Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finally Fitting In

A replica of the same Sooner Schooner that the real Boomer and Sooner pull on gameday. Photo by Taylor Bullard.

Throughout its rich history, the University of Oklahoma has been represented by many mascots, all of whom were loved by Sooner fans.

But although Oklahoma has never been without a mascot, there has never been one character that has fully been able to define and represent the University as the Sooners saw fit.

Late in 2004, a small group of students, realizing that Oklahoma was essentially without a mascot, began a movement to give a mascot to the University of Oklahoma. At the time, the only real mascot belonging to the Sooners was the Sooner Schooner.

"What most OU fans don't understand is that this was not a University decision, it was a student led initiative," Head of Spirit Marketing Lori Kemmet said.

A field of potential OU mascots were quickly put together that included the University Seed Sewer, as well as adaptations of famous Sooner characters such as "Big Red," and "Little Red." A decision was made that the best option would be to create a pair of mascots resembling Boomer and Sooner, the two white ponies made famous by pulling the Sooner Schooner.

At the 2005 Big Red Rally, Boomer and Sooner were introduced as the new costumed mascots that would officially represent the University of Oklahoma as an extension of the Sooner Schooner.

In the past, mascots have come and gone at Oklahoma, and none have really become a staple in Sooner sports like boomer and Sooner have aspired to become.

By 2005 Boomer and Sooner replaced all other mascots the University had previously been using, including a raggedy dog named "Top Dawg" who walked the baselines at Sooner basketball games, as well as "Digger," the OU softball mascot.

Things haven't been easy for the two ponies. The initial fan reaction to Boomer and Sooner was mixed, and the switch from previous mascots to the horses has not been an easy transition for the mascots, or the fans.

"There was a little bit of negative reaction, but only because people felt their characters had been taken away from them," Kemmet said.

As in the case with all great tradition, change is hard for some fans, and Boomer and Sooner were no exception. Sooner fans that were still bitter about their beloved Top Dawg shunned the idea of another mascot, and some fans just flat out didn't like the idea of the new ponies. Some fans even went as far as to call the mascots names, like "Horse Pigs," after the common belief that the original costumed looked more like pigs than horses.

"It was what it was. That was the original costume we were given," Kemmet said.

Some distain for Boomer and Sooner even led to rumors surfacing that the mascots might be cursed due to the fact that since their inception, the Sooners have fallen short of championship tradition.

In the years following the 2005 football season, Oklahoma watched the removal of Quarterback Rhett Bomar, the firing of Kelvin Sampson due to recruiting violations, and more BCS bowl game losses than any fan cares to remember. Though these happenings were surely coincidence, some Oklahoma fans blamed the creation of Boomer and Sooner for the struggles on the field.
"I think Bob Stoops would be appalled by some of their actions," Kemmet said. "There's no place for stuff like that."

"After we lost all those BCS bowls and the whole thing with Kelvin Sampson, I think OU fans were looking for someone to blame," University of Oklahoma Alumni Clay Kennard said. "Those ponies were easy targets, but I don't think anybody actually believed in that stupid curse, they were just looking to vent."

Those with hostility towards the ponies were few and far between for the most part. Although some of the OU faithful were not in support of the new mascots, Kemmet will tell you that for the most part, Sooner Nation has come to embrace Boomer and Sooner as their new mascots, especially this past year.

"I think we're really rounding the corner with the fans," Kemmet said. "It's hard at first to bring something new into a program like [Oklahoma]."

"I don't think the student section is going to go out of their way to tell anybody they appreciate the mascots, but most of us like them just fine," University of Oklahoma Junior Adam Fry said. "It's good to have a mascot that actually fits the theme of the school."

Mascot Head Coach Erik Gransberg said that the success of Boomer and Sooner are due, in large part, to the students behind the mascot costumes.

In addition to being the mascot coach, Gransberg is also the head engineer behind the creation of the Boomer and Sooner costumes. He has redesigned the costumes almost yearly in order to give the characters mobility and visibility on the field, as well as to make them more visually appealing to the Oklahoma fan base.

Another reason for the recent success of Boomer and Sooner could be due to new freedoms that have been bestowed upon the student mascots. Kemmet said the freedom that has likely helped the characters open up to the fans.

"[Castiglione] came in and told them to loosen up and start interacting with the crowd more this year," Kemmet said. "And you can tell they are really starting to have fun with it!"

"It looked to me like this year they let the mascots interact with the crowd a little more, especially at the basketball games," University of Oklahoma Sophomore Hassan Essaili said. "It reminded me a little of top dawg."

Kemmet said inspiration and support for the mascot duo has come from everywhere in the athletic department. Athletic directors and even coaches have become involved after realizing how important the development of these characters could be to the University.

So what's next for the mascot duo? Apparently the offseason has more in store for Boomer and Sooner than the mascots are able to handle. Kemmet said it has become hard to keep up with the high demand for the ponies to appear at anything from promotional events to weddings.

"We're booked solid with wedding appearances for the Summer," Kemmet said. "I've probably had more requests for the mascots in the last six months than I did in the first three years."

"I think as the years go by people are going to start forgetting that Boomer and Sooner haven't always been around," Kennard said. "When that happens they're going to be just like every other college mascot."

It's going to take some time for Boomer and Sooner to become as popular as the well known mascots like Aubie [Auburn] or Smokey [Tennessee]. But those mascots did not become famous over night either," Kemmet said.

It seems time is all it is going to take for the fans to allow Boomer and Sooner to fully become the face of OU athletics. Which is a good thing because it looks as though the University has found a permanent answer to its long-standing mascot problem.