New-look Rhody to take center stage at Ryan Center, Feb. 25

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KINGSTON, R.I. – Feb. 19, 2009 – From the 1920s through the 1950s, Rhody the Ram was actually a live sheep, often tethered to a cheerleader on the Meade Stadium sidelines to keep his fury in check when opposing teams took the field.

But since the 1960s Rhody the Ram has been represented mainly by students dressed in a variety of Ram costumes, many of them scruffy. The costume has been tweaked a few times in recent years to give Rhody a more bulked up look. But while friendly enough, his facial expression was rather bland.

That will all change Wednesday, Feb. 25 at halftime of the men’s basketball game against the University of Dayton when the URI Alumni Relations Office and Department of Athletics unveil a new Rhody that reflects the optimism and big thinking of the state’s flagship University. Watch the Game online!

But Rhody’s new look is being kept as secret as this year’s Academy Award winners. So, you’ll have to make sure you get to the Ryan Center for the festivities. It’s also URI’s third annual Pink Out to raise money for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation, so it’s sure to be a packed house.

Robert Beagle, vice president for University Advancement, one of the committee members charged with developing a new look, said the suit that has been in use for the past few years is worn out and hard to keep clean.

Beagle said a new Rhody is a perfect complement to the new branding campaign, which carries the tagline, “Think Big. We Do.”

“One of the underlying themes of the brand is that URI is a big time school in a small, intimate environment,” Beagle said. “It’s important therefore that people see our mascot as being big time too. Plus, Rhody’s projection of warmth fits right into our caring, intimate community environment here.”

The process of developing a new Rhody costume began in July 2008 with the formation of a committee comprised of Gregg Burke, associate director of athletics, Jaclyn Muns, coordinator of marketing and promotions in Athletics, Brittany Manseau, program assistant in the Alumni Relations office, and Beagle.

“Brittany took the lead on this important project,” Beagle said. “There isn’t anyone more passionate about Rhody than Brittany. She was diligent and enthusiastic in getting this job done.”

URI Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn said the effort to develop a new look for Rhody came during an important time for the University.

“The timing for a new Rhody couldn’t be better,” Bjorn said. “As the University continues to move forward with its very effective, “Think Big. We Do” campaign, the new-look Rhody will help us continue to deliver a new and exciting message”.

URI alumnus Chip Amoe, who served as Rhody from 1992 through 1994, was honored to be asked to provide feedback to the committee.

He has a storehouse of memories from his time as Rhody, including walking around campus with President Robert L. Carothers to present faculty and staff with recognition awards, making the highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter after sparing with the University of Massachusetts Minuteman at the Providence Civic Center and goofing around with Bill Cosby during an Atlantic 10 tourney.

But his memories from 1993 when URI made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament stand out. “I was able to be Rhody in front of a huge national audience,” he said. “My Dad even booked a last-minute flight from Michigan to come down to see me at the game.

“I think people will be surprised, and I hope they will be excited about the new look,” Amoe said. “A lot of thought went into the new design and those of us who love URI and Rhody wanted to make sure it captured everything we love while modernizing him a bit. I hope everyone embraces the new Rhody as much, or even more, than the old one.”

URI alumna Cortney Nicolato, who pointed out that students take an oath to never reveal the mascot’s identity, said cryptically that she was in the mascot program from 1996 through 2000. She and her husband, Dave, also a former Rhody and Vice President Beagle developed the idea for the Rhody the Ram Endowment, which assists student mascot volunteers. The endowment now stands at $30,000.

“Among my fondest memories are showing up at an alum’s wedding or birthday,” Nicolato said. “Another had to be the entire 1999 A-10 basketball tourney. I remember calling my Dad every day saying, “We’re still in it; we’re playing great. And then watching Lamar Odom seal the deal was priceless.

“Rhody is the spirit of URI, whether he is cheering on the teams or playing with the kids, Rhody is there for it all and through it all.”

Manseau said Alumni Relations and Athletics worked hard to rekindle that spirit in developing the new suit. They hope the new look will help in recruiting volunteers.

“Our student volunteers need a costume that provided better mobility, visibility and ventilation,” Manseau said.

After the committee’s first meeting, Manseau contacted different mascot companies and other schools with a ram as their mascot. After receiving sketches of costumes from various companies, the committee chose Maydwell Mascots of Toronto, Canada, to make two new costumes.

“We made some changes to the facial expression and to the body size to give Rhody a more inviting and athletic look.”

By January, the group was examining swatches for the costumes’ fur and clothing, and making decisions on the lettering and design of the shirt. Production began Jan. 20, and two new suits arrived on campus under heavy security earlier this month.

“It’s going to be a fun, exciting night, and so I hope people come out and pack the Ryan Center to welcome Rhody, cheer on our great men’s team and support breast cancer research,” Manseau said.