The University of Denver has been meeting with members of the DU community to discuss the "mascot development" process. Doug Hirsh has been following the process with particular interest: He was the first human Denver Boone, chosen to portray the caricature that Walt Disney donated to DU to serve as the embodiment of the Pioneer spirit. In 1968, when the school held a try-out for a student to play Boone, Hirsh showed up wearing a fake beard and a coonskin cap he'd found at his frat, the Beta House, and carrying a bullwhip. One crack of that whip, and he had the gig.
"I won," he remembers. I was Denver Boone." As Boone, he would show up at various school sporting events and other functions, wearing a fake buckskin suit from the theater department; he also had to glue on a beard before every performance. "Taking it off was a pain," he recalls.
Such a pain that on a trip to Europe that summer (his traveling companion was his one-time boarding-school roommate, Bill Husted, formerly of the Denver Post), he just grew a beard so that he could continue to play Boone his senior year without resorting to glue.
Hirsh who played lacrosse while in school and now coaches the Washington and Lee women's team (when he's not managing a hotel in Massachusetts), has been back to DU many times since graduating in 1970. And he's followed the mascot saga with interest. In 1998, then-chancellor Daniel Ritchie sent Boone to the wilderness and brought in Ruckus, a red-tailed hawk.
That concept didn't fly, though, and in 2008, Chancellor Robert Coombe opened the door for Boone to return -- in an unofficial capacity. The Boone who's been dancing around sporting events for the last five years is more of a cartoon character than Hirsh's Boone -- a frontiersman who was basically a hairier version of himself.
"It was a lot of fun," Hirsh says. "I just don't see why he's offensive to anybody. He's just a pioneer, a mountain man, a little bit of the heritage of the first settlers who came to Colorado."
But now, even the cartoon Boone will be banned; after a vote by the Undergraduate Student Government in late February following a Harlem Shake Boonedoggle, the school is looking for an entirely new mascot. The meetings and focus groups have been part of that process.
Here's the explanation that DU sent out to graduates, Hirsh included, on April 3.
Continue for DU's take on the Boone controversy, plus more photos.
Here's the message:
To: University of Denver Alumni
The University of Denver has begun the process of selecting a new mascot, led by an Undergraduate Student Government task force. The task force's goal is to wholeheartedly recognize the voice of any person who is passionate about the values and imagery they feel ought to be included in the process.
We will be updating all members of the DU community as this process moves forward. Toward that end, we are sharing the following communication sent today to all students by our student government leaders. For questions or comments, please email the University at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is a Denver Pioneer?
To the student government, being a Denver Pioneer means recognizing the culture of our community and never settling for mediocrity when there is greatness on the horizon. A Denver Pioneer calls for and earnestly compels improvement, challenge and constant forward progress.
The University of Denver is constantly evolving and growing and part of this change is how we, as a community, reflect on what it means to be a Denver Pioneer. For more than 14 years this campus has struggled with confrontation and uncertainty on the topic of an official mascot. During this time, we have done little service to each other in constantly debating the mascot dilemma. Out of this uncertainty, some of you are asking why we must change. This letter explains why now is the right time for change, and what we aim to accomplish through the process.
DU student government leaders steadfastly stand behind the belief that, at this point in our University's history, the mascot images of our past neither reflect the values of nor unite our entire community today, as is indisputably the highest purpose and standard of a mascot. Denver Boone, for example, was adopted in 1968 during the height of popularity of TV westerns and frontier dramas. Today, it stands as an old-fashioned, nostalgic symbol of a past in which the marginalization of women, African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans in the historical record was common. It does not represent the diversity of the DU community today.
We believe that it is time for all of us to join together in recognizing Boone's place in our school history and move forward with a new, inclusive, forward-looking mascot symbol.
For this reason, when a student asked for the formation of a student task force to reconsider the topic of a new mascot, the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Governments happily gave their full support. The process has truly taken off, as it has inspired not only students but also faculty, staff, alumni, and even the Denver community to consider the meaning of a Denver Pioneer.
We look forward to collaboratively refining an image that will stand as an inspiring symbol of the University of Denver, and demonstrate the unwavering respect that we share for all our fellow Pioneers past, present and future.
To clarify, we are going to remain the Denver Pioneers and our school colors will remain crimson and gold. The Administration has made this clear and student government fully supports their decision. What is changing is only the visual representation of the Denver Pioneers.
Through qualitative and quantitative research being conducted by Marketing & Communications, as well as through open public forums, we aim to understand the community's collective ideas of what our new Denver Pioneer will be in the future. This process has just begun and, if you want to have a voice in the process, we ask you to join us.... We invite all interested community members to attend and voice their perspective. Thank you for your trust and constructive support as we progress towards a new mascot..
There's a big push on Facebook to keep Boone -- an effort led by alumni, and one Hirsh supports. "I don't see how any other caricature can embody the Pioneers," he says. "Maybe they'll just be the Pioneers with no visual representation."
Speaking of visual representation, here's a snow sculpture celebrating Boone's thirtieth birthday, as seen in an old yearbook:
Will Boone have any more birthdays? Not if the university has its way.
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