A history of one of Texas Tech's Oldest and Best-Loved Traditions
It's an unseasonably warm fall afternoon—one
of those you only experience in Lubbock, where the sky is pure blue and seems
like it goes on forever. On the drive to Lubbock, you watched with a strong
sense of nostalgia, as the cotton stripper bumped along the red corduroy landscape,
ripping the fuzzy bolls from their stalks. You made the long and incredibly
tiring trek from the parking lot and finally found your seat in Jones Stadium
amidst the delightful aroma of raosted peanuts, popcorn and hot dogs. You stare
in wonder at all of the people who, like you, have traveled so far on this
fiery afternoon to watch the Red Raiders do battle. Then Raider Red's
pistols fire, and you stand, sweat rolling down your back, sun scorching your
face, straining to catch a glimpse of the end zone. Out of the tunnel and across
the emerald turf tears a sinewy, coal black horse, carrying a scarlet-caped
rider. Before you realize what you're doing, both hands are in the air,
guns extended. And despite the heat, you have goose bumps.
The Early Years
The tradition that brings so much pride and enthusiasm to
being a Texas Tech fan had an intriguing beginning and an even more amazing
history. In 1925 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram suggested a mascot for
Texas Tech: the Dogies. The head coach's wife, Mrs. Ewing Young Freeland,
in light of the campus's Spanish architecture, had another suggestion—one
the team and students liked much better: the Matadors. The students selected
the school colors, scarlet and black, in a convocation March 15, 1926, because
they represented a full Matador's colors, a red cape and black costume.
It wasn't until 1936 that Texas Tech fans and students came
to be called "Red Raiders." Collier Parrish, sports editor of the
Lubbock Morning Avalanche, gave the team its new nickname because
of their all-red uniforms and rigorous coast-to-coast schedule. 1936 was also
the year of the first unofficial "Red Raider," now called the Masked
Tate '37 shocked football fans when he and a trusty palomino named Tony or
Silver, depending on where you look, led the football team onto the football
field then just as quickly fled the scene. Tate, whose identity was kept a
secret, borrowed a pair of cowboy boots from his roommate and sported a scarlet
satin cape made by the Home Economics Department. He had been coaxed by pals
to sneak a horse from the Tech barn and to make the first appearance as the
mysterious Red Raider. Tate was quoted in the Nov. 4, 1984, issue of The
Dallas Morning News as saying that Arch Lamb, who was then the head yell
leader of the Saddle Tramps, "dreamed up this Red Raider thing."
The prank was pulled a few more times that season but didn't surface again
until the 1950s, when another Tech student was approached about creating a
In the fall of 1953 football coach DeWitt Weaver called
Joe Kirk Fulton (seen at left) to his office to discuss school mascots. DeWitt,
whose 10-1-0 football team was headed to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Gator
Bowl, was hoping for a spot in the new Southwest Conference. Because Tech was
the only school lacking a mascot, it is believed that DeWitt thought creating
a mascot might aid Tech's admission into the conference. He wanted Fulton to
ride the horse.
And so it was on New Year's Day 1954, riding a horse named
Blackie that belonged to Levelland Sheriff's Posse member Bert Eads, Fulton
became the university's official mascot. According to reports from those present
at the 1954 Gator Bowl, the crowd sat in stunned silence as they watched Fulton
and Blackie rush onto the football field, followed by the team. After a few
moments of stunned disbelief, the silent crowd burst into cheers. Ed Danforth,
a writer for the Atlanta Journal and a press box spectator later wrote,
"No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance."
It's hard to look at the Masked Rider tradition as anything
but magnificent, but the tradition has had its ups and downs. From the beginning,
according to historical documents, the Masked Rider was chosen by a faculty
member from the animal science department. For many years it was Dale Zinn,
Ph.D., who selected a student who, he felt exemplified a role model: good grades,
an honest reputation, and quality horsemanship. For the first 20 years or so,
the selection process went on without a hitch. Many Masked Riders served two
or more years. Generally one of the Masked Rider's assistants would, after
serving for a year or two, move up the ranks into the coveted position.
It was in 1974 when the system changed, some said the system
went haywire. That was the first year a woman was chosen as the Masked Rider.
There was an uproar on campus and the selection of a female mascot made news
across the country. Oddly enough, all detractors and supporters of the female
Masked Rider identified in Texas Tech's historical documents were men, and
there were numerous letters to the editor in The University Daily,
and no doubt countless hours of radio and television discussions. Writers to
The U.D. were rankled and quite ruthless in their postulations. One
writer even went so far as to ask the new Masked Rider, Anne Lynch, to step
down. The writer cited that the position had always been held by a man and
should continue to be. He felt only a male should hold the position because
it was "simply the tradition of the West and of this school…that
cowboys or vaqueros were men." He went on to compare the selection of
Lynch to TCU's selection of a male homecoming queen, querying, "Did that
make man and woman equal? Of course not, it merely made TCU look STUPID."
Another letter called the selection of a female a "huge
mistake." The writer said that "The feelings of pride and heart pounded
[sic] excitement that each and every Tech fan has experienced while watching
the traditional ride, has just been crushed!! A girl…what next, women
for the football players? What has the great Texas Tech college come to?"
Amid the hail of controversy, Lynch kept her seat and was
the Masked Rider for 1974-75. Out of the storm arose a new selection process.
In early February 1974, the student senate presented a resolution calling for
a change in the selection procedure. A new process was developed which included
an application process and created a Masked Rider committee composed of faculty
members, students and one ex-student. In an editorial in the April 9, 1974,
edition of The University Daily, Mike Warden '74 disdainfully called
the old process a "pseudo-seniority system" but expressed frustration
that the new procedure was "dominated by a majority of faculty or staff
members…of Texas Tech." Warden believed that the committee could
be swayed by "higher powers" within the university, and therefore
the system would not work.
But the system worked, and continues to work. In addition
to applying for the position, prospective Masked Riders must pass a written
horsemanship test with a minimum score of 80 percent. Those who pass the test
are judged on their equestrian skills, and they must also score at least 80
percent. Those who successfully complete the equestrian event move on to the
interviewing stage, which counts for 40 percent of their total score; the other
60 percent is composed of their equestrian skills. Cheryl Shubert, coordinator
of student activities, who oversees the Masked Rider program, said that approximately
40 applications are picked up each year, and that number is usually whittled
down significantly—less than five people make it to the interview.
As for the furor over female Masked Riders, it no longer
seems to be an issue. Of the 39 Masked Riders, 13 have been female. Since the
late 1980s there have been more females than males. Fans and students still
adore the tradition regardless of the gender of the mascot.
Trials and Tribulations
It wasn't long after the hoopla of the first Masked Rider
died down that the tradition found itself embroiled in another controversy.
This one wasn't as easy to extricate from. In 1982 the Masked Rider, Perry
Church, struck an SMU pompon girl, Lauri Ann Harjo, who ran out in the track
to pick up a spectator's hat. She was knocked unconscious and spent a week
in a Lubbock hospital recuperating from injuries to her face, head, jaw, teeth,
chin and legs. The lawsuit dragged on for years and finally resulted in ????(checking
w/General Counsel on this).
In 1992 the Masked Rider, Jason Spence, ran into a referee
during the Tech-Wyoming football game. Clair Gausman, the referee who was knocked
unconscious, was looked at and cleared by the team doctors and later returned
to the game. Two committee members, Tom McGinnity and John Pipkin, decided
that Spence should be removed from his post. The Sept. 18, 1992, issue of The
U.D. reported that ,"Gausman feels badly for Spence and does not
want to see him dismissed from his duties as Masked Rider." He wasn't,
and the committee eventually re-instated him. Much to the chagrin of Red Raiders
everywhere, the incident was mentioned in Texas Monthly Magazine's
annual "Bum Steer Awards."
The most recent tragedy relating to the Masked Rider tradition
was the death of the mascot, Double T, during the Sept. 3, 1994 football game
against New Mexico—the day Amy Smart debuted the new Masked Rider saddle.
According to the Sept. 4, 1994, issue of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal,
"as Double T rounded the northwest corner of the stadium in a clockwise
motion, the saddle appeared to slip to the left, and Smart (the Masked Rider),
a Dallas junior, was thrown to the track. The riderless horse then bolted back
toward the west sideline as fans, players and officials scurried toward the
south end of the stadium, and turned into the southwest ramp when it slipped
and struck its head on the cement wall."
Smart wasn't seriously injured, but the horse died instantly.
Students, fans and Masked Rider committee members were shocked and saddened
by the event. No measures were taken to punish Smart. Lisa Gilbreath, Masked
Rider the year prior to Smart, echoed the thoughts of many when she called
the tragedy a freak accident and nothing more.
The death of Double T hasn't been the only time a beloved
Masked Rider mount was injured. Tech Beauty was one the best-known mascots
and was born on campus and owned by the university. In1963, before Tech played
Texas A&M, Tech Beauty was stolen and couldn't be found before the game.
Charcoal Cody, also a Masked Rider horse for years, was the stand-in for Tech
Beauty, and the mare was finally discovered on the Sunday after the game. For
three days she had been hobbled and locked in a shed near of Idalou, without
food or water. The letters AMC (possibly meaning A&M College) had been
sprayed on her side with aluminum paint. Some reports state that her mane had
been haphazardly clipped as well. The mare died the following spring due to
complications during foaling.
The last known prank against a Tech horse was in 1975. Joe
Kim King, that year's Masked Rider, decided to make his home town, Brady, Texas,
the halfway point for the journey to Austin for the Tech-University of Texas
football game. His father, a veterinarian, allowed King to board the horse,
Happy V, at his facilities. Sometime during the night the horse was painted
over his hindquarters, tail and back legs with orange paint. Initial reports
said that the horse would never recover from burns received from the toxic
enamel paint. King was quoted in the Sept. 23, 1975 issue of The U.D.
as saying, "I never thought this would happen in Brady. It's my fault
because I didn't guard the horse. I'll know in the future that you have to
watch out at all times." Happy V recovered in time to finish the football
season but died in 1978 after suffering a ruptured intestine. Some sources
speculated that the horse died due to the effects of the toxic paint, but that
was never confirmed. Larry Cade, that year's Masked Rider, said the horse had
been suffering from colic "for some time" before his death.
Happy Days are Here Again
Over the decades, the Masked Rider tradition wouldn't be
what it is today were it not for generous donors and dedicated staff. In 1981
the Saddle Tramps contributed the first $2,000 to the Red Raider Endowment
Fund (now the Masked Rider Endowment). The hope was to eventually raise $50,000
for the endowment. It wasn't until 1989 when Shubert began overseeing the program
that the Masked Rider program took off.
"I did significant fund-raising when I accepted the
position in 1989," Shubert said. "When I took over there was less
than $20,000 in the endowment."
Following the death of Double T in 1994, many people offered
to help. Shubert set a goal of $250,000 for the Masked Rider endowment fund.
Gary Lawrence, with Wells Fargo (formerly Norwest), stepped forward and on
behalf of the bank, offered to fulfill the need, with completion of the goal
being set for the 50th year of the tradition, 2004.
In addition to the endowment, the Student Services Committee
contributes $19,000 annually. That money goes toward the Masked Rider's $2,000
scholarship, travel expenses, care of the mascot, printing and promotional
items and maintenance for the truck and trailer. The athletic department, Boot
City, Luskey's Western Wear, Masters Cleaners, Lovell Company, and Truck Wash
USA also make annual contributions to the program.
Although being Masked Rider is an honor, it is also an monumental
amount of work. The horse, rider and assistants travel more than 15,000 miles
a year for football games and attend hundreds of other events. School children,
parade and rodeo-goers are thrilled year after year when they see and meet
the famed Masked Rider from Texas Tech University.
From its auspicious beginning— a "borrowed"
horse and homemade cape— to the stellar program it is today, the Masked
Rider is uniquely Texas Tech. Fans and foes alike continue to marvel at the
Masked Rider. Those who ride today know they represent not only current students,
but all who came before them. They represent one of the most noble and glamorous
traditions alive today—not only at Texas Tech, but at any university.
Jennifer Ritz, Texas Techsan Magazine
Reprinted with permission/ Texas Tech Ex-Students Association