College mascots across the country represent what it truly means to be a part of that school. The mascots are a symbol of school pride and spirit. This reasoning applies to our own University of Toledo and our favorite mascots, Rocky and Rocksy.
Ever since UT earned its nickname after the football team played Carnegie Tech in 1923, the Rockets haven’t stopped shooting for the stars. During the game, sports reporters from Pittsburgh were shocked to find out UT didn’t have a nickname and asked a student to make one up.
“Though an underdog, Toledo fought formidably, recovering a series of embarrassing fumbles by favored Tech. Pittsburgh writers pressed James Neal, a UT student working in the press box, to come up with a nickname,” the UT website states.
“Despite UT’s 32-12 loss, the student labeled the team ‘Skyrockets,’ obviously impressed by his alma mater’s flashy performance against a superior team. The sportswriters shortened the name to ‘Rockets,’ which has been used since.”
Rocky and Rocksy, our trusty mascots, didn’t just come from thin air — the UT mascot has had an interesting and ever-changing history.
This year is Rocky the Rocket’s 50th birthday celebration, and fortunately enough, his birthday falls on the same week as the homecoming football game. A celebration on the actual birthday will be a part of Homecoming week events.
“Obviously, the golden birthday, the fiftieth year, is a huge deal. Rocky’s been a big part of the University of Toledo for a long time,” said Kevin Taylor, UT’s events and licensing manager. “A lot of people’s memories from their college experience, or anything within the community; a lot of it starts with Rocky. He’s like face of the university.”
Rocky the Rocket was first introduced during the 1966-67 academic year by the UT Spirit and Traditions Committee. It began as random students being chosen to dress up for the games as Rocky.
In the fall of 1968, the director of student activities, Dan Seemann, took Rocky under his wing, and the mascot began to take shape. Bill Navarre was the first official mascot. The costume, made by the theatre department seamstress, was a wastepaper basket with a pointed rocket top made of paper-mâché.
Rocky’s outfit has changed several times since then, thankfully.
In the 1970s, Rocky’s outfit consisted of a tall metal rocket helmet that matched with different jumpsuits, including bell bottom pants.
In 1977, with the help of former astronaut and Ohio senator John Glenn, an authentic space suit, helmet and boots were donated to the University of Toledo by the NASA space center in Houston, Texas. The spacesuit was worn for football games, but a lightweight replica was made for basketball games.
The astronaut suits were used until 1980 when the Rocky costume was changed once again to take on a more futuristic look designed to look more like a space rocketeer.
Another Rocky costume was introduced in 1983. It was plush with huge feet, but was only used until 1986 when a bigger and bluer plush Rocky with smaller feet was unveiled.
Carlos Gary, an IC cartoonist in 1994, said that students were throwing marshmallows at Rocky during a football game and were yelling that Rocky looked like “a blue condom.”
“This guy wasn’t very marketable,” Gary said. “You never saw Rocky on a T-shirt.”
After a few years of modification, Gary had created a “Fightin’ Rocket” and first came up with the idea of his female counterpart, Rocksy. It wasn’t long before these new mascots were being printed onto T-shirts and sweatshirts and being sold in campus bookshops; about 300 items had been sold at that point.
A final change was made to Rocky’s appearance in 1998 at the rivalry Bowling Green football game. The old Rocky the Rocket stepped into a limousine and a new Rocky walked out to display the new Tower Blue and Rocket Gold costume, complete with a jetpack.
Quite a few changes have been made to Rocky the Rocket through the years, but one thing has remained true to the mascot throughout his 50 years of existence.
“I’ll say that, through my experience as being the manager of the mascot program, the one universal thing is that they all have a big enthusiasm and a love for the university. They want to get out there, they want to be in front of people. They want to interact with people,” Taylor said.
At this year’s homecoming football game, the Rocky’s of the past will be recognized on the field. According to Taylor, even the very first Rocky will be attending.
“When I first took over the position, I talked to some of [the alumni] just to get a sense of the program and everything that goes into it, since I was relatively new and hadn’t dealt with that before,” Taylor said. “So, I spoke with them and their thoughts on what works, what doesn’t work. Once you’ve been in the program, once you’ve been Rocky or Rocksy, you’re always invested, you want them to carry on the tradition that you put in for your college experience.”
The UT athletics website and Taylor said any student can try out to be Rocky in the spring semester for the following year. The only requirements are commitment, a fun personality, school spirit and the ability to communicate well through non-verbal communication.
“Whenever we have try outs, and I’ve been lucky enough to do a few of them, I always tell people I’m not looking for perfection,” Taylor said. “I’m just looking for somebody that has the right enthusiasm, and also somebody that’s willing to learn, and willing to just have the personality and take over the character.”
This love and enthusiasm for the university is what Taylor and those at the athletic department classify as the “backbone” of UT, and is something that remains constant.
Every student is going to have some sort of interaction with our fantastic mascots throughout their college years at least once and should recognize that they can relate to Rocky and Rocksy in some sort of way.
“Just take advantage of that they are the ambassadors for the university,” Taylor said. “They’re here to make that experience and to make that connection, and to really increase the positive experiences that students have on campus.”