and benefit auction highlighted the evening.

"It's important that we are out here and have a chance to thank everybody for supporting the university," Schulz said. "Anytime we come out here it's fun. People are relaxed and enjoy having an adult beverage and talking a little bit about what's happening at the university.

"I've had more questions tonight about our new business building than I have about the football stadium, and that shows everybody is really interested in what is going on."

Not to say athletics wasn't a popular topic, especially with Kansas State's three Big 12 championship trophies on display.

Currie was undoubtedly the main attraction on Monday, as it was his leadership that guided the Wildcats to conference titles in football, men's basketball and baseball during the 2012-13 season. It was only the second time in conference history the feat had been accomplished.

The success earned Currie many honors, including the 2013 Bobby Dodd AD of the Year award, and was one of four AD's named a 2013 Under Armour AD of the Year.

"John is one of the best athletic directors in the country. He has obviously been rewarded that way with several national recognitions, and he's fit Kansas State very, very well," Schulz said. "I love the direction John is taking our athletic program and athletics leads the way."

Schulz, the university's 13th president, hired Currie in May 2009, just three months after taking office. Last year's championships were topped off with the completion of the $75 million West Stadium Center at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, which was completed just prior to the Wildcats' season opener on Aug. 30 against North Dakota State.

The improvements to the football stadium were part of a comprehensive $125 million athletic facility improvement which includes the basketball training facility, Intercollegiate Rowing Center and K-State Tennis Stadium.

"I think it's a huge step forward," Currie said. "The most exciting thing about the West Stadium Center is that when fans, like those from Hays, are driving from the west, and they see the limestone and the arches and the turrets on top of the building, it looks like our campus. It really does redefine the northwest entry to campus."

And it's small details like driving to Hays for Monday's Catbacker event that help make all the improvements possible. Which is also why you won't hear any complaints from Schulz or Currie about the long drive out to western Kansas.

"It's something that really defines the grassroots relationship that K-State has had for many years and that K-State fans have had for K-State," Currie said. "It's wonderful to see those fans, some of whom only get up to Manhattan once or twice a year."