A ninja turtle, street acts, knights in shining armor, and plenty of barbecue engulfed City Park Thursday night as Purple Power Play in the Park kicked off the school year and got K-State supporters fired up for Wildcat football.
Along with entertainment provided by the K-State Tap Dance Ensemble, the Bates Dance Studio and a performance by country singer Rusty Rierson at the park pavilion, more than 120 vendors representing area organizations and companies filled the grounds.
Members of the Manhattan High School Thespians Club also were present, as they traditionally are, and mimed for onlookers. They changed their poses and froze in place for anyone who dropped money in a can. The proceeds go to funding for costumes, stage materials and props.
Even the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was present near the inflatable carnival.
Yes, Purple Power Play had it all.
The main attraction, though, was the K-State pep rally, which filled pavilion seating with fans of the purple and the white.
The KSU marching band prepped the crowd with all the traditional Wildcat favorites and also performed a Journey medley that included “Any Way You Want It,” “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin’” and “Separate Ways.”
Senior trombonist Jacob Miller received some appreciation from the crowd for his solo in “Lovin,’ Touchin,’ Squeezin.’”
After the band performance, master of ceremonies Dave Lewis got the crowd going with the first official dig at the University of Kansas — and its head coach — of the season before introducing the football team.
“KU talks a lot about ‘waving the wheat,’” he said. “Well on Nov. 30 we’re going to cut the wheat, harvest it, mill it, bake it and show how one Kansas farmer feeds 150 people — and Charlie Weis.”
Surrounded by K-State cheerleaders and fanfare, head football coach Bill Snyder, along with senior center B.J. Finney, senior defensive end Ryan Mueller and associate head coach Sean Snyder, thanked the throng of fans for their attendance.
“The lights are bright, and I can’t see a thing,” Snyder first said. “But I’m sure there are people out there because I can hear you.”
Mueller, who started at K-State as a walk-on, said he’s enjoyed his time as a Wildcat and echoed the importance of family that has often been the mindset of the program.
“Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this family,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.
“I’m ready to hit someone other than B.J., and on Saturday when it’s third down and our defense is on the field I’ll need you all to turn it up.”
Finney also offered his thanks.
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for supporting this family,” he said, following up with a request:
“When the defense is on the field, get loud, and when the offense is on the field be as quiet as possible so I can hear the signals and get the calls right.”
Snyder closed the football pep rally by telling his “three favorite stories” that - and as he warned - he’s told time and time again.
The first was about the rise in attendance numbers since he came to K-State in 1988, and how the school was considering dropping to the Division II level because it was consistently failing to meet the 16,000 minimum attendance standard.
“That would have been detrimental for Manhattan and this university,” he said.
But, as the team began to win, numbers went up.
“Now we sell out,” Snyder said. “And that’s because of all of you.”
Snyder also commended the fans for making K-State one of the best traveling fan-bases in the country and recalled a letter he received from the chairman of the 2001 Cotton Bowl, where KSU beat Tennessee 35-21, that the 50,000-plus attendance of K-State fans “saved the Cotton Bowl” because previous attendance for the game had been so low officials were considering axing it.
He also recounted how current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll praised K-State’s home crowd to ESPN after the Wildcats beat Carroll’s USC Trojans 27-20 in 2002.
Snyder said Carroll told ESPN it was the loudest, most hostile environment he’d ever played in.
“And that was because of you,” Snyder repeated.
The evening closed with KSU baseball coach Brad Hill, who also thanked the fans for their big showing and attendance at games.
Hill said when he got to K-State in 2004 Tointon Family Stadium averaged just 60 fans. Now, he said, it averages 1,100 - enough for 20th best college baseball attendance in the country.
He also liked the big tv screen Purple Power Play put next to the stage for attendees further away.
“We look pretty good up there!” Hill said. “I’d like see to that in Tointon Family Stadium. Let’s get to work on that, Mr. Currie!”
Purple Power Play in the Park continues tonight at 6 p.m. It opens with the MHS Pops Choir, followed by Washington Dance Studio, Annie Up, and another K-State pep rally, this time featuring the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
A fireworks display will close the event at sundown.