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Falcon mascot rich in history, symbolizes leadership, strength

March 26, 2009

“Select a name that is original and well-suited to the college,” read the contest directions. “It should have as much tradition and local color as possible. Be sure to put in only those names which reflect credit on the college…” These words appeared in the Student Voice on Dec. 16, 1930, under the headline “REWARD! REWARD!” as UW-River Falls sought to name its as-of-then anonymous athletics team.

According to an Oct. 10, 1974, UWRF press release in the University archives, the first mention of finding a name for the UWRF athletics clubs appeared in a Student Voice editorial dated Nov. 25, 1930. The piece ran criticizing the fact that the (at the time) River Falls Teachers College had no name for its athletics; they were simply called the River Falls teams.

The Student Voice staff took it upon themselves to begin a contest in which students and faculty could submit name and mascot ideas. The winner, submitting the best name idea, would receive a cash prize of $3.

“This is the smallest award that goes with the winner of the contest,” a Voice issue dated March 3, 1931, said, “as the name selected will no doubt serve as a cedilla that will be passed on to future generations.”

The deadline for submissions was set for Jan. 1, 1931. A panel of judges consisting of one faculty member, several students and a local businessman was selected to judge the entries and pick the winner. The panel was unable to agree on any of the entries submitted by Jan. 1, resulting in several deadline extensions spanning all of the spring semester that year.

During this time, 127 ideas were submitted and weighed. The schools colors at the time were red and white, and a large portion of the entries submitted followed a pattern of including at least one of the colors into the name.

“Some of [the names] submitted were: Red Warriors, Red Whites, Red and White, Red Vandals, Redmen, Western Redmen, Red Clouds, Red Aces, Red Birds and Red Crioxers,” the Oct. 10, 1974, release said.

The contest seemed to be drawing to a close when, in March of 1931, the Voice ran a front page article declaring that the upcoming Friday would find the UWRF teams with a new name. Unfortunately, the article was found to be in error and the panel of judges extended the deadline yet again, the third such extension. Some of the more noteworthy entries they discarded were Panthers, Soilers, Peds, Plow Boys, Boomers, Crimson Tide, Bruins, Northern Hordes and the Teddys, the ’74 press release said.

The contest ran up until the end of the academic year, seemingly forgotten as classes ended and summer break began. When the fall semester started back up, renewed interest surrounding the contest started back up when a student committee, headed by Harry Roese, was put in charge of finishing the competition. The committee was in charge of setting a new entry deadline and selecting the best of the entries received. Those entries would then be judged upon by the student and faculty bodies. The Voice continued to offer its prize of $3.

On Oct. 8, 1931, a campus-wide poll was cast and the winning entry of ‘Falcons’ won in a landslide victory, pulling in 433 out of 547 total votes. The winner happened to be Roese himself.

“The three runner-ups were: Red Arrows with 42 votes, and Red Aces and Red Stars getting 36 votes each,” the ’74 release said.

The winning selection was announced in the Oct. 16, 1931, issue of the Voice.

The paper ran this description of the chosen name: “The name ‘Falcons’ designates swiftness in flight, leadership, accuracy, fearlessness, feared by all others, intelligence, sportsmanship, nobleness and strength. The emblem will be a Falcon in Flight.”

So began the legacy of the UWRF Falcons. It is a legacy rooted in traditions and now intrinsically entwined with the University. Dan Woychick, head of Woychick Design, the company handling the rebranding of UWRF, said his team did not try to change Freddy in any way. He said the University implicitly stated that Freddy was not to be altered.

Even if the University does not intend to change the logo, that does not stop professor Michael Padgett from hypothesizing. He teaches an Ad Design class every semester, and as part of the curriculum, Padgett has his students rethink the Falcons logo.

For the assignment, groups of three or four students must research the history of Freddy, talk to other students about their opinions on Freddy and redesign the University mascot, be it a different logo or different name altogether.

“The project started for me many years ago, in the early 1980s, when students were complaining that Freddy was too male and did not fully represent the student body (more female than male),” Padgett said in an e-mail interview. “I also found the falcon images visually confusing to some students, and that these variations on the image could send mixed messages. I believe the problem represents an interesting challenge to students since we have the history, current use and potential use of the image to consider.”

An integral part of the exercise finds the groups seeking out student input on the Falcons.

“Freddy the Falcon fits the typical mascot role very well, but it is pretty ridiculous that the school needs to use three different Freddys. Everyone should come together and pick one that represents all aspects of the school,” Grady Stehr, a sophomore ag business major, said. “And while they are re-defining, or eliminating some of the logos, I think an adjective should be added to the name (something like the Fighting Falcons). But being a Falcon does give me pride, it is an animal of majesty and ferocity.”

Other students, even those not big into school spirit, enjoy Freddy.

“While I’m not entirely proud to be a Falcon, it has nothing to do with the school itself,” Laura Krawczyk, a sophomore marketing communications and communications studies double major, said. “Despite the apparent indecision on what logo to use when, the choice of utilizing a Falcon as mascot I definitely agree with. Images of a bird of prey, vast wings spread, soar through my mind whenever I hear the word.  That’s an image I’d prefer over an angry leprechaun or disgruntled feline any day. Freddy the Falcon is doing his iconic thing at UWRF very well.”

A common concern brought up by students is the use of three different Falcon images.

Freddy the Falcon gets the job done, and puts a cute spin on a threatening bird, but how many threatening birds does it take for one Freddy Falcon?” Krawczyk said. “If the NFL teams can settle on one mascot, so should we.”

According to Anthony Bredahl, the art director for the publications office, the full bird logo currently utilized for athletics is an updated version of a logo brought to campus by former Falcons football coach Mike Farley in the late 1960s. The adoption of that logo represented a commitment by all UWRF athletics to unite under one logo.

“Prior to 2001 [when the revised logo was put into service] there was a variety of images used with different sports, which obviously sent a confusing and inconsistent identity for Falcon athletics,” Bredahl said.

In 2006, the logo was once again revised into the current Falcon head.

“[This] allows for more effective applications in terms of size and impact,” Bredahl said. “All of these revisions over the years were a way to keep with tradition yet keep a fresh face on our appearance.”

The cartoon Freddy logo, according to Bredahl, has become more an alumni mascot than anything else, although it is accessible by any organization on campus that applies for its usage rights.

“There has been a deliberate and successful attempt to refine the number and use of campus icons over the years so as to communicate a more clearly identifiable image,” Bredahl said. “Hopefully the image of campus has been refined, while trying not to redefine who we are as a campus, and will we likely continue to be.”

Whether students like Freddy, or agree with how many there are, the Falcons moniker has represented UWRF for 78 years now, and since has inspired many facets of UWRF, including publications, the University seal and even artwork found on campus.

The most notable piece of art can be found in the open dining lounge of the University Center. The piece depicts the many different University logos used by UWRF, ranging from the “R” used until 1931 all the way to the redesigned falcon profile from 2006 (which is actually a redesigned version of the 1976 logo).

Included on the mural is the cartoon caricature of Freddy the Falcon drawn by art student Jim Krom. In 1986, Alumni Director Chuck Brietson was looking for a volunteer to draw a new version of Freddy to be used on memorabilia and homecoming class reunions. Krom, an artist specializing in acrylic and pencil nature pieces, stepped up to the challenge.

According to a story published in a 1987 edition of the Voice, Krom’s drawing was the result of a lengthy crusade. Krom told reporters at the time that he estimated that he spent thousands of hours studying character sketches, countless cartoons and the collective works of Walt Disney.

“I studied how they simplified art, such as hands,” Krom said. “They reduce it to its basic elements and they might depict only three or four fingers, but still end up with a representation of a hand.”

Krom surveyed campus students twice during his laborious process to ascertain their opinions over his depictions and renderings, gathering general opinions about whether his drawing was appropriate to the University atmosphere.

The caricature was first purchased for use on jackets and sweatshirts by the Business Association, the Natural Agricultural Marketing Association, the UWRF cheerleaders and stationary and business cards for the track teams. The Admissions Department also used the new Freddy on T-shirts distributed to incoming first year students during summer registration sessions. Approximately 1,054 new students were exposed to the new logo the summer of 1987.

In May of 1987, the Faculty Senate Public Relations Committee recommended that the University purchase the rights to the logo from Krom.

“I wanted to make a mascot that fits into small-town school,” Krom said. “I wanted him to look aggressive without looking hostile. But it was important to me that he still look real and personable.”

Krom said he was proud of his design, believing his version will last for quite some time.

“I think that one of the best ways to judge its popularity is that the Admissions Department gave me a lot of T-shirts,” Krom said. “I’ve seen a lot of them on campus.

Krom’s design marked the fourth reinvention of the Falcon mascot.

And standing next to that mural is a four-foot tall bird statue, entirely wooden, carved by a chainsaw.

“The sculpture was the gift to the University by Bill and Jennie Sperling to commemorate their 20th anniversary associated with UWRF and the community,” a 1987 Falcon Feature said.

Bill served as the assistant to Chancellor Gary Thibodeau and oversaw several administrative departments, including the Pigeon Lake Field Station—a 827,067 acre section of the Chequamegon National Forest suited for field studies in the natural sciences owned by the UW System.

Bill also served as the voice of the Falcons at home games at Ramer Field from the mid-1960s until 1986.

“Jennie and I thought it would be a good way to say ‘thank you’ to the University and the community,” Bill said in a 1987 interview.

Chaska, Minn., artist Barry Pinske was commissioned for the project. He spent Sept. 22-23, 1987, publicly carving the bird outside Hagestad Hall from the stump of 150-year-old felled Scotch pine.

Bill said in the interview that the idea of the Falcon carving had been on his mind for some time since seeing Pinske chainsaw-carve a bear statue in a Hayward shopping mall.

“[Pinkse said he] wanted to do something in River Falls,” Bill said. “He’s doing [the statue] for about one-third of what he’d normally charge—$400.”
Pinske was a notable choice for the project, having won five national and a world championship in chainsaw carving. He even set a world record for carving a chair—23 seconds.

The stump used for the statue was steeped in River Falls history. It came from a tree that had stood on the Hagestad site since the early 1800s. The low hanging branches were used as a playground by younger community children while students would climb to the higher branches as perches for watching outdoor events, such as an appearance by Garrison Keillor.

“When the tree was cut down because of old age and disease, its loss was mourned by romantics,” Bill said. “One graduate was especially saddened because her husband had proposed to her under the tree.”

The statue is not the only public artwork honoring the Falcon. On May 10, 1962, a large bronze sculpture of a falcon was dedicated and mounted on the outside wall of the Karges Physical Education Center. According to a May 1962 Falcon Features, the 20-foot-high bird was the result of a two-year money-raising campaign by students, faculty and alumni.

The sculpture was made by the chairman of the sculpture department at the University of Minnesota, John Rood. He began working on the piece in January of 1962 in his Minneapolis studio. He began assembling it on May 1, finishing it for the dedication ceremony.

The bronze statue, the chainsaw-carved bird and the historical logo marker are all pieces of UWRFs heritage and traditions. Although the face of Freddy has changed, thanks to Roese, the University’s athletic teams are not the UWRF Teddys.