Denver Boone mascot mess gives DU design student Will Guy a real education

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Will Guy didn't set out to minor in civics when he transferred to the University of Denver. He just wanted a good education in design. "On my first tour," he recalls, "I just out of curiosity asked what the mascot was. The tour guide gave me a puzzled look and gave me a brief rundown of what had happened." And that was this: Denver Boone, the caricature designed by Disney and adopted by DU in 1968, was booted in 1998, replaced -- unsuccessfully -- with a roadrunner named Ruckus, then allowed to come back, unofficially, in 2008.

But in February, the student government decided it was time for Boone to go for good.

The guide didn't tell Guy all of that, of course. But since he's always been really into "character-design type stuff, that's what I want to go into," he started looking into the sorry saga of the mascot situation. And not just DU's mascot situation; schools around the country were wondering whether their mascot truly represented their community. "I had a project about the history of DU, putting QR codes on certain buildings," he recalls. "That's when I started looking more in-depth into mascot stuff. I googled controversial mascots."

He learned that Old Miss had gotten rid of its Colonel Reb mascot, a white plantation owner. "I read their whole process; they had a website of everything they'd done," Guy says. "I was curious if DU could do the whole thing. I did a ton of research. Realizing their mistakes, I went to the chancellor during his office hours, met with him, and he told me to connect with student government."

So he contacted Sam Estenson, who heads the group that in February determined it was time for a new mascot. Estenson started pulling students together to talk about what form the search might take, and Guy joined the discussion. "As the process went on, we realized how much bigger it was becoming," he says. "Alumni, grad students, all those people also needed to be involved as well." Ultimately, the Denver Pioneer Mascot Steering Committee grew to include 76 members, including faculty, staff, students and alumni. That committee spent months conducting more than 45 focus groups, fifteen open forums and many one-on-one interviews to collect opinions on a new DU mascot -- as opposed to Boone, seen here doing the Harlem Shake.

From the start, it had been determined that DU would keep the Pioneers. "The name has so much behind it, so many meanings," says Guy. "We wouldn't scratch that." But in announcing the mission of the committee, Chancellor Robert Coomb also made it clear that bringing back Boone was not an option.

Using the research they'd collected, the committee tried out a variety of ideas -- a unicorn, an astronaut, an ox, a crab. "We tried to get as many versions of as many things as possible," Will recalls. And then, working with professional concept developers and designers, the committee whittled the possibilities down to three: a jackalope, an elk and a mountaineer. But the talk wasn't over. They looked at different logo ideas, and the discussion got into such detail as the size of the elk's antlers, the size of the mountaineer's muscles.

"I was very happy, to say the least, at how successful our committee was, especially in terms of compromising," says Guy. "Some on the committee were extremely pro-Boone, others anti-Boone. Compromise is really what got us through all this.

"We've listened to every voice.... I've seen every comment, e-mails, and we try to respond to everyone we can.... Everyone's voice is being heard, in one form or another."

And members of the DU community can still sound off. Last week, Estenson and Guy e-mailed a letter to 75,000 "fellow pioneers," inviting them to participate in a survey and "provide your evaluation of three Denver Pioneer mascot character concepts against the twenty attributes created by the community."

People have until July 17 to take that survey -- which is not a vote, but a way for the committee to see if much of the DU community can agree on a single character. "If we identify a mascot that's successful, we will go forward taking it to the chancellor and board of trustees," Guy says.

And if not? It's back to the drawing board.

Has this unofficial education in design by committee made Guy less interested in studying design? "It's absolutely not deterred me," he says. "I have learned a ton...and if anything, it's made me more gung-ho about that career."

More from the Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Jackalope, elk or explorer? Du is pioneering a new mascot."

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