Legacy Behind The Mask

There is something to say about a legacy. Legacies make their mark on you and are not easily forgotten. Texas Tech University gains a new legacy every year- the Masked Rider.

The Masked Rider was established in 1954 at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., when Coach DeWitt Weaver told Joe Kirk Fulton that he wanted a live mascot to lead the football team on to the field. So, on New Year’s Day 1954, Fulton saddled up a friend’s horse and became the official mascot of Texas Tech University. This was the beginning of one of the biggest legacies in Raiderland.

The newspapers from that day reported that the crowds sat in pure awe and total silence as the mysterious rider and horse galloped across the field. When Fulton made his first appearance as the Masked Rider on New Year’s Day, Red Raider fans stood in disbelief of the magnificent entrance. After that game, the Masked Rider was ingrained as a Texas Tech tradition that is still going strong 62 years later.

From 1954 until 1974, this was a male dominant program. Anne Lynch, the first female Masked Rider, changed the face of the program. Each year, a new rider is selected from a vigorous try-out process that eliminates everyone but the most elite students that the university has to offer.

It is an amazing experience that allows you to meet many people.
Charlie Snider, 55th Masked Rider

The Masked Rider program has been a work in progress over the past 62 years and is still continuing to improve with every rider. In 1994, Sam Jackson, Ph.D., took over the program in regards to horse and field safety. At that time, the program was in desperate need of standard safety protocols because of several accidents that had occurred for both horse and rider over the years.

“Back then, they were just a bunch of cowboys” Jackson said.

Jackson began by regulating the parameters they could run in Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium, and more importantly, when they could run.    Jackson has also improved the selection process of the horse. Each horse selected has to have a particular temperament to be able to handle the large crowds of people and the intense atmosphere of appearances and game days.

“Safety had to become the No. 1 priority for both the rider and the horse,” Jackson said.

As the program has grown, the involvement with the other spirit programs at Tech has also grown. Stephanie Rhode is the program director for all of the Texas Tech Spirit Programs. Rhode’s involvement in the program has produced a full-ride scholarship fund, record breaking appearances, and participation in all school activities.

“This job has been a blessing because I get to work with the most elite group of students that this university has to offer,” Rhode said. “They pretty much become my kids.”

Because of the high expectations the program entails, a rigorous four-month try-out process is required each year. This process ensures only the very best riders are selected. Try-outs for the Masked Rider position begin with a lengthy application process that checks your background, GPA, driving record, school transcripts, and many references.

After the application process, the selected applicants take a horsemanship assessment. Similar to any other occupation, the basics are required. If selected for the position, Fearless Champion becomes 100 percent your responsibility. The rider must know how to feed and water properly, ensure that no harm comes to Fearless day or night, know the signs of illnesses, and keep his living quarters spic’ and span.

While the application and the test may be easy for some, they also must successfully complete a horsemanship pattern and a truck and trailer driving test. The applicant saddles up Fearless Champion and rides the pattern for a panel of judges. To move on to the truck and trailer portion of the process, you must receive a score of 80 percent from half of the judges on your riding. If you advance, the truck and trailer test is pass or fail.

As the Masked Rider, you are required to take Fearless Champion, the truck and trailer, and yourself to many appearances and events. The extensiveness of these tests is mandatory to ensure that the program is functioning at the highest safety levels possible.

If you have made it through all of the obstacles listed, congratulations! You have now reached the interview portion of the process, which means you are almost to the finish line. The interview is conducted by a large panel of individuals who have a lot of involvement in the program as well as the university.

Charlie Snider, the 55th Masked Rider, said trying out for the program was the longest four months that he has experienced in college.

“It is an amazing experience that allows you to meet many people.,” Snider said.

Snider was selected as the 2016-2017 Masked Rider on April 15, 2016. For the past two years, he has served as a member of the field safety team for Fearless Champion and as an assistant to the rider, which has prepared him for his current role.

“When I was given the reins for the first time and was able to put on the black mask and scarlet cape, I was speechless,” Snider said. “Everything I had worked for over the last few years was right there, and for a while, it still didn’t feel real. It wasn’t until my second week of being the rider that it all sunk in.”

Game days are the most iconic event for the Masked Rider. Although they travel thousands of miles across the state to appearances, there is nothing quite like watching them gallop across the field at Jones AT&T Stadium. For fans, this moment is crucial to the success of the game. It brings chills to your skin, brings you out of your chair, and is a tradition that has made its mark on millions of people. For the rider, this tradition is equally as thrilling.

“Stepping on to the field as the rider was the most humbling and eye opening experience of my entire life. Thousands of people attend each game and most of them wait with anticipation for our short run across the field,” Snider said.

For Snider, the games are an adrenaline rush because of the crazed fans, loud music from the Goin’ Band, and the incredible feeling of representing Texas Tech University at the highest capacity.

The Masked Rider Program has had great success over the last 62 years and it will continue to improve with each new year. There is not a higher honor for a Red Raider than to be selected as the Texas Tech University Masked Rider. As the program continues on, improvements will always be made, records will be broken, but the legacy will run on forever.

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