Inside The Head Of Raider Red

Red, black, orange and white streaked across the field. Cries and cheers alike erupted from the crowd. Faces of worry, anger, excitement, and even of hope, dotted the stands.

He knew something must be done, and it must be done quickly. So he strutted toward the twirlers, borrowed a baton from Amanda Tolley, and began to show off his mad skills. Of course, it was only a matter of time before his rival, Pistol Pete, came along wanting in on the fun. In a desperate measure to one-up him, Pistol Pete also tried to borrow a baton, but to no avail – these girls had only loyalty to their mascot, and they were not budging. So Pistol Pete pulled out his guns to use instead, and the twirl-off began. Within moments, Pistol Pete was sent home, downtrodden and embarrassed at losing miserably to the guy in the big hat.

Texas Tech University’s football team may not have won their game against Oklahoma State University that November day, but without a doubt, Raider Red won the twirl-off against Pistol Pete. And in doing so, the Texas Tech mascot did what he does best – revamped the spirit of the crowd.

Courtesy of Mark Umstot Photography

After all, how can you not feel the excitement evoked by that big old hat, those large guns, and that ridiculously exaggerated red mustache?

From sporting events to community appearances, and yes, even twirl-offs with other mascots, Raider Red has been working his magic for more than 40 years. Derived from a cartoon drawing by Dirk West in 1971, the Texas Tech mascot was brought to life by then-Saddle Tramp, Jim Gaspard. Because live animal mascots were prohibited from traveling to away games, the Saddle Tramp saw the urgency in creating a new mascot to keep the morale going where the Masked Rider could not follow.

Since then, Raider Red has become a fundamental icon within the Texas Tech community and the Big 12 Conference. His laughable antics, energetic spirit, and quiet demeanor have certainly earned him a soft spot amongst his fans, old and young alike.

And of course, the fans help make the mascot’s job so much fun.

“The best part about being a mascot is being a tradition at Texas Tech,” Raider Red said. “And the celebrity status; people love me.”

But to mold the mascot into the loveable and seamless character he is, it takes a team of dedicated and active individuals. More than anything, it takes a strong love for the red and black of Texas Tech.

An extensive tryout process is held each spring to select the perfect candidate, or as of late, candidates to portray Raider Red. Exclusive to members of Saddle Tramps and High Riders, the tryouts consist of a traditional skit with the Goin’ Band, interviews with the Raider Red Committee, and a “mall walk,” where their skills interacting with fans and community members are put to the test at the Lubbock mall.

Not only is the students’ ability to “walk the walk” and capture the spirit of the mascot evaluated, but character and responsibility play an important role in determining who portrays him, as well.

Stephanie Rhode, the spirit program director and the administrator to Raider Red, said only a special type of student can portray the Texas Tech mascot, especially because the role is anonymous.

“That’s an incredible quality,” Rhode said. “It takes a lot of discipline and you can’t be a selfish person. You have to have that ability to say, ‘My job is to be Raider Red and represent Texas Tech.’”

Because multiple students portray the mascot, his character must be consistent. From the way he holds his guns up and dances to the fight song, to the way he fist pumps and walks, Raider Red’s actions must be seamless.

One added challenge – though also a proud development – in portraying the mascot consistently is the inclusion of females. In 2005, a partnership was formed between the Saddle Tramps and the Center for Campus Life to allow females in the High Riders spirit organization to try out for the mascot.

Standing to her feet and placing one hand on her hip in girly fashion, Rhode explained the extra challenge for the girls in portraying a male figure.

“You have to stand like a guy would stand and walk like a guy would walk,” Rhode said. “They work very hard and I don’t think those are things people think about.”

Bruce Bills, the head cheer coach and spirit coordinator, said each student brings his or her own personality but still must remain within the personification of Raider Red to be consistent with the traditions and history involved with the mascot.

“It’s fun to see how the students develop into the character, what they can bring to it to make it their own, and leave their mark but also grow the program,” Bills said.

Those qualities and characteristics described by Rhode and Bills influences everyone who encounters the mascot, including the athletes and members of the spirit programs.

Just as the mascot proved at the Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State football game, he takes his job in boosting the moral of others very seriously because he understands the effect it has.

“I mean he kind of energizes the students too,” Bills said, “just having the fun energy and laughable moments to kind of keep everybody grounded in fun during games and appearances.”

One of Raider Red’s favorite ways to keep the fun going is to pull various tricks on people, including his friend, the Masked Rider. The mascot said some of his favorite stunts include hiding the horse, Midnight Matador, from the Masked Rider, and also stealing the rider’s cape to use as a bathrobe.

For Texas Tech twirler Amanda Tolley, Raider Red is an integral part of game days. The junior public relations major from Lubbock said she enjoys how the mascot interacts with the twirlers before the half-time shows, which helps to calm their nerves and boost their confidence.

Tolley also said Raider Red is good at interacting with the different spirit organizations, students and fans during games and events.

“I have seen a lot of mascots just stand on the field or court and dance around, but Raider Red goes a step further and involves himself in games or events,” Tolley said. “I think that is what makes him so loveable to fans – he really knows how to make everyone get excited to be there.”

And getting people excited is exactly what the mascot does best, even outside of the university setting. Although he does more than 150 appearances each year, Raider Red sometimes attends events out of the norm. Ditching the football or basketball jersey, Raider Red has been known to don a tuxedo and play the part of ring bearer at weddings. He once even filmed a commercial in Los Angeles for ESPN with Lee Corso. And in 2004, Raider Red attended George W. Bush’s Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Talk about some major celebrity status.

But of course, the man with the goofy smile and bright red mustache does not let the fame get to his head. In fact, Rhode said, the mascot’s character and role makes her think of excellence.

“He is the walking embodiment of Texas Tech spirit, of the spirit of our alumni, and of our current students and community,” Rhode said beaming with a smile.

Rhode said she thinks that in general, universities look to their mascots because they represent a higher ideal and the best of their school and community.

“I think of a commitment to certain ideals and certain ways to do things that we all believe in here at Texas Tech,” Rhode said. “And the commitment to do things large as Paul Horn, our first president said. And Raider Red very much represents that to me.”

And as she pointed out, how can you not think of doing things large when it comes to that oversized hat, grin stretched from ear to ear, and that enormous mustache?

 

About Bailey Eiland
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