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N E W S O F T H E U N I V E R S I T Y
|CAN YOU REMEMBER "U"?
The U of U plans to use more than whitewash this time around to spruce up the old "Block U."
It hasn't had a major face lift since the '60s and is rapidly eroding. Vandals have had their way with the symbol so often that a security guard is dispatched to stand watch each time the U is illuminated. Afterwards, each $125 globe is carefully removed. Making matters worse, an unidentified rodent family has taken up residence beneath the "Block U's" seismically unsound foundation.
Engineering and structural improvements call for installing a new drainage system that will direct water away from the "U" and into storm drains at the base of the mountain. "Soil anchors" will help to stabilize it. The surrounding hillside will be replanted with native grasses to inhibit further erosion. Best of all, the aging landmark will be outfitted with a new bulletproof fiber-optic lighting system, giving the refurbished U a brilliant new feature: a slow fade from white light to red. Surely, better than a fade to black.
Faculty, staff, and members of several student organizations are taking up the charge to secure the 91-year-old symbol of collegiate pride, launching a campaign for students and alumni. Those interested in helping secure the "Block U's" future can contact Marc Day, 581-6823, 201 South Presidents Circle, Room 304, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84112-9015.
Continuum is collecting photographs and essays about the "Block U," which will be printed and distributed to campaign contributors as a tribute to the Utah men and women who have maintained and revered it since '07. Readers with submissions should mail them to the above address.
SWOOP, THERE HE GOES
After three years as the Utes' pioneering sideline mascot, Jeff Winegar BS'98, formerly known as Swoop, turned over his tailfeathers to another student. As basketball fans anticipated the unveiling of the costumed character's true identity, Swoop, the man, worried: would his ex-girlfriend recognize him and discover his secret life as a Ute crowd-pleaser? The master of mascotry reminisced with Continuum about sacrificing his body for a scholarship and three years' worth of laughs.
Q: How did you wind up as the Utes' new mascot?
Swoop: They had tryouts and invited me. I had been a mascot before a chicken at Derks Field.
Q: Were you nervous?
Swoop: Not really. I had my panel stacked. Bear was there, and other mascots I knew from out of town. There was this kid in the audience that I really connected with, and the judges liked that. Turns out it was the son of a guy I was competing against. He was there to cheer for his dad.
Q: Was the competition tough?
Swoop: There was a lot of great talent there. They had a clown come in. He was a great clown. He juggled and juggled and juggled and juggled. His juggling was just incredible. But there's just a huge difference between being a clown and being a mascot. You juggle once, and then what are you going to do the next game? You've got to have the whole package.
Q: What if fans give you a hard time?
Swoop: Call me a chicken and you get thumped.
Q: What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you as Swoop?
Swoop: There was this really nice Swoop fan who was bald, and at games I would always go shine his head. One time I saw the guy at a restaurant, so I went to see him and his family. I just forgot that I was out of costume, so I go up and start rubbing his head. When I realized what I was doing, I said, ÔSorry, I thought you were a friend of mine,' and left.
Q: That's it? Shining a bald guy's head in public?
Swoop: Then there was the time at the pep rally for the Final Four when I was dancing with Mayor Corradini. We were swinging, and I flung her around and threw her up into a flip. Afterwards one of the cheerleaders said to me, ÔI can't believe you flipped the mayor.'
Q: What was it like running around in that heavy costume?
Swoop: I probably killed a lot of brain cells breathing all kinds of fumes inside that mask, and I lost five to ten pounds a game. But it's cool because it's more athletic than 90 percent of other mascots' costumes. A lot of them have big huge furry feet. They can't run. Or they have helmets, so they can't see. I always know I can win when other mascots want to play football.
Q: Will you tell your grandkids about the job you had in college?
Swoop: Sure. I have all the newspaper clippings. My highlight reel. And my trophy from the [United Cheer Association] National Mascot Championship in 1997. That was a turning point for Swoop.
Q: Has it ever helped get a date?
Swoop: No, not really...then again, it started the conversation between me and my wife.
Q: Did it ever help you earn an "A?"
Swoop: I never told any of my professors. When I traveled for games, I told my teachers I was a trainer, or [Athletics Marketing Director] Marc Amicone's assistant, or a cheerleader, or a cheerleader's trainer, or a cheerleader's travel agent. Or the equipment manager.
Q: Why not tell them?
Swoop: You don't talk and you don't let people know who you are when you're Swoop. It's the code of mascots. My wife's family didn't know until a couple of days before our wedding.
Q: Are you interested in being a mascot after college?
Swoop: The only way you can really make a good career out of it is to go into the NBA. The Pacers asked me to try out, but it was finals week, and before I could get there they went ahead and picked a Bud Light Daredevil.
Q: So you've given up on it?
Swoop: There are three jobs I'd take. Rocky with the Nuggets he's some kind of cat. The Sonics. Or the Jazz. But I know all three of their mascots, and they're not planning on going anywhere soon.
Q: What makes you better than Cosmo?
Swoop: I'm a Ute.
NEW FACULTY BRINGS GYMNASTS UP FOR AIR
Utah's gymnasts, including five returning All-Americans, emerged last January from the depths of HPER's recesses into the light of the airy new Women's Gymnastics Training Center. The training gymnasium enables the gymnasts to bring all aspects of their training to one locale, where pedestrians on the adjacent east-west walking mall can watch the team vault into another year's competition. The 13,000-square-foot training gym features three six-foot-deep pits filled with cubes of foam to ensure soft landings for the student-athletes. It also is intended to help Utah stick the landings of gymnasts it wants to recruit.
"Having one of the nicest training facilities in the country makes a statement that the University and the community have made a very big commitment to the gymnastics program," says Coach Greg Marsden. Most of the U's top competitors Georgia,
|Alabama, Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State all have dedicated gymnastics
facilities. "Recruits would come here and they would clearly be disappointed
after comparing ours with other facilities," Marsden adds.
The $1.9-million cost of the building is being funded through private donations. University supporters Katharine White Dumke BS'51 and her husband Zeke Jr. BA'50 contributed $1 million toward the cost of the facility.
BREAKAWAY CREW REBOUNDS FROM TOUGH WAC BREAKUP
Utah, BYU, and their compatriots didn't make a lot of friends by bolting from the Western Athletic Conference. For the remaining Division I-A schools, the announcement by half of the WAC's presidents that they would go it on their own dropped like a last-second field-goal attempt clanking off the uprights. For some, it was a real affront, resulting in accusations of poor sportsmanship on behalf of the departing schools.
The remaining WAC schools had to petition to retain their automatic bids for the men's and women's 1999 NCAA basketball tournament, and league officials say it looks as though their unsuccessful efforts mean they'll have to settle for at-large slots until 2000. Now the defectors are dogged with a heartbreaker reputation as they face the challenges of building the new Mountain West Conference. Joining Brigham Young and Utah in their July 1 departure from the biggest little conference in the nation are Colorado State, Air Force, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, New Mexico, San Diego State, and Wyoming. The breakaway crew is in the process of rapidly establishing a new identity for the group that Texas Christian University Athletic Director Eric Hyman calls "the Malcontent Eight."
Perhaps the angriest of the former foes is President Kenneth Mortimer, who stopped just short of calling for an all-out investigation of the defecting schools for jilting the University of Hawaii. "The people of Utah have legitimate issues to raise regarding the ethics and morality of the way this was handled," he seethed. "I don't think this is the way for university presidents to behave."
Not only did the WAC split put an end to a friendly rivalry that has existed between Hawaii and Utah since 1926 (a match in Honolulu that resulted in a 17-7 win for Utah), the announcement of the departure was made last May without the University of Hawaii receiving advance notice.
Both Utah President Bernie Machen and BYU President Merrill Bateman regret that. "We did go about notifying the other presidents in a gentlemanly way before it was announced. One president was not contacted ahead of time. That was Hawaii's," Bateman explains.
Not that there is anything personal against Hawaii, Machen notes. The Aloha State's greatest asset location excluded it from inclusion in the new league.
Machen says that rising travel costs were contributing to the big WAC's insurmountable financial problems. In 1996, the league was expanded to include 16 schools, two divisions, and four quadrants, spanning nine states and five time zones. Machen points out that what he inherited simply had to be fixed. "We looked at the assumptions that were in place when they formed the original 16-member WAC, and realized those assumptions had not been accurate." More teams were supposed to have meant a greater number of fans and viewers, which in turn was supposed to have drawn more revenue. Instead, boosters, broadcasters, and College Football's Bowl Alliance scorned the unwieldy WAC.
The schools that initiated the great divide each expect to triple their current annual TV earnings with a lucrative contract struck with ESPN and ABC. Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill MED'74 PhD'82 is positively glowing over the $48-million, seven-year deal. By comparison, revenue in the WAC was divided 16 ways. Each school wound up with about $300,000 a year. Beginning in July, the eight charter schools in the Mountain West Conference will each earn $850,000 annually for television rights to football and basketball games.
That is just one of the signs that the Utes' new conference may be on a roll.
Taking advantage of a new precedent set by the Big 12, the fledgling league already has secured automatic men's and women's basketball bids from the NCAA. (Association rules had held that a league must have at least six of the same members for five consecutive years to earn an automatic bid.) Hiring Craig Thompson, a member of the powerful NCAA Division-1 Men's Basketball Committee, to head the MWC may have helped smooth the way.
With only eight teams in the new league, there will be no football playoffs. Securing access to post-season football is another matter altogether. The upstarts have a practical strategy: if no one will have us, we'll organize our own bowl, says Hill. "That's just what the old WAC did with the Holiday Bowl. Only this time, we'll want to make sure that we can keep it." The MWC may or may not hold a year-end basketball tourney of the ilk Coach Majerus so despises. Since every other league but the Pac-10 has conference playoffs as part of its basketball championships, the Runnin' Utes aren't likely to escape that convention.
Machen is playing an important role in shaping up the MWC's roster. He was among the group of presidents who selected its commissioner, former Sun Belt leader Craig Thompson. And formation of the new league provided Machen an entre to issue some maverick challenges that are still hanging in the air like a halfcourt heave. They include scheduling tougher non-conference football foes, improving the conference's stature within the NCAA, increasing revenues, adding more athletic programs (particularly for women's sports), and the clincher: "bringing all of our facilities up to the top level." Easy for Utah to say, with its shiny new Rice-Eccles Stadium already built. But Machen hopes to secure a similar pledge for capital improvement from some fellow presidents. "In three to five years, we might have to make decisions about whether certain schools can stay in the league if they don't come up with some commitment to improve facilities," he challenges.
So it's full steam ahead for the courageous lot. Conference headquarters have been established in Colorado Springs, with Thompson at the helm, aided by Colorado State University President Albert Yates as president and treasurer. Well aware of the rift around him, Thompson and his growing staff are committed to looking forward. "I can appreciate the angst the others feel," remarks Thompson. "This league has always had integrity and worked closely together, and you don't often find that in a world so prone to expansion." Working together to make their athletics programs respectable and competitive is exactly what the new Mountain West Conference members would like to do. And though he knows the hard feelings aren't going to go away anytime soon, Machen would also like to provide one point of clarification. "I did not murder the WAC," he says. "I took my marbles and decided to go somewhere else."
GOOD GUYS WEAR RED
The University of Utah lost one of its most ardent supporters with the death of Kenneth P. Burbidge, Jr., 68, BS'55. A true "Utah Man," he was a member of the University of Utah Board of Trustees from 1993 until his death on December 18, 1998. His involvement as a consummate leader of his alma mater lasted more than 50 years, noted University of Utah Vice President for Development, J. Michael Mattsson BS'60. "Few people understand what the University of Utah means to this community the way that Ken Burbidge did," says Mattsson. Friends and family members wore red to Burbidge's memorial service in honor of his University ties.
Burbidge recently co-chaired fund-raising efforts on behalf of the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles football stadium. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the U of U, and in October 1995 Burbidge became the recipient of the tenth lung transplant performed at University Hospital. Ken and his wife, Sally Rich Burbidge BA'52, wanted to help others with pulmonary disease and so established an endowment fund for pulmonary medicine and lung transplantation at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. The Alumni House's Burbidge Board Room is also named in their honor. Ken's support for his beloved Utes resulted in a gift of $1 million to the Athletic Department to build the Kenneth P. Burbidge, Jr., Family Athletics Academic Center.
He was vice president and manager of Dean Witter Reynolds in Salt Lake City until he retired in 1993.
V O I C E S
|"Unfortunately, older people think of public service
as that noxious IRS or the post office. We wouldn't be where we are today
if not for public service. Look at all that public servants have done for
Rocco Siciliano BA'44, in remarks preceding the second annual Rocco C. Siciliano "Considerations on the Status of the American Society" Forum.
"You'd be surprised how many students seek accommodations for disabilities
for math stress. By providing reasonable accommodations to perform essential
functions, all we're doing is leveling the playing field for students."
"By displaying art in openings visible from the outside, and with ample signage,
the building will be very recognizable for what it is. I believe it will
be strong, it will be memorable, and it will be loved."
"We live in a dispirited era in contemporary architecture. Most architects
would design a building with a tenuous relationship to its site and context.
We sought a partner who would not shy away from creating a monumental building.
Few would try."
"Professors aren't schooled in the ways of technology."
"Whether God or Satan will rule is not what's at stake in an American election.
That makes politics less interesting, and less dangerous, and hence less
exciting than it would be otherwise."
"I haven't finished the job I came to start at the U."
I N M E M O R I A M
|Robert Regan Edminster, 82, a professor of economics
at the University of Utah. He served on the faculty for more than 35 years.
Harold Whitney Felt, 73, BS'48, president-elect of the Emeritus Alumni Board, was a businessman with Felt-Buchorn Gifts who gave service to the Utah community on the boards of the Utah Museum of Natural History, Crimson Club, and the Salt Lake Lions Club for 16 years.
Foley C. Richards, 76, BS'48 was also a member of the Emeritus Alumni Association Board. He was a skier at Alta for more than 60 years and active in Salt Lake City business for more than 30 years.
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