After years without a mascot for sporting events, Southern Oregon University now has a "Raider Hawk" — and SOU has roped some students into suiting up and prancing about, stirring up hoots, shouts and school spirit.
To the "Rocky" theme song, played by the SOU band, the Raider Hawk will shake his tail feathers, congratulate athletes, tease fans, express disbelief (rubbing eyes) at a bad call by the referee and help cheerleaders get students pumped up.
"It's awesome. He's really lively and gets the crowd involved and excited," says cheerleader Tammy Berry.
Who's inside the Raider Hawk suit? No one will tell. It takes away from the mystique of the mascot if you start thinking of a person inside, say SOU athletic officials.
"If we tell you, it's like saying there's no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy," says Danny Cecchini, SOU director of intramural and athletic events — the man who envisioned and ordered the suit from Allinco in Utah, then interviewed and trained two students for the mascot job.
"What we can say is that it gets real hot inside that suit, and it's a lot of work for not a lot of credit," says Cecchini.
Raider Hawk pranced and soared Friday night at home basketball games and will show up at nonathletic events such as Raider Registration and Raider Days to welcome new students.
Mascot suits are prone to a lot of wear and tear, especially if exposed to the elements at outdoor games, so Raider Hawk may not show up at the gridiron if it's raining, says Cecchini. It's intended for intercollegiate but not intramural games.
"The Raider Hawk is a great addition to sports," said student Rosie Converse, as she watched women's basketball. "It brings a lot of school spirit and shakes its tail."
"We're not used to a live mascot," says student Cara Hall. "It's going to be good to have one around."
The mascot, with big, white wings and beak, bright-red basketball shorts and big, yellow feet, helps solidify the university's image as the Raider Hawks, replacing the Indian-oriented Red Raiders, the name they were given in 1946.
The "red" part, seen as insensitive to American Indians, was dropped in the early 1980s, says Bobby Heiken, assistant athletic director. The "hawk," a sacred creature to indigenous peoples — and a native of the valley — was adopted in 1998.
"The red-tailed hawk is sacred for its honorable heart and its fierce protection of its home and family," says Heiken, noting that when it was first unveiled Tuesday at Raider Days, the mascot was a big hit.
"They went absolutely nuts."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.