I ended up choosing TTUOutlaw as the VTM contestant for the big prize. The most rec's and a good story. TTUOutlaw talked a bit about what it was like being Raider Red. Think a good thought for TTUOutlaw in the hopes that he wins the big prize.
When reading your entry, the thing that jumped out at me was that you were Raider Red. I'd love to hear more about that trying out and the process. Would also love a favorite story about your time as Raider Red.
Raider Red. Well to begin with, I just have to say serving as a D1 university mascot in a major BCS conference is a college experience unlike anything else. I transferred to Texas Tech in the spring of 08 and I knew from the get-go that I wanted to join Tech's oldest organization, Saddle Tramps, mainly because school spirit and tradition are what make the game day atmosphere on Saturdays special. Saddle Tramps were founded in 1936, by Arch Lamb, in order to uphold and carry out the traditions of Texas Tech University. The process is similar to any fraternity or sorority in the sense that you first rush, and if given a bid, you then go through a semester-long pledgeship. Merely being a pledge (soon to be active member) of the organization wasn't enough for me; however, I wanted to make a name for myself and do more which is what led to me trying out for Raider Red.
In order to serve as a Raider Red, one must be a member of either Saddle Tramps or High Riders (our female counterpart). It began with an announcement in one of our weekly meetings that anyone who was interested in trying out for Raider Red is urged to follow one Reds (there are always four) at some of their appearances. We went to a philanthropy event at the hospital and I was hooked. I thought it was so cool to see how people (children and adults alike) just lit up when they saw Raider Red walk in. In West Texas, I'd like to think he is bigger than Micky Mouse. So anyhow, tryouts were still a little over a month away but they held pre-tryout practices twice a week leading up to it. Raider Red was created by Dirk West long ago and he has very distinct characteristics and mannerisms (being bubbly and energetic isn't enough). We had to learn a certain walk, certain motions that correlate to different chants and cheers, as well as the alma mater and fight song. I remember practicing these things for weeks in my dorm.
The tryout process is a three-day ordeal. On the first day there is an interview and a test (over the history of the mascot and university). On the second day they (representatives from Texas Tech Athletics, Center for Campus Life and the Spirit Squads) want to see you in action and how you handle crowds, so they take you to the local mall with all of your competitors and make you walk around the mall and interact with people, while being scored. On the third day, you have to preform a skit you created and prove you know the walk, motions, etc. They also want to see how you react under pressure, so they throw something at you that is spur of the moment. In my case, they sent out one of their daughters with about four of her friends, all of whom are about five years old, and they took my guns and were running around me in circles.
At that time, Raider Red was a two-year commitment so your first year you are kind of still learning the ropes and are usually designated the less-desirable appearances and away games. This being the case, the two first-years from before were now the head people, which also means they do not have to tryout leaving only two open spots. Being a pledge of Saddle Tramps and not necessarily guaranteed admission to the organization, I honestly didn't think I had a snowflake's chance in Hell of making it. Needless to say when I received the news it was a big deal and me and my pledge brothers went out to celebrate resulting in me being late to my first appearance that next morning...whoops.
One of the unique things about being Raider Red is that your identity is kept a secret from the student body until you formally retire at the "Passing of the Guns" Ceremony. Obviously the people you know closest and members of Tramps and Riders know, but apart from them it's like living with the biggest secret for two years. I had many great memories from my time as Raider Red which include beating all of our rivals in a single year, that fateful game on November 1st 2008 and many others. However, my favorite memory was probably Alamo Bowl against Michigan State. The week leading up to the game I was hunting in deep south Texas with my dad in a very remote area with hardly any reception. I'm not one to turn on the TV while out in the woods so I had no idea what was going on with Mike Leach at the time. Things were obviously very passionate and emotional for Raider Nation at the time—and still are to some degree. The Alamo Bowl was my very last game as Raider Red. My family all lives in San Antonio so just the fact that the game was being held there was already a big deal, never mind the fact that we didn't have a head coach at the time. Needless to say the win over the Spartans went a long way for healing some hearts—mine included—and it was kind of big deal to finish off my career as Raider Red in the place where it all began; my hometown.
So what's the biggest challenge in being Raider Red? I would imagine the costume is a bit cumbersome, but what's the toughest part about the process? Also, I'd have to imagine that it can be incredibly rewarding. What's the most rewarding part of the experience?
There are alot of challenges that many people don't think about when it comes to being a mascot of a major school like Tech. Even though there were four of us to divvy up the appearances, each person usually has four or five appearances (excluding athletic events) a week during the fall semester and two or three a week during the spring. Appearances can be anything from a luncheon on campus involving donors to a TAKS test pep rally at elementary schools at 7:30 a.m., or even parades in some of the small towns around Lubbock. We're at different philanthropy events including muscular dystrophy walks, diabetes walks, Race for the Cure and pretty much anything else you can imagine. In fact, one of the other guys had an appearance where Raider Red was the ring bearer in a wedding at Jones AT&T stadium! So I would have to say that maintaining a balance between Raider Red, Saddle Tramps, school and having your own personal life is one of the greatest challenges. The costume is indeed cumbersome, especially maintaining, securing and just carrying it around everywhere. The head itself requires it's own bag and both are quite bulky. It can also get fairly uncomfortable inside the costume at times. West Texas gets pretty hot, then add about 10lbs of padding and a helmet/costume head...now you're really sweating bullets. I heard somewhere that artificial playing turf, like what we have at Jones AT&T stadium, is usually a few degrees warmer than what you feel in the stands, so then add the costume to the mix lol.
Although the time and man hours spent, along with the sweat and fatigue can get to you, there were so many rewarding experiences that come out of being Raider Red. There were a ton of personal perks that go along with being the mascot. Obviously, being on the field for every home game and several away games was huge. I always loved firing off the shotguns during the bell circle before kick off. I loved going to the cheerleading camps and NCAA tournaments. Those who serve as Raider Red are also awarded a partial scholarship, meal plan, letterman jacket and a free class ring! However, one of the things that has always stood out to me was the the excitement people, fans and foes both, got out of Raider Red. Kids, adults and elderly people alike all just light up when Raider Red stops and takes a picture with them, high fives them or even signs an autograph (yes Raider Red has his own signature). I really just enjoyed making other people happy and I always tried to stop and take one more picture, even if my appearance time was over or I was dehydrated and tired because, to me, it's all about Raider Nation. The memories I made and the excitement our fans got from Raider Red will always stick with me. But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being Raider Red, for me, was representing the school we love so dearly. Just being a part of it all; the history, the tradition, the fanfare through the good times and the bad...to this day it's still very surreal for me. One of the coolest things they do for you when you formally retire at the "Passing of the Guns" ceremony is frame the jersey you wore during your tenure and put a picture of when you were in the costume—which is hanging up in my office at work. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had and the memories I made, it truly was unlike anything I have ever done before.
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