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 roasted 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 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 Rider.
George 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 mascot.
In the fall of 1953 football coach DeWitt Weaver called Joe Kirk Fulton 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.
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.
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.
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.
Reprinted with permission/Texas Tech Alumni Association