History of… Big Red

History Big Red 1

Francis Wilson

Over the next several weeks, on #TBT (Throwback Thursday), the Herald will take a look at the history surrounding WKU.

“Furry,” “red,” “blob,” “Hilltopper” and “What is that?” are some of the ways WKU’s current mascot has been described by Hilltoppers and bystanders alike.

Big Red was introduced to the Hill in 1979. Before Big Red, WKU’s unofficial mascot was Mr. Hilltopper, a man dressed in a red tuxedo, sporting a top hat and carrying a cane.

The previous mascot did not gain a large fan base, according to President Gary Ransdell. Therefore, in 1979, a group of WKU administrators set out to develop a mascot because the university had not established one officially.

Ralph Carey, a senior from Cincinnati, was asked to draw designs for a school mascot. Carey had previously worked at Kings Island Amusement Park, where he learned how to work a crowd while wearing a costume.

“The University wanted to develop a new symbol of spirit, one that might not necessarily be considered a Hilltopper,” according to the WKU Archives.

So Carey designed Big Red: a big, red, fuzzy mascot. The original Big Red’s mouth smiled constantly and was big enough to eat a fan’s head. 

Thus, Big Red was born on Sept. 21, 1979.

Carey, with the help of Ransdell and others, presented the project to Donald Zacharias, WKU’s president at the time. The project cost the university, the athletic department and the Alumni Association $900.

Big Red was presented to the public on Dec. 1, 1979, at the first home basketball game of the season. Head Coach Gene Keady was called to center court, where a big white box sat wrapped in a red bow. Coach Keady unveiled the surprise inside to the crowd of fans. It was then that the Hilltoppers met their mascot.

To be a Big Red mascot now, a student has to try out in a process that involves an informal meeting, interviews and skit performances.

A panel of three judges decides after the interview if a candidate can move on to skits. A panel of five to six judges makes the final decision on who can be a Big Red.

Paula Davids, a marketing assistant for WKU, is also known as “Big Red’s Mom.”

“Big Red is the spirit of WKU,” Davids explained. To her, she said, “Big Red is the No. 1 fan of WKU and WKU athletics and the ultimate fan of everything WKU.”