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Gus Baylow: 'We can push through this pandemic'

Gus BaylowA dedicated student sports commentator and broadcaster, freshman Gus Baylow lost both his beloved sports and the latter half of his high school senior year when lockdown began. Fortunately, both sports and school have come back into his life since then, and he’s been making the most of both.

Traveling from Marblehead, Massachusetts, to become a Jayhawk Journalist, Baylow recounts state championships called off right before they began. As the voice of his high school’s athletics program, the domino effect of sports and school cancellations were rough for him.

Baylow kept his head up, and it all paid off when he arrived at KU in fall 2020. Baylow has since began sports broadcasting for KUJH, sports commentating for KJHK, and writing for the University Daily Kansan. He is especially excited to have accomplished all this within the same pandemic that froze American sports less than a year before.

Baylow expresses gratitude to KU and his mentors for helping him to continue to do what he loves.

► Listen to the audio version here.

Sam Blaufuss: This is Sam Blaufuss. Today is Nov. 11, 2020. I am interviewing Gus Baylow for the William Allen White School of Journalism Pandemic Oral History project.

Gus Baylow: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very happy to be here. My name is Gus Baylow. I'm a freshman here at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications here at KU. I'm from Massachusetts, just outside of Boston, a town called Marblehead, Massachusetts. I'm involved with the University Daily Kansan as a sports correspondent, and I'm also involved at KJHK 90.7 FM on the sports staff there as a sports broadcaster. I play-by-play and comment there, so, involved in those organizations with the J-School and beyond, and I'm very excited that I've been able to get involved with them so quickly here in the first couple months of my KU experience.

Sam Blaufuss: Awesome. Going back to March, Gus, what was your initial reaction when the pandemic hit and where were you when you heard the news that KU was closing?

Gus Baylow: I was still in high school. It was crazy. I'll tell you – when I was in high school, I was a senior in high school at the time. And we found out on March 12 – I can remember this very vividly – March 12 was the day that we got the news, that my high school was going to be shutting down for a period of time. We, our high school sports… there were some high school state championships that were supposed to be played that weekend, but they canceled them right before, and there was a big uproar and everyone was going crazy about it. Then a few days later, I think it was March 15, the governor of Massachusetts came out and said that schools had to be shut down for three weeks. And at that point it was just a domino effect of things getting canceled.

Before you knew it, we were stuck inside and it was just a crazy time. It was just one of the most crazy times I've ever been through, seeing that many things change in such a short amount of time, I really didn't know what was going on. But then at that point I just came to realization that it was going to be  “stay at home” for a bit and just kind of ride this thing out. Or at least we thought at the time… we’re still dealing with COVID right now, but it was at the time, it was just crazy.

And when I heard that KU was closing, I wasn't surprised, I'm sure, as pretty much every single college in the United States shut down, so I wasn't really surprised that KU shut their doors as well. Obviously I felt bad for everyone involved, but that's just kind of what everyone had to go through. All the sports are shut down, everything was shut down. You really couldn't do much about it. So yeah, it was unfortunate to see the everything get shut down, but at the time it was just crazy and you really can't expect anything else from it. I wasn't too surprised about it.

Sam Blaufuss: How has the semester been different comparing your spring semester in high school with the pandemic to fall semester, now in college with the pandemic?

Gus Baylow: Spring semester in high school first started off normal. It started in January and that was going well up until the pandemic started and COVID-19 really started to get going. And then at that point, once COVID really hit, I was at the realization that we were going to be stuck home for the foreseeable future. That was pretty much it. It was all virtual learning.

People were struggling to promote learning and all that for a few weeks before school was over. And I think that would compare to being here at KU this fall. I mean, obviously being here at KU is a great experience, to be here is a blessing in disguise, because you really just – to be able to be on campus is great. I know there are a lot of colleges that are not having people on campus at all, so it's nice to be able to be on campus and be able to be involved in some way here at the university.

I think it's a great thing just to be here and have some time at the university. Obviously there's not too many in-person classes, there’s a lot of stuff online, but being able to still be involved and… getting involved with the organizations, even in the midst of the pandemic is still a great thing to have. I would say that there's more events going on this fall. Back in the spring, there weren’t any sports to cover because all the sports were shut down. Now there are sports to cover. I would say that's the biggest difference.

Sam Blaufuss: What has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus?

Gus Baylow: I think the biggest challenge is just getting used to, you know… if you want to do things, we'll call it –  social life's a big part of the college experience. And I think everyone knows that. So not being able to be involved in the same kind of social atmosphere that maybe you once thought, it's… you know, it's not ideal. And it definitely isn't the best not to be able to hang out with as many friends or do whatever. It's… not ideal. And no one said it was ideal, but it's still a great thing to be able to… thankfully I have great roommates. My roommates are great and… I'm thankful that I have a great relationship with them because I spend a lot of time with them, my roommates, because we can't see too many other people,

So it's nice to have a great relationship with the roommates. And then obviously, you know, the relationship of the people in the J-School because that's who you see every day in terms of the face-to-face relationships. Because you really can't see everybody just because of all the restrictions and whatnot. I think just getting used to the social life, trying to make friends, even in the midst of social distancing and everything, trying to make friends is still a really good thing. And I'm trying to just meet new people as I can.

Sam Blaufuss: This one's a little difficult since you didn't have a college experience prior to the pandemic, but how would you say your workload has changed as a result of everything going on?

Gus Baylow: I mean, in virtual learning, if I'm going to be honest, I didn't get a whole lot of work [done] because at the time it was only about five weeks from the time that we went to virtual learning in high school… until our last day of senior year in high school. So it wasn't that… and I think everyone was also getting used to remote learning and no one had really done it before, everyone was kind of freaking out about it and trying to get used to it, and it was a struggle.

It took time for a lot of people to really get used to the remote learning experience. I would say that there wasn't as much workload during that time just because of everything going on. I would say there definitely is more work this fall than there was back in high school for the spring semester. But it's still, you know, getting -- I'm more used to using Zoom and other communication tools for classes and whatnot. I've been using Zoom for a number of months now just as everybody has.

Sam Blaufuss: From when the national emergency was declared to now, how has your perception of the pandemic changed over time and how have you emotionally coped with it?

Gus Baylow: I think when the national emergency was declared, I think it was March 13, correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe March 13 was the day that [the] national emergency was declared in the United States. I think since that time a lot has changed with the pandemic. We really didn't know anything when we first had a national emergency declared, we didn't know, we really didn't know anything other than that, it was pretty much taking away everything it felt like. We didn't really know a whole lot about COVID-19 and you know, what it affects. We knew that there was going to be some strict measures coming in, but we didn't know about… we really didn't know what social distancing was and then having to wear a mask pretty much all the time.

We had no idea of any of that. So, all the new terminology we used like “6 feet” and “social distancing,” and mask wearing and constant you know, sanitization and washing hands and all that. I think it's still a big part of our lives now, and now I'm used to it because it's basically the new normal that we live in right now, wearing a mask and having to social distance all the time. That's just the new normal that everyone's living in, whether we like it or not. That's just the reality. And that's the reality it's been for a number of months now ever since the economy started to get back open, you know, depending on where you live in May, June and July, you know, when the economy started to get back open and we have to keep doing those things, the social distancing and mask wearing and whatnot.

But I would say that I'm, you know… at first COVID-19 took a lot from me in terms of sports, you know, announcing sports. I was the voice of my high school athletics athletic program at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Massachusetts – shoutout to the Eagles of St. John's Prep. I was the voice of their high school athletic program for three years. And we were really looking forward to the spring season because that was going to be the last season that was going to be our way to say goodbye and our way to go out on a high note… to not be able to do that was really tough. It took, even though I had a feeling that that was going to be the case after a certain point, it still took time to process that and not being able to have that was really just a travesty.

So I would say I'm more used to it now and I think it's also good that there's more testing in place. There's more we know; we know a lot more about the virus since before we first knew about in March; we've known a lot more about it. There's a lot more testing available, which is obviously a really good thing. So obviously we, I think by, you know, it's been tough to having to deal with this every day, but I'm still pretty used to, getting used to all the protocols.

Sam Blaufuss: How has your involvement with J-School organizations like the UDK, KJHK – but also other KU organizations you might be involved in like Greek life, for example – how has all of that been affected?

Gus Baylow: Yeah, so I'm not personally involved in Greek life, although I know friends who are involved in Greek life and it's different this year, obviously, you know, I think the rushing was done online, I think this year, or I believe it was. I don't exactly remember, but I want to say that the rushing was done online or at least the first part was. I'm not exactly sure, but that was – that's obviously a big part of, of a lot of kids, is they are involved in Greek life and that's obviously been a component of what a lot of kids look forward to in college. So not being able to do kind of the same things is definitely then not ideal, but that's kind of what needs to be done at this moment of time. I would say in terms of the J-School in terms of the UDK and KJHK, our meetings are done via Zoom, so we're not really doing any in-person meetings right now.

It's all being done via Zoom. We're doing it, you know, every week, every Tuesday, Wednesday nights, we're doing Zooms. And getting used to that's been a little bit of a challenge, but I think our sports staff has done a great job of adapting to the new protocols that we have to do. And I think we have a great staff and I'm probably one of the younger people on the staff obviously, but seeing the work of the leadership of the UDK like Emerson Peavey, who's head sports editor and Sam Lance, they are both doing a tremendous job of leading our sports staff at the UDK in the midst of the pandemic. They've been doing an amazing job and – Brayden Shaw and Nicole Asbury, who's also done…

They're pretty much the leaders of the UDK in general. They've done a great job of being leaders and just helping us out. Everyone else who works in the UDK has done a great job of staying with it and just doing their part to make the UDK very effective, a newspaper going around campus online this year. And then in terms of KJHK, we have a great staff as well, that's doing a lot of great things on Zoom as well. And we also want podcasts still going up. We have articles, it's definitely a little bit different. I think I have to give credit to Mitch Osterlund, who's doing a great job of running the sports staff this year. And Mike McFarland, who's the general manager, and everyone else who works in the staff does a great job. It's definitely different this year. I think all organizations on campus are getting used to the new protocols, but I would say it's been pretty successful so far. We haven't had too much trouble, which is good.

Sam Blaufuss: How do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic?

Gus Baylow: You know, I think everyone has a different, you know… some people have a different approach to the pandemic than others. Obviously, there are people who may or may not take it as seriously as others and that's understandable. I mean, college kids are – you're more prevalent and maybe don’t take the pandemic as seriously because of all the… of everything. But – I would say that I've been taking the pandemic seriously since it first started and I'm going to take it seriously for however long it needs to be. But I would say personally for me, I've seen other students. Everyone in the residence halls I think is doing a good job of following the mask protocols and social distancing because that's what our RAs told us, that's what we're going to have to do this semester.

There's not going to be a lot of big gatherings. There's going to be a lot of masks, a lot of social distancing, really trying to limit the interaction between other rooms or between other dorms, I would say, for sure. I would say that in terms of a student perspective, students are trying to do the best they can. And I think that it speaks volume that we haven't really had a great spike in cases here at Kansas in a number of weeks. I think that is largely because people are wearing masks and people are social distancing and doing the right thing. We haven't seen – we haven't really had a tremendous spike where we've had to potentially send people home or shut down for a period of time. So that I think speaks volumes to the students and, you know, everyone involved, the faculty and staff for following the protocols that we have to follow to keep campus open.

Sam Blaufuss: Do you have plans to adapt your education or career to the current situation?

Gus Baylow: You know, I think it obviously depends how long this pandemic lasts. Obviously I think it depends when the vaccine comes and all kind of process, but I'm curious to see what happens with my career in sports. I mean, right now, trying to find a job, let alone a sports job, is not an easy thing to do. It's been something that a lot of people are struggling with, and a lot of people have been laid off. A lot of people have had to take cuts. And it's a struggle right now in the sports industry. A lot of people in the times where sports were not really being covered, you know, back in March and April and then May, and even into June, somewhat when there were not really sports to cover – it was tough.

And, you know, the sports industries really suffered because of it, because they were not producing the amount of programming that they normally would on a typical day. I mean, if, if COVID was not a thing, you would have obviously March Madness in March and April, and that's huge. You obviously have baseball starting up in April and you have the NBA playoffs. Yes, those still did happen later, but they didn't happen at that time that they usually do. So you had to make a lot of changes with the NBA playoffs, the NHL playoffs, pretty much every sport had to be put on hold for a period of time. It was very difficult for the sports industry. For me personally, I don't really know how much it'll affect my long-term career. But I would, I would hope that I can still find a job and still have good enough relationships with people involved that I can make something happen in the sports industry after graduation.

Sam Blaufuss: Do you think that there will be any long-term effects in that area of media [the sports industry]?

Gus Baylow: You know, I honestly think there could be long-term effects in sports because of COVID-19, I think in terms of media, I think absolutely. I think you're looking at a lot of different things in terms of sports having to change. I mean, this idea of a bubble format that was something that was never really talked about prior to the pandemic, but now since the pandemic, that's where everyone's mind is. You saw the NBA and NHL bubble, you know… that was a struggle trying to … it was a lot. The thing was, they were able to get through the whole time without any [positive] COVID tests. And that's amazing. That is amazing that those organizations were able to keep everyone safe while being able to get meaningful games in and declare champions.

And it was great that those sports are able to keep going. I know MLB had a little bit of a hiccup and, you know, obviously football has had a little bit of a hiccup so far. But sports are doing the best they can. I think this idea of a bubble format, this may not be the last time we see it. I think in the long run, we may see bubble formats come back to different sports. You know, whether for a neutral site game or whatever, but I think in terms of sports media, I think this could change… how sports are perceived and, you know, what the perspective of sports is. I think that's going to be something that will be tested in the long run.

Sam Blaufuss: Overall, how do you think the school has handled this case?

Gus Baylow: I think that the School of Journalism has done a fantastic job. I think everyone involved is committed to providing a great education all while also keeping people safe. You know, the journalism school is still having in-person classes, but the in-person classes are being done in a safe format with plenty of, you know… obviously masks are required, and social distancing is enforced. There's sanitization all around. We're so able to do shows in a safe way. We know of all the different things that we're doing… I'm involved with two shows, the Good Morning KU on Wednesdays and Playmakers on Fridays. And we're able to produce a lot of great shows even in the midst of COVID-19, we're still able to put shows out every week. And I think that's… I have to give a lot of credit to Mr. Cal Butcher on that one because he's able to still give opportunities for all of us to do what we love to do every week while keeping us all safe. I think that's really, that's something that is just unbelievable to have. So, I think that the School of Journalism has done a great job in responding to the pandemic, making sure that everyone's still being safe while also providing a meaningful education for its students.

Sam Blaufuss: How has the pandemic changed the William Allen White School of Journalism and KU as a whole?

Gus Baylow: Well, I think the pandemic has changed a lot right now. There are a lot of activities that would have happened this year if there wasn't a pandemic that had to either be moved to virtual [format] or canceled or whatever. That obviously includes the big football games, those had to be… obviously there are not a lot of fans that have gone to games this year, but Late Night in the Phog, that was a virtual this year, and I'm going to be honest, I was really looking forward to going to Late Night in the Phog this year as a freshman and meeting new people that way. Obviously that wasn't able to happen this year, or it was moved to virtual. It wasn't ideal. And it's definitely not an ideal situation, but KU is making the best of it and everyone's doing their part to making sure that we are doing a great job in responding to the pandemic. The School of Journalism has changed, I think, a lot as well. I think the School of Journalism has had to take on new obstacles. And I think this is going to change, this could change the long term about how we go about things at the J-School and KU as a whole.

Sam Blaufuss: Do you think KU will grow to be better based on everything that's happened?

Gus Baylow: I think we’ll be able to grow from this and, you know, they'll be able to see how much we can do, you know, we're how much we're able to accomplish. We've been able to get through this fall semester so far with not as many hiccups from -- as some people may have thought from the pandemic. Despite increasing rates of COVID-19 infection all over the country – we’re seeing record breaking rates right now, all across the United States – KU is still able to provide a good education while also keeping everyone safe. And I think that's a tremendous accomplishment for the university. I think that that is definitely the positive coming away from this. I think KU will be able to grow from this. And, you know, I think the students will be able to respect the university that much more.

Sam Blaufuss: And what advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another unprecedented pandemic?

Gus Baylow: You really never know if there's one -- there's going to be another pandemic. We just have no idea. That's just the beauty of this, but I would say that my advice would be just to enjoy every moment that the J-School has to offer and that KU has to offer it because whenever we do decide, whenever we do go back to – I don't want to say normal, but I would – I'll put “normal” in quotes because that “normal” may be a lot different than it was before… but whenever that new normal may be, taking every moment and enjoying every moment as it comes because you really don't know when something like this is going to happen, and just take in every moment as it comes in and take it with so much pride.

I don't think I did that enough in high school. There were a lot of things in high school that I took for granted sometimes. And I think a lot of us, I think all of us have done that at times with different things, but… coming away from this now and kind of looking back on all this, I would just say my advice would be to take every opportunity that the J-School has and use it to your advantage because it may get shut down. And we just don't know when it would come back. And, you know, I think just having that and having the J-School there as a resource all the time is something that I think you just have to enjoy it, and enjoy every moment of the KU experience.

Sam Blaufuss: We've got a little bit of time here. Are there any remarks on your experience throughout the pandemic that you'd like to make before we wrap things up?

Gus Baylow: Yeah. I would say, you know, in terms of the pandemic, I mean, thankfully I have not gotten COVID-19, I'm going to knock on wood. I haven't gotten the virus yet since it's been around... I know people that have had it and I've had to deal with some side effects and, you know, some have had to go into the hospital and whatnot. I would just – I hope that everyone still takes it seriously. You know, wear your mask, social distance, do all those things. It's important that we do it because if we don't do it, it's not going to go. We're going to see what's happening now and it's going to get worse. I know it's hard. And I know that we are getting to that COVID fatigue that some people have been talking about, but everyone can do their part.

We just have to keep pushing and keep going, and it will be over. It will be over for, we know it. And I think it will come to a point where we can get to move on. I would say my experience of the pandemic has been pretty -- at first, it was pretty uneventful because I was just home all the time and stuck inside, but now being able to move around every day and still doing the things that I love to do and broadcast… it's definitely opened my eyes to different experiences, broadcasting in a pandemic, something that it's a pretty unique experience, an experience that no one has really ever had before. Going through a time where sports were canceled for two to three months and sports were not really at the forefront of anybody's mind as well.

There were times when, you know, a lot of athletes were taking a step back and giving to the community. We saw it in college, we saw it in professional sports and it was -- it was a big challenge for all of us to try to move on from the different experiences of the pandemic and use it to now. But I hope that as we try to, as we get into the winter here and we try to move on, try to move into this winter with the pandemic still being here, my hope is that we can just come together and, you know, we can push through this pandemic and do our part. I hope that KU can continue their approaches to keeping everyone safe in the midst of everything going on.

Gus Baylow: I think it's good that we're also seeing some sports coming back. This one, I think KU basketball, something that a lot of people are very excited to see coming back in November, especially the way that it ended last season with them being the No. 1 team in the country at the time and having the season get canceled due to COVID or the tournament getting canceled due to COVID. But I think everyone's excited to see that back and I'm looking forward to this winter, seeing some sports come, more sports coming back as well.

Sam Blaufuss: Thank you, Gus. This is the conclusion of this oral history.


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