Denver Boone was the official mascot of the University of Denver from 1968 to 1998. He was designed by a Walt Disney artist and named by a DU student. Despite being retired and replaced by the DU administration in 1998, he was revived by independent members of the DU student and alumni community in 2009. He now serves in an unofficial capacity at athletic and cultural events at the University of Denver.
From 1867 to the early 1920s, the University of Denver's sports teams were known informally as the "Fighting Parsons" or "Ministers" in homage to the school's Methodist founders. In 1925, a student contest was held to formalize the nickname, and "Pioneers" was chosen in homage to the University of Denver's western settlers, who founded the school 12 years before Colorado became a state and Colorado was a sparsely populated territory.
DU's first live mascot was a bearded character who came to be named "Pioneer Pete" who first appeared in the 1930s. Pioneer Pete resembled a rugged, coonskin capped trapper, revived from Colorado's early pioneer days. His likeness was most closely associated with the DU football program. When the DU football program ceased operations in the early 1960s, Pioneer Pete disappeared as well.
Original Denver Boone
Shortly after the demise of DU's football program came the rise of its hockey program. The school began its search for a mascot. Basketball coach Stan Albeck, was inspired by Walt Disney characters and got in touch with a Disney artist through a DU contact. Disney Studios drew up the designs for DU, based on an updated, softer cartoon version of Pioneer Pete which Disney simply called "Pioneer" and gave it to the DU Theatre Department, which developed the first costume.
DU's Special Events Committee held a contest in the fall of 1968 to find a nickname for the new Pioneer. Steve Kiley, then an undergraduate at DU, won the contest with the "Denver Boone" title. Kiley is rumored to have thought of the name "while exercising his elbow and looking at the bottom end of a glass". Despite his name, Denver Boone was not a symbol or endorsement of any of the positive or negative characteristics of Daniel Boone, "one of the most misunderstood characters of the period surrounding the American Revolution".
DU student Doug Hirsh volunteered to help out the effort and soon became the first in a long line of Denver Boones. Many of DU's sports uniforms depicted Boone and countles editions of the Clarion contained his likeness. Boone made appearances at May Days, Winter Carnival, and countless other DU activities.
Boone was nearly eliminated during the 1983-84 school year as the student body rejected the "wimpy" Boone and strove for a more masculine prototype. Efforts to replace Boone, which included a contest sponsored by the Clarion, proved unsuccessful as very few alternative mascots were developed. Then in 1985 and '86 (as the hockey team gained notoriety), insecurities turned back into pride. A poll among students showed that the vast majority of students supported Boone.
Boone needed a re-introduction, and Lambda Chi Alpha Chapter's president Pete Castro came to the forefront to become DU's latest Boone. After passing out flyers at hockey games explaining why DU should save Boone, Castro took it upon himself to haul the decrepit Boone head out of storage, give it a fresh paint job and continue a long standing Pioneer mascot tradition.
Boone continued to serve until the late 1990s as the institution's official mascot.
Boone's official retirement
In 1998, the Department of Athletics and Recreation began an effort to return all of DU's athletic teams to Division-I competition, coupled with the opening of a new $75 million athletic facility. With that move came an effort to rebrand and update Denver's athletic image, and the administration at that time saw an opportunity to replace Denver Boone, for three primary reasons:
First, Boone was seen as presiding over the old NCAA Division II era of Denver sports. Secondly, Boone was seen as not representative of Denver's emerging female athletes. And finally, Native Americans on campus expressed concerns that Boone was a representative of the western extinction of Native American culture. Accordingly, the University retained the Pioneer nickname, but elected to create a red-tailed hawk mascot and logo to replace Boone, citing that "red-tailed hawks were present when the Pioneers settled Colorado." At the time, public reaction was lukewarm. Several costumed versions of the Red Tailed Hawk, now named "Ruckus" were created, but few understood the connection between the Hawk and the Pioneers. Reaction were muted largely because Denver had a new sports complex, and the University of Denver administration at the time was popular due to the massive investment in the campus. Over time, opposition to the Hawk began to come forward.
Boone's unofficial return
By 2006, a movement to bring back the Walt Disney creation had begun to gain momentum. In 2008, a survey of the DU community showed an overwhelming 87% supported reclaiming Boone. Nonetheless, on October 20, 2008, Chancellor Robert Coombe opposed the will of the overwhelming majority via an email to students, citing that Boone "does not reflect the broad diversity of the DU community". Princeton Review indicates that minorities compose just 7% of the student body. The issue has been covered by the Denver Post, NBC affiliate KUSA, and ABC affiliate KMGH. Editorials by Valerie Richardson in the Washington Times and Mike Rosen in the Rocky Mountain News have been highly critical of the administration.
By this point, DU had essentially shelved Ruckus, and in November 2008, the University announced its intention to identify a new mascot, however Boone's departure and the debate were matters that were far from settled. In his letter to students and alumni concerning Boone, Chancellor Coombe stated that "Boone is a part of our history, one that is treasured by many alumni and friends as a symbol of the University they knew three and four decades ago." He also acknowledged that "we are certainly an institution that honors its past. Hence it seems reasonable that students and alumni be allowed to use the image as a celebration of that past, to the extent that they may choose".
Thus, in early January 2009, a group of alumni floated the idea of resurrecting a "Denver Boone" on their own as an "Unofficial" mascot. Several mascot companies were contacted. Sketches and quotes were secured. Through the LetsGoDU blog, an enormous grassroots effort was born and thousands of dollars worth of support for the initiative ensued. Student and alumni support for the endeavor was enormous.
A win-win-win solution evolved: (1) the administration did not have to backtrack on its position, (2) those who opposed Boone's image on the grounds that he did not promote a diverse student body did not see him as an "official" DU symbol, and (3) the students and alumni who valued Boone saw his return. Independent alumni solicited essay applications for mascot candidates, and after DU student Scott Fuson was selected, he was immediately sent to Raymond Entertainment Group's Mascot Boot Camp, a trip funded entirely by independent DU alumni and at no expense to the institution or the student. The alumni have also stated that the new mascot should be committed to promoting diversity and partnering with a broad array of student groups and the university administration has reciprocated this olive branch by allowing the mascot to make appearances on campus and at events.
The new Boone mascot was designed with an "ethnically-ambiguous" skin tone and four fingers on each hand, to show that he is to be perceived as character and not as living human being. Boone was officially unveiled by students and alumni at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC as part of the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four. festivities.
In August 2011, a rumor started by a Fraternity at the University of Denver conceded that Denver Boone could serve as the "official student mascot" even though he is still not endorsed as the official university mascot. This rumor is considered false according to the Chancellor's office at DU.
As of late 2012, the Unofficial Boone mascot has appeared at many DU athletic events and campus functions and has been seen in some promotional videos. He has also appeared at DU athletic events in Boston, Minneapolis, Madison, Wis., Baltimore and Annapolis on alumni-funded trips. The official "Ruckus" Mascot now appears very rarely.
In January 2013, Denver Boone began to take part in the social media world, creating a Twitter account with the username @DU_Boone and a Facebook page <http://www.facebook.com/denver.boone>. The push of social media is to help further increase the motion to re-make Boone the official mascot of the school.
In February 2013, the Undergraduate Student Government passed a bill on Feb. 27, 2013 which stops student organizations from using Undergraduate Student Government funding for items that include the Boone image, in order to prepare students to welcome in a new mascot being selected by a student lead task force. The bill was not supported by a vast majority of the people, however, and caused further controversy as students felt that their Undergraduate Student Government was acting on their behalf without their knowledge or permission.
- "Born a Bearded DU Fanatic in 1969, He's Finally Old Enough to Join the Freshman Class" DU Clarion. October 2, 1986.
- Morgan, Robert. Boone: A Biography. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 2007
- "ROSEN: Bring back Boone : Columns & Blogs". The Rocky Mountain News. 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
- "LetsGoDU2: Chancellor Coombe's Email To Students Regarding Denver Boone Mascot". Letsgodu2.blogspot.com. 2008-10-20. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
- ""Divisive" mascot of DU won't rise again". The Denver Post. 2008-10-22. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
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- "Denver axes mascot 'Boone' in diversity drive". Washington Times. 2008-12-27. Retrieved 2013-12-01.
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- "LetsGoDU Sports Blog: DU Supporters Head To DC For Mascot Inauguration". Letsgodu.blogspot.com. 2009-04-08. Retrieved 2013-12-01.