Seated seven stories down, near the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self craned his neck to watch assistant coach Kurtis Townsend and former KU basketball players Jeremy Case and Jeff Hawkins rappel down the 888 Lofts building for Saturday’s “Over The Edge” charity event.
Originally slated to be the one in the harness, Self was forced to miss the event, a fundraiser benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, because of hernia surgery last week.
“I would have done it,” Self said before the fun began. “But I don’t know if I would’ve liked it … That doesn’t look that high until you get right underneath it and look up there. That’s a pretty big fall if things don’t go right.”
Not to worry. Things went right in many ways on Saturday, when dozens of participants and 300-plus spectators helped raise nearly $90,000 and enjoyed every aspect of the nonstop, seven-story rappelling that filled downtown with energy and applause throughout the day.
Boys & Girls Club supporters from all walks of life — businessmen, civic leaders, parents, local businesspeople and the club's staff members — made the climb to the roof and strapped into the ropes for Saturday’s unusual event.
Each participant, known as an “edger,” was required to raise at least $1,000 for the opportunity to rappel — two people were so energized by the event that they signed up on the spot — and many climbers easily eclipsed that goal.
The two biggest contributors to the fundraising effort were Self and his team and Anna Stubblefield, deputy superintendent for the Lawrence school district who, months ago, vowed to outdo Self’s $10,000 goal by raising at least a dollar more.
“I met her (before the climb),” Self said Saturday. “And I told her that’s one contest I hope I lose. It’s a great cause. Alissa (Bauer, director of marketing and communications for the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence) and her staff spent a lot of time and energy on this event, and it’s good this many people turned out.”
While Self did not make it to the roof, Boys & Girls club staff said he did make good on his fundraising goal, and that Stubblefield did, as well. However, staff didn't have more concrete figures for what each participant raised, in part because the "edgers" are still allowed to raise money for 30 days after the event.
Stubblefield rappelled down the south side of the building to the cheers of several friends and family members — and the heckling sound of her husband’s voice.
“I heard him,” said Stubblefield of her husband’s playful comments about how she had never even changed a light bulb yet now was doing this. “My heart was racing the whole time. Definitely the craziest thing I’ve ever done.”
Despite Self having to bow out, Stubblefield said she was thrilled he participated in the fundraiser in the first place and told him so before she took her turn on the wall.
“I just thanked him for making the commitment and raising money for the Boys & Girls Club and inspiring others to do the same,” she said. “I just appreciate all he does for the community.”
Added Bauer of Self’s involvement: “It would’ve been really easy for him not to show up, so we really, really appreciate him coming out. He really did make it great.”
When the former Jayhawks made their climb down, they were greeted with loud cheers from KU fans and event supporters.
Townsend was the first to go, and his slow-but-steady approach impressed Self and fellow KU staffers Norm Roberts, Fred Quartlebaum, Brennan Bechard and their families.
“I was a little nervous,” said Townsend, noting his legs were wobbling as he prepared to begin his climb. “But it was good. Let’s just say I tossed and turned more (Friday night) than I did before the Duke (Elite Eight) game (last March).”
Case and Hawkins were hoping to race each other, but neither member of past KU backcourts got the opportunity to truly let it rip.
Case blamed it on the safety mechanism that locked up when a participant got going too fast.
“I was trying to get down there quick,” Case joked.
And Hawkins got his climb off to a rough start after slipping out of the gate. The gaffe brought on a little heckling from Hawkins’ son, Mav, during the climb and some from his former head coach when he was safely on the ground.
“It kind of worries me a little bit that maybe Hawk has had to scale out of a second-floor building before,” Self joked. “Because he knew he could scale right down to the next floor and regain his footing and get back on track. I hope he was never sneaking out after curfew back when I was coaching him.”
Added Hawkins, who regularly sends two of his own children to Boys & Girls Club: “I really don’t like heights, but knowing the cause and what it’s for allowed me to get over that fear and I was excited and happy to go over the edge today. They’re very flexible as far as what they can do with after-school programs. It’s just a blessing to know that when you can’t pick (your children) up on time and they’re with the Boys & Girls Club, they’re safe, they’re learning and they’re in a great environment. We love the Boys & Girls Club and we do everything we can to support it.”