Something will be missing from Homecoming and Parents Weekend at the University of Denver, which kicks off on October 24: a mascot. If all had gone according to plan, by now DU would be rolling out its choice for the school's new symbol for the Pioneers at a special "Evolution of DU's mascot" event. But little has gone according to plan in this pioneering effort. Last February, the student government determined that it was time to officially ban Denver Boone, the on-again, off-again Disney cariacature that had been DU's official mascot from 1968 to 1998, then booted and replaced by the lamentable Ruckus the Red-Tailed Hawk, then allowed back on a limited, unofficial basis in 2008, when Ruckus got plucked. Alumni, in particular, were big Boone boosters — but after some students complained that he did not represent the greater DU community, a 76-member mascot development committee of students, alums, faculty members and others was charged with coming up with a new mascot. And bringing back Boone — or the Fighting Parsons or Pioneer Pete, earlier mascots — was never an option. Instead, the committee whittled the list down to three possibilities — Pio the Elk, Pio the Mountaineer, Pio the Jackalope — and polled the greater DU community for its favorite...and no winner emerged. And so for now, the Pioneers remain logo-less.
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"The mascot research was a student-driven initiative, and any next steps will need to be undertaken by the student-led steering committee," says Kim DeVigil, spokeswoman for DU. "They have not met yet this fall. What we found out from the survey is that nearly 70 percent of the university community is either receptive or neutral to moving forward with a new Denver Pioneer mascot, but at this time the community as a whole is not aligned on what that character should be. What the committee has decided to do at this time is focus its efforts on growing the current DU pioneer spirit program as the university gets ready to celebrate its sesquicentennial."
But that isn't going to be the smoothest process, either, since another committee is currently investigating the role that John Evans, who founded the school in 1864 when he was territorial governor, played in the Sand Creek Massacre — one of the sorriest blots on Colorado's history, and one considered so heinous in Washington, D.C., that Evans was asked to resign as territorial governor. Wiping his name off streets and buildings around DU wouldn't be nearly as easy. And then there's Mount Evans towering in the distance...
University of Denver
Meanwhile, those alums returning for homecoming can take solace in the fact that while Boone is gone, he is definitely not forgotten. Mark Berzins, owner of the Pioneer on South University Boulevard, had his father construct a seven-foot-tall statue of the mascot that was just installed on the bar's rooftop deck, where Boone now oversees the DU neighborhood. Berzins attended Stanford, and remembers when that school dumped the Indian as its mascot in the '80s and moved to a color: cardinal. Compared to that, complaints about Boone "seem like a little bit of a PC reach," he says. "I've been in a situation where I have to be sensitive, and this isn't one of them...it's just a Disney character."
Which means the Pioneer could be the perfect place to raise a glass to DU — and also catch this Sunday's Broncos game. Denver is playing a team whose name makes Denver Boone seem like, well, a Disney character: the Washington Redskins.