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Creation Date



Date of Birth: Sept. 21, 1979, celebrates Dec. 1st
Height: 6 feet
Weight: 25 pounds
Creator: Ralph Carey
Offspring: Little Red
Initial Cost: $900


Big Red was conceived in the fall of 1979 in the mind of Ralph Carey. Ralph created a suit based on amusement park characters. Big Red has been the Hilltopper mascot since December 1, 1979.

Memo from Fred Hensley to ? Gibson, Gary Ransdell, Ron Beck and Paul Just regarding mascot meeting.

Date: 12/8
Subject: Attached
To: Gibson, Ransdell, Beck, Just
From: Fred Hensley
(x) For your files
(x) For your information

Remarks: Enclosed is a copy of the narrative submitted with the patent application. Thanks for your help.


In September, 1979, a small group of administrators at Western Kentucky University were casually discussing the peculiar problem that the University had in not having an established school mascot. Essentially, that conversation centered around Western's successful athletic traditions, especially basketball, and how important the total University image is to keeping these traditions. The athletes and coaches had always been high in ability and character, the cheerleaders were talented and attractive, the students and fans were most supportive and seemed to thrive on the "red towel" symbol that had been established by the legendary Western Coach, Ed Diddle. But yet something was missing.

You see, folks at Western Kentucky University are known as the Hilltoppers; a unique and appealing nickname especially in light of the lofty terrain of the Bowling Green, Kentucky, campus. But have you ever tried to figure out just what a "Hilltopper" might be? Many have tried. On several occasions the University experimented with some rather interesting variations of what could be interpreted as a Hilltopper. But none of these characters seemed quite right.

It was during this early Autumn discussion that a decision was made to attempt to create a totally new mascot that might not necessarily be considered as the Hilltopper but rather as a new athletic spirit symbol. The fans still needed to wave their red towels, but the University wanted to provide an additional element of color and excitement that would not only motivate crowds but entertain them as well.

Two administrators, one from Student Affairs and one from Alumni Affairs, took the initiative (under the prompting of the fiery new Basketball Coach) to explore and create such a mascot. Dozens of creatures were studied, sketches were made, but nothing seemed quite striking or sophisticated enough.

It was at this point, in mid-September, that a senior business major from Cincinnati was asked to lend his talents. Ralph Carey had worked at King's Island Amusement Park for several years and his job emphasis was in the area of live shows. He knew how the Hanna Barbera animated characters were built and maintained. He also knew how to wear and manipulate the costumes to excite a crowd or thrill a child.

Ralph was made familiar with the situation and then turned loose to dream up a character that would be appropriate to Western. After much thought and a few days of sketching, Ralph presented what he thought was a good idea. The nature of his drawing was totally unexpected. Ralph had sketched a plump, fuzzy, round, red creature that was distinguished by a huge mouth capable of smiling, frowning, and eating anything smaller than a breadbox. It could also maneuver with relative eases yet still use its arms and legs to express itself. It seemed perfect.

It was decided that this just might be Western's new mascot. But what will its name be? Only one name came up. It had to be just simply "Big Red." Big Red was born on September 21, 1979.

Ralph Carey then proceeded to design a costume that would physically and mechanically fit his sketch. He determined what materials were needed and how much his creation would cost. It was at this point that Ralph, Ron Beck, assistant dean of students, and Gary Ransdell, associate director of alumni affairs, presented the concept to the President of Western Kentucky University, Donald Zacharias. With the President's approval, the project was jointly and equally financed, at a cost of $900, by the University, the Athletic Department and the Alumni Association. On October 4, 1979, costume materials were ordered from Hanna Barbera Productions in Los Angeles, and actual construction of the outfit began.

Big Red was introduced to the public on December 1, 1979. The setting was the first home basketball game of the 1979-80 season. The crowd numbered 10,300. Prior to the game, as the teams left the floor for their last minute strategy talks. Head Basketball Coach Gene Keady was called to center court by Santa Claus. Everyone in the arena wondered what was in the big white box decorated with a huge red bow. Without hesitation, Santa wished Coach Keady a Merry Christmas and presented Western fans, friends and foes with "Big Red."

In the ensuing year this lovable furry creature has captured the hearts and imagination of all Western students, faculty, alumni and fans. Big Red has made subdued crowds roar, and he (it appears to be a "he" although that has never been documented) has made hostile crowds docile. He has thrived on a steady diet of footballs and basketballs (in season of course), and he's put a sparkle in many eyes both young and old.

Big Red is a hit. The secret to his success might be in his ability to smile or frown, to laugh, to conform his face and body to accommodate a particular situation or emotion. He is unique. He has become a symbol of Western Kentucky University. Requests for personal appearances are endless, commercialization has become commonplace. A new costume has been professionally built and tryouts have been conducted to see who would portray Big Red in 1980-81. Big Red is here to stay!

Initial Cost:
$300 for 80 hours of work. Replacement suits costs approximately $2000. Made of 3-M foam, fake fur, plastic tubing and aluminum framing.

Awards & Honors:
Universal Cheerleading Association Key to Spirit 1980, 1981, 1983
Honorary deputy sheriff of Warren County 1980
KHSAA State Championship guest mascot 1982
Scholarship provided by Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, Inc., 1982
Volunteers in Action Spirit of Volunteerism Award, 1983
Bowling Green-Warren County Volunteer of the Year, 1983
Big Red Roar named for him
Big Red Run named for him 1985
Jones, Nance & Steinman Scholarship for alternate
Ford Motor Company Top 20 Mascots
Big Red Ramble named for him, 1983
Big Red Day, December 2, 1989 in Bowling Green/Warren County
3rd Place Final Four Mascot Competition 1990
Universal Cheerleaders Association Superior Rating, 1991
Big Red Card, 1993
Big Red: You've Come a Long Way Baby, exhibit KYLM 1994-1995
ESPN Battle of the Mascots 1996
Big Red Way named for him
ESPN commercials 1998, 2001, 2002
College Hoops Mascot of the Year 2004
WKU Water Tower with likeness constructed 2004
Big Red – The All-American Mascot Turns 25! exhibit KYLM 2004-2005
Southern Sports Award Challenge, 2005
Camp Big Red named for him
Deal or No Deal appearance 2007
Big Red Rumble, Chaney's Dairy Barn ice cream created for him 2007

Students who have portrayed Big Red:
Ralph Carey 1979-80
Mark Greer 1980-83
Skip Cleavinger 1983-84
O'Brian McKinley 1983-85
Jessica Rappaport 1984-86
Daniel Rodriguez 1985-87
Scott Vick 1985-86
Curtis Barman 1986-88
Rebecca Hack 1986-88
Greg Vincent 1987-89
Wayne Kraus 1988-89
Chuck Yager 1988-89
Susan Flowers 1989-90
Brian Thorpe 1989-91
Tabitha Aldridge 1990-91
Mount Davis 1990-91
Brian Mounts 1990-91
John Bruner 1991-92
Devin Delano 1991-92
Chrissie Mueller 1991-92
Marti Black 1992-93
Barbara King 1992-93
Tina Mock 1992-94
Kris Van Meter 1992-94
Laura McCauley 1993-94
Penny Wesley 1993-94
Joe Gregory 1994-95
Laura Sosh 1994-95
Greg Swack 1994-95
Jennifer Mills 1995-97
Chris Francis 1996-97
Lisa Schaad 1995-96
Heidi Stephenson 1995-96
Robert Carothers 1996-97
Thomas Westwood 1996-97
Amy Alverson 1997-98
Stacey Coy 1997-98, deceased
Scot Richardson 1997-98
Holly Russell 1998-99
Brad Sweatt 1998-99
Ryan Burnam 1998-99
Amanda Kirby 1999-00
Andrea Sanders 1999-00
Shay Smith 1999-00
Kate Stanton 2000-01
Wade Raymer 2000-03
Wes Mudd 2002-2003
Hillary Gunn
Eric Drake, deceased


Alumni - UA77/2
McDaniel, Sue Lynn. "Ageless and Ever Popular Big Red!," Fall 2004
Ransdell, Gary. Letter from the President, Fall 2004
Sisco, Scott. "ESPN & Big Red," Winter 2002.

Western Alumnus - UA77/2:
Big Red Received a Superior Rating from University Cheerleaders Association College Spirit Camp, Winter 1991
Hilltoppers Have a New Mascot, Winter 1980
Taylor, Susan. "He's Big Red," Winter 1980 with early illustration.
Three WKU Students Will Alternate Wearing Big Red Costurme This Year, Summer 1987
Two Western Seniors to Portray Big Red for 1984-85, Fall 19884

WKU Alumni Magazine - UA77/2:
Ageless and Ever Popular Big Red, Fall 2004
Big Red and Gabibbo, Spring 2004
ESPN & Big Red, Winter 2002
Jeffrey, Jonathan & Donna Parker. "Big Red Western's Consumate Ambassador," Winter 1994.
Student Creates Big Red Doll, Winter 1993
Vote for Big Red, Winter 2003

Park City Daily News

Adams, Rachel. "Big Red Goes to Hollywood," 2/11/2007
"Big Red Has Served Western Well Over Years," editorial, 10/19/2004
"'Big Red' Receives Superior Rating," 9/5/1991
Cetawayo, Ameerah. "Creamery Makes Custom Confection for WKU Campus," 3/22/2007
Craig, Courtney. "Happy Birthday Big Red!" 10/20/2004
Craig, Courtney. "Homecoming Will Focus on Big Red B-Day," 10/18/2004
Dooley, Jason. "Big Red Competing for Top Mascot Spot," 9/13/2003
"Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Big Red," 10/17/2002
Up for Hall of Fame," 6/23/2006
Harvey, Alyssa. "Big Red Gets Water-tower Rise on Hill," 8/20/2004
Jackson, Lisa. "Big Red, It Was 10 Years Ago Santa Delivered Mascot to WKU," 12/1/1989
Jackson, Lisa. "Western's Big Red Going to Final Four for School Mascots," 3/12/1990
Kerrick, Sara-Lois. "Go, Big Red! Entertaining the Fans is Full-Time Job for Western's Lovable Mascot," 2/17/1983
"Logos Connect the Past, Present," 3/4/2001
Loyal, Taylor. "Sand in the City," 8/10/2002
Martin, John. "Big Red Display," 11/27/1994
"New Faces for Mascot," 5/8/1986
"Odds and Ends," 3/14/1993
Plumlee, Mitchell. "Western Image to Get Polish," 2/16/2001
"Seeking Big Red," 4/18/1995
Sisco, Scott. "ESPN & Big Red," 7/5/2002
Stapleton, O.J. "WKU's Upgrade Unveiled," 8/7/2001
Stevens, Vickie. "Big Red Boogie," 2/23/1981
"Town's Parade Will Feature Big Red Mascot," 12/10/1999
"Western's Big Red Gets Third Place," 4/10/1990

Lexington Herald-Leader

Olmsted, Mikki. "Behind the Mask of a Fun, Furry Mascot," 3/13/2000
Story, Mark. The Man Behind the Mascot," 8/25/2002

Louisville Courier-Journal

Dorsey, Tom. "Game Show Appearance a Big Deal for WKU Grad, Big Red," 2/17/2007
Hall, Ray. "ESPN's Favorite Mascot Opens Up," 8/23/2002
"Western's 'Big Red' to Compete," 3/13/1990


Western Kentucky University, Mascots


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