La CROSSE — Seth Urban was the first one in line at 6:18 p.m., more than 40 minutes before the event started.
But Urban — a Loretto resident who said he’s a huge fan of Kansas sports — couldn’t wait for his chance to meet Ron Baker, a former Wichita State University basketball player who now plays for the New York Knicks.
“I like any Kansas sports,” said Urban, who was sporting a WSU T-shirt for Baker to sign. “I’m excited about seeing him.”
He was there with his aunt, Pat Urban, who ironically grew up in Rush County but now lives in Middlesex, N.J., which is near New York City.
“The Knicks are like my hometown team now,” Urban said with a chuckle, noting her nephew had asked her to attend the fair with him.
“I had no idea (Baker) was going to be here,” she said. “We know all about him with the Knicks, but I didn’t realize he was going to be at the fair.”
Baker had agreed to do a signing at the Rush County Fair on Friday evening to help raise funds for a school supply drive to benefit local children. Those who lined up early were probably glad they did. There were 100 signed copies of Baker’s children’s book available, and they sold out quickly.
Baker’s first book, “You’re Too Big to Dream Small,” is a nod to his small-town upbringing and pursuit of his basketball dreams. Baker grew up in Utica and said he wants to encourage other children to seek their own goals.
“Growing up in western Kansas can be tough, so chasing whatever dream you might have is the inspiration behind my book,” Baker said. “I grew up around things like this, so it’s always good to come back and see the kids and the smiles on their faces.”
Baker has been home in Kansas since early May and will return to New York later this month to resume training for the next basketball season.
His message has resonated with 12-year-old Trinity Lutters, whose family drove nearly two hours from Montezuma just to meet Baker.
“We followed his career at WSU,” her mother, Trina, said. “She has big dreams of what it takes to come from a small town and be a basketball player.”
Trinity said she was “pretty excited” to have met Baker, and said basketball is definitely her favorite sport.
The event was hosted by Farmers Bank and Trust of La Crosse, which is celebrating its 110th anniversary. The business also organized a school supply drive to benefit local children, said regional branch manager Kevin Moeder.
Moeder said he knows Baker’s family and asked if he would be willing to help with the charity event during his time in western Kansas.
“When he heard what we were doing with the proceeds to buy school supplies for county schools, he said, ‘Yup, count me in,’ ” Moeder said, noting he was not expecting such a large crowd for the event.
Fans could choose to either donate school supplies or cash to benefit the project, or purchase a copy of Baker’s book to get an item autographed.
A little farther back in the long line, Lindsay Hoff was all smiles sporting a Knicks shirt with Baker’s name and number on the back. While waiting to meet Baker with her friend — Liz Clark, who sported a WSU Shockers shirt — Hoff said she has been following his career for many years.
Hoff attended Wichita State University in 2011, when the Shockers earned their first title at the National Invitation Tournament. Both fans now live and work in Great Bend.
“Look at her,” Clark said with a laugh. “She can’t stop smiling. It’s like a kid meeting Santa Claus.”
“It is cool that he kind of caters to his fans,” Hoff said of Baker. “And (western Kansas) is where you’d find a lot of his fans, so I think that’s awesome.”