The mentality of March Madness is ‘survive and advance’ or your season will become a casualty of the tournament. Along with defeat, the hopes and dreams of fans and alumni can die in pursuit of that one shining moment, and that loss can be tough to take. Now imagine how it must feel when the symbol of your team, your school’s mascot, literally passes away.
Like losing a family member
The University of Colorado announced this week that Ralphie IV, also known as “Rowdy,” was laid to rest near Boulder as fans mourned the passing of their beloved buffalo mascot. This has been a tough year for live mascots, as LSU’s Mike the Tiger VI succumbed to cancer last October and had to be humanely euthanized. Texas’ Bevo XV sent flowers, as did Reveille from Texas A&M. Bevo XIV had passed just a year prior.
When a school’s mascot passes on, fans and alumni mourn the same as if they’d lost a member of the family or a cherished pet.
“Losing ‘Rowdy’ is like losing a family member,” said former associate athletic director Gail Pederson who oversaw the Ralphie program at CU for 20 years. “I know all Buff fans, and especially the Handlers that had the honor to run with her, will always have her in their hearts, especially when Ralphie V and all the future Ralphie’s take the field each fall.”
While they’ve been in the news more lately, the practice of having live mascots to represent university athletic teams dates back more than a century. KU alumni may not know that some of the university’s earliest mascots required feeding, and we’re not talking about birdseed.
Before Big Jay
KU teams have been called Jayhawkers or Jayhawks since around 1886, when Professor E.H.S. Baily first coined the famous Rock Chalk chant, but the sidelines of KU’s first football games were guarded by a bulldog, common at many schools around that time. The bulldog even made its way onto pennants and postcards symbolizing the KU team (Frank Mason would be proud).
Then for a brief time in 1909, KU’s gridders were pictured with a pig. According to KUhistory.com, the proud porker–a gift from an assistant coach–was known as Don Carlos, and the sow only appeared for one year.
KU’s history with live mascots was short-lived, as the mythical Jayhawk came to life only in the illustrations of Henry Malloy in 1912, leading off a parade of cartoon variations of Kansas’ beloved bird. Today, the famous symbol of KU pride appears court side in the costumed form of Big Jay and Baby Jay.
Animal rights activists abhor mascots kept in captivity, but age-old college traditions die hard. At LSU, officials made sure the next Mike the Tiger would have an accredited tiger sanctuary. According to a January 2017 news release, “Becoming an accredited sanctuary means that LSU has met high standards of excellence in animal care and is operating ethically and responsibly.” Doing so, however, means Mike will never again run onto the field at Tiger Stadium, ending a tradition that dated back to 1936. Killing the tradition was the trade-off for keeping–and caring for–a live mascot on campus.
Meantime, Ralphie V, Rowdy’s successor, remains in good health as fans witnessed when he ran onto the field at last weekend’s spring game. The fan-funded program lives on at Colorado, even while alumni mourn the loss of Ralphie IV. And the loss feels very real.
Jayhawks send condolences to our former Big 8 brethren in Boulder.
In 1966, 12 KU Theatre students left Lawrence and drove to Creede, Colorado, a flailing mining town in the San Juan Mountains, never dreaming that their trip would become one of a lifetime for themselves and the town.
Steve Grossman was a junior at KU when a flier posted on a Murphy Hall bulletin board titled “Operation Summer Theatre” caught his eye. He made the call, took an initial visit to Creede and shook hands to commit to return for the summer with friends in tow.
Upon returning to Lawrence, Grossman, c’67, g’97, recruited 11 fellow theatre students to found the now “legendary” Creede Repertory Theatre. Founding members include: Shari Morey Lacey, ’69; Pat Royse Moynihan,c’67; Steve Reed, c’70, c’70; Kay Lancaster, c’66, g’70; Gary Mitchell, c’66, g’72; David Miller, c’69; B.J. Myers, c’69, g’71; Connie Bohannon-Roberts, d’66; Earl Trussell, c’70; Joe Roach, c’69; Lance Hewett, c’70; and Grossman.
“Creede Repertory Theatre is a shining example of how the arts can invigorate and sustain a community,” said Henry Bial, director of KU School of the Arts. “We are proud of CRT’s KU roots and were honored to participate in the celebration of its Jayhawk founders.”
Lawrence and the University of Kansas are still legendary in Creede, and the Department of Theatre was honored to be a part of the celebration. Mechele Leon, chair and professor of theatre; Kathy Pryor, managing director of University Theatre; and Bial attended the anniversary festivities, which included a KU alumni event, a talk back with the KU founders and a dedication of the Founders Lobby.
The Department of Theatre’s connections to Creede are far from over. Lily Lancaster, a KU theatre student, is finishing up a summer internship, and KU theatre alumni return each year to see and star in productions—not to mention the many alumni who have set up permanent roots and careers in Creede as well.
“It is clear to me that Creede Repertory Theatre and KU Theatre share a legacy founded on a devotion to making great theatre, developing and supporting theatre artists, and celebrating the communities that support us,” Leon said.
—Heather Anderson, marketing & communications coordinator, KU School of the Arts
The KU connection to Creede was chronicled by Jennifer Jackson Sanner in Issue 5, 2005, of Kansas Alumni magazine during the theatre’s fortieth anniversary year. Click here to read the feature from our archives. We hope you enjoy the nostalgic look back at a piece of Jayhawk history!
Above: The twelve founding members and KU theatre alumni the first summer in Creede, Colorado.
Above: Seven of the founding members of the Creede Repertory Theatre at the dedication of the Founders Lobby during the 50th anniversary celebration this summer.
Top photo: Mechele Leon, chair and professor of theatre, in front of the Creede Repertory Theatre.
Join fellow alumni, fans and friends for one of 22 watch parties happening across the country this Saturday. The KU men’s basketball team will take on former conference rivals, the Colorado Buffs, in Boulder, Colorado at the Coors Events Center. Click here for a list of official watch parties.
If you are attending the game or are in Boulder, join us for a pregame party at The Fox Theatre from 10 a.m. to noon! The bars will be open and food from Ophelia’s KC BBQ will be served. The cost to attend is $15 per person for members and $20 per person for nonmembers. Click here to register for the pregame party.