The Story of a Mascot, a College, and a Legacy
University of Mobile students were on their feet, screaming wildly as the final seconds ticked down. A win was just a point away when the fans started that familiar cheer. "Go Knights!"
That’s what might have been. But members of the first freshman class of brand new Mobile College took their responsibility for choosing a mascot seriously, recalled Tom Strong, ’67, first student body president. “We decided there was some controversy with knights, some criticism of the Crusades and the massacres that occurred. So we left that alone,” said Strong, now retired associate vice president and dean of students emeritus at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
Dr. Gene Perkins, first chairman of the physical education department and the only member of the charter faculty still teaching at UMobile, had his own recommendation. “They asked me my opinion of what I thought would be a good mascot, and I suggested the saints, since we were a religious school. They didn’t seem to like that too much,” Perkins said.
In the end, the Rams won the vote, leaving the knights and other possibilities – pioneers, bucks, elephants and falcons – to a footnote in the history of the university.
A Heritage of Strength
“We were a college with no mascot, no colors, no newspaper, no annual, no traditions – no anything. It was important to begin to have some of that to create an identity and closeness among students,” remembered Strong. He said founding president Dr.
William K. Weaver Jr. called him to the president’s office to discuss the need for a mascot and school colors soon after the first class of 181 students started in fall 1963.
“We tried to start something that in a few years wouldn’t be tossed out,” said Iris Anderson, ’67, organist at Dauphin Way Baptist in Mobile. “We tried to leave a heritage” for generations of future students. In addition to the mascot, students chose maroon and white for school colors, named the yearbook the Rampage and the school newspaper Jubilee –which tied into the ram theme after a dictionary search proved the Hebrew origin of the word related to the use of a ram’s horn as a trumpet to proclaim the jubilee
year. As for the ram, it was an animal mentioned frequently in the Bible.
It was a good choice, said current athletic director and head basketball coach Joe Niland. “You want a strong mascot, something that shows strength and power. The ram is a durable animal,” he said.
I Belong to Mobile College
For more than 20 years, a round metal dog tag has lain in the bottom of a desk drawer in the office of Vicki Burgin, ’04, director of campus operations. She found it in a key drawer when she was working for then-vice president Dr. Leon Pirkle.
I Belong to Mobile College
The identification tag belonged to one of four live rams that served as university mascots from 1963 to the late 1970s. “Our group came up with the idea that if we had a mascot, we needed to see if we could have a live one,” said Tom Holmes, ’67, a member of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity whose membership included about 63 former or current Boy Scouts. John Dodd, first superintendent of buildings and grounds, had a solution.
“My brother Paul had a good friend in western Mobile County who had sheep,” recalled Dodd, and he brought the first live ram mascot to a half-acre pen at his home in Satsuma until a place could be found on campus. Dodd, now a retired chaplain, pastor and missionary, quickly learned an aspect of the ram’s nature that students would soon discover.
“I remember one time my youngest daughter, Joyce, was out in the garden and she bent over to pick something up. I said, ‘Joyce, don’t bend over!’ But it was too late. Ramses butted her in the posterior anatomy,” Dodd said, laughing at the memory. Holmes said the name “Ramses” was the result of students searching for a name that included the word “ram,” while also taking a freshman class on the history of western civilization and the pharaohs of ancient Egypt.
Ramses I was presented to the freshman class in what is now Weaver Auditorium, where chapel was held. “Dr. Weaver and I sat out in front on stage, and Ramses was in a cage behind the curtains. Dr. Weaver made the introduction, pulled back the curtain, and there he was,” said class president Strong. “It was a beautiful animal. His horns were gorgeous,” said Bob Culver, ’67, administrator of Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments in Huntsville, Ala.
Holmes said APO members built a shelter inside the gates that surrounded the upper sewage retaining pond on campus -- known among students as the lagoon or Weaver Lake. “Our group agreed to take turns making sure he was fed,” Holmes said, adding that Dodd probably handled the majority of ram care.
He said Ramses I was trotted out on a rope when students held pep rallies for intramural teams during the second year of the college’s existence. “Since he’d been around people a good bit, he wasn’t a danger to anybody and didn’t get skittish. The
butting of people was part of his way of paying attention to you and you paying attention to him,” said Holmes, executive director of The Arc of Alabama.
Tom Strong took his responsibility as charter class president seriously, so when students at the new University of South Alabama kidnapped Ramses I and painted “USA” on his side, Strong took action. Using a drop spreader and leftover ryegrass seed from his minister of music at Spring Hill Baptist Church, Strong wrote a big “MC” in a clearing in front of USA’s administration building just before Christmas holidays. When students returned to school in January, there was a bright patch of MC grass on the lawn.
The prank made the news. “I felt as SGA president I needed to do something to revenge what they had done to the ram,” Strong said. A shearing and mowing eventually returned both ram and lawn to their pre-prank state.
The reign of each ram isn’t clear from university records, and there were periods when no ram was in residence at Weaver Lake. Ramses I died on April 2, 1971. When a ram wasn’t available, a goat would do, as Rick Cagle, ’75, recalled. He remembered students bringing a goat from his family’s farm into chapel one day and presenting it to history professor Mr. William Ward.
“The goat made several deposits of an unsavory nature,” said Cagle, pastor of Crosspoint Baptist in Mobile and owner of RMC Management. Phil Newton, ’76, remembers lassoing Ramses with a lariat at Weaver Lake, bringing him to Pharr Gym, then hiding him beneath a stairwell. The plan was to trot Ramses out during a break between cityleague basketball games in a show of support for the Mobile College home team.
“We started trotting the mascot out and he defecated all over the place. We were rolling, but Coach Terry Hopper didn’t think it was quite as funny as we did,” Newton said.
The June 1977 Torchlight magazine pictures the last live ram mascot, Ramses IV, standing calmly between incoming SGA president Bruce Chesser, ’78, and outgoing president Albert Lipscomb, ’77. Ramses IV was a gift to MC students from Lipscomb’s father, Ira Lipscomb of Foley, Ala.
The ram wasn’t a large part of campus life during that period, said Chesser, senior pastor of First Baptist Hendersonville in Tennessee. That changed with the arrival of intercollegiate athletics in 1985.
Jimmy Messer, ’91 & ’98, remembers the first two-legged mascot fondly, but he spoke with a coach’s blunt assessment about the costume. “It was ugly,” said Messer, now dean of students and boy’s varsity head basketball coach at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Mobile.
Messer served as student manager of the new men’s basketball team as first athletic director and men’s head basketball coach Dr. Bill Elder set out to build an intercollegiate athletic program in 1985. “Coach Elder had this persona that you wouldn’t just go up and talk to him before the ballgame. I remember the Ram messing with him a little bit, coming up and putting an arm on Coach Elder’s shoulder. He’d always act like he enjoyed it, but he wasn’t enjoying it. He had a look like, ‘okay that’s funny, now move on,” Messer recalled.
Elder said that first ram costume “didn’t look all that good,” but that it was an important first step in starting an athletic program from scratch. For a while the mascot didn’t have a name and students, perhaps remembering stories of the live ram’s penchant for butting, referred to the new mascot as “butt-head.” “We had some pretty crazy fans back then,” said Elder, who retired after a lengthy career coaching college basketball and has written several books.
By 1987, the university’s Torchlight magazine refers to “MC Ram” leading the Davidson High School band during the college’s homecoming parade, and in 1988 he is pictured with his bags packed for the NAIA national championship in Kansas City. Brian Naugher, ’93, was among several students who wore the costume.
“I fell out of the bleachers once,” remembered the executive director of sales and marketing for Ranger Land Systems in Huntsville, Ala. “I had gone up to make fun of (thenpresident) Dr. Mike Magnoli, ’67, and when I came down, my foot caught the bottom edge and I just wiped out.” Naugher, who also served as the voice of the Rams and announced games, said he knew which referees he could mess with and which ones to leave alone.
“I had a blast doing it,” Naugher said. “I remember the (basketball) games were just packed out. People were standing on the balcony.” Mary Reeves Shirey, ’89, put down her Miss Mobile College crown one year and picked up the MC Ram head the next, serving as mascot for several games. The head must have weighed 50 pounds, she said.
“I have no idea what happened to that head. It was atrocious. By the time you were done (performing), you needed a massage,” she added. By 1989 the pep band was playing the fan song, “A Ram I Am,” written by local legendary WALA-TV weather forecaster John Edd Thompson and local musician Herbet Zoghby. No copies remain of the song in university archives, and Thompson said his copy was lost when his Dauphin Island home was destroyed during a hurricane.
Mac the Ram
In the early 1990s the university took the big step of investing in a high-quality costume from a company known nationally for designing and producing college mascot costumes. Janice Pittman Britton,’75, then in charge of marketing for the college, said she and Coach Elder revised initial drawings of the ram, making the eyes blue and the expression friendly. “We knew that the mascot would be around children during basketball games and we didn’t want the mascot to frighten them,” said Britton, a partner with her husband in Design Innovations industrial design company in Mobile.
At the same time, the mascot needed to look like a winner – aggressive, strong and intimidating – said Kim Burgess Leousis, ’86 &’89, then director of admissions. Leousis, now vice president for enrollment, campus life and athletics, said the 1990s saw the development of a strong mascot program, with scholarships for mascots and cheerleaders.
Several students shared mascot duties during the first year of the new costume, until Cary Lowery, ’96, tried out for the position. “There was something about putting the head on – when I got in character, something just happened,” said Lowery, area director for Fellowship of Christian Athletes in southern Alabama.
By 1995, with the new moniker “Mac the Ram” which retained the MC from Mobile College days, the mascot helped newly renamed University of Mobile establish a presence on the athletic field and in the community. Mac would ride in a convertible through a fast-food drive-thru in Saraland. He appeared at the Mobile Regional Airport, waving at travelers in the terminal and finally visiting pilots in the cockpit of an airplane. He road a golf cart around campus, drove into a basketball game on a motor scooter, and arrived at a game dressed as Cleopatra and carried on a litter by cheerleaders.
Athletic director Niland remembers an experience with Mac during this period, when he was head basketball coach of UMobile’s cross-town rival Spring Hill College, the Badgers. “We played SHC vs. Mobile three times at the Mobile Civic Center. There were terrific crowds, about 5,000 people. As a coach, you’re trying to get the players to focus on the game. The guys on the bench were saying, ‘hey coach, it’s the Ram and Badger in a fight over there’ on the sidelines while the game was going on.
“When we got the video tape, with those big heads on, it was like rock-em-sock-em robots. It was the funniest doggone game. You wouldn’t believe how many people after the game talked about the two mascots fighting instead of the game, which had come down to overtime or a last-second shot. It was the hot topic,” Niland said.
With Lowery’s help, Mac was selected as the No. 2 mascot in the nation in the 1996 National Championship for Mascots. Lowery still has fond memories of his years as Mac – and the first costume in his closet.
Putting on the mascot costume and becoming Mac is “probably the most fun thing I did,” said Thom Dumas, ’07, who wore an updated Mac costume that gave the ram a slightly more cartoon-ish and friendly look. It was also a learning experience.
Through antics such as “harassing” the band, being chased by security guards, and “arguing” with referees, the youth director at Providence United Methodist Church in Spanish Fort, Ala., said he learned “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission.” It is a life lesson that has helped him build a church youth program from the ground up.
And there is something else. “There is a sense of pride,” he said. Vice President Kim Leousis feels that as well. From her vantage point as a student worker in the new athletics office, then a graduate and now an administrator overseeing programs including athletics and cheerleading, she has been involved in the development of the mascot through the years.
Sometimes, when a student isn’t available to wear the costumes, her children Collin and Nikki will become Mac and Molly. The children and grandchildren of staff and alumni take turns being Mac and Molly as well. “I would have never thought when I was a student here that I was at the beginning of something I would see to fruition,” she said, in a voice choked with emotion. “It’s been a privilege.”
She said the college’s first class made a good choice. “I’m glad they had the foresight to choose a mascot, because we’ve grown into it. It just seemed right. There was never any discussion about changing it,” Leousis said. “I think it fits us pretty well.”
A Surprise Appearance
After a long hiatus, a live ram once again walks the University of Mobile campus. The occasion was the Oct. 19, 2010 soccer match-up with conference rival William Carey. Touted as “a big game with lots of surprises,” the event drew enthusiastic Rams fans – and a special guest.
“We rented a ram from Uncle Joe’s Rolling Zoo here in Mobile,” said Greg Johnson, ’10, a campus life coordinator. “We paid $150 an hour to have him come out, so it is pricey. We did get a whole rolling zoo, though, with bunnies, a baby calf, a miniature horse, goats and sheep. The children at the game really seemed to enjoy the petting zoo.”
As the final seconds of the game ticked down, Mac and Molly and a real, albeit rented, ram were on the sidelines. In the stands and lining the fence at The Jungle soccer field, University of Mobile students and fans started that familiar cheer.