He doesn’t have a name yet, but a great horned owl is training to become the next face of Kennesaw State University.
The university, celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, is adding a live mascot to its repertoire.
The idea began a few years ago, said Athletic Director Vaughn Williams, and the discussion was renewed when the school’s football program was announced. KSU will have its first football game in 2015.
“This past winter after we were so fortunate to get football approved we thought it was once again a perfect time to start the process,” Williams said.
The owl won’t just make an appearance every now and then at a sporting event.
“It’s not just an athletic thing,” Williams said. “It’s a university live mascot.”
The decision to bring on a live mascot was made by Williams and KSU President Dan Papp.
Williams believes the mascot will be a point of pride for the university. The bird hatched as a fluffy owlet, but now the raptor displays a fierce appearance he called “graceful but vicious.”
“The owl tells a story not only about being wise, but they’re also a predator bird and I don’t think people know that,” Williams said.
It’s all part of an effort to provide the “full experience as a college student” and is a testament to the quick growth the school has seen in recent years, Williams said.
“We had our fight song added a year and a half ago, we’ve got our live mascot coming, we’ve defined our colors,” Williams said. “It’s about pride, it’s about brand, it’s about branding.”
The school’s suited mascot, Scrappy, was designed in 1996.
The un-named mascot will have a moniker when he makes his debut on the second annual “Flight Night” at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19, at the KSU Convocation Center.
About 600 entries were received in a contest to name the owl. Those entries have been narrowed to seven options. Votes can be cast at ksuowls.com/nametheowl until Wednesday, Oct. 16.
Williams says he wants to get the community involved and has seen a good response.
“I think this live mascot is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Williams said.
Training to be the face of KSU
Hatched in New York, the owl now lives at Winding Wood Ranch in Commerce, about 80 miles northeast of Kennesaw under the care of bird trainer Daniel Walthers.
The ranch is a 36-acre farm home to a variety of fowl including ravens, crows, parrots and owls. KSU’s owl will travel from Commerce to the university to make appearances on campus.
Walthers has a contract with the school and pays for the owl’s training and care out of his personal finances. He declined to provide the amount of his contract for this story but said he received a signing bonus and is paid per event.
Walthers is no stranger to training animals. Rise and Conquer, the Baltimore Ravens’ two live mascots, are a product of his teaching. He’s also trained birds for movies and commercials.
He says training the mascot means getting him used to things that are commonplace for sports fans, like pom poms, blow horns and fireworks. Walthers is exposing the bird to people and has shown him videos of the Baltimore Ravens entering the field.
“If I didn’t do that at this stage, it would be very difficult to take him on the field and be comfortable,” Walthers said.
Eventually, he said, the bird will look forward to being in the center of attention.
Walthers flies the owl every day to keep him in shape but said it will take some time before the feathered mascot will be able to fly across a field during an event.
Live mascots can be a popular aspect of school pride. At Georgia Southern University in southeast Georgia, the school’s live eagle mascot, Freedom, flies across its field at graduations and sporting events.
Walthers hopes the mascot becomes more than just a symbol of the university. He wants the owl to an educational tool.
“Most people don’t get a chance to see them,” Walthers said. “Doing something like this is such a great platform for education.”