Great horned owl training as KSU mascot
by Nikki Wiley
October 09, 2013 12:08 AM | 4863 views | 11 11 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KSU’s yet unnamed mascot at 14 weeks old.
KSU’s yet unnamed mascot at 14 weeks old.

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 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.”


Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 21, 2014
Using a bird of prey in this way is not hurtful. Birds of prey only fly for food, mating and migrating. They do not fly for fun. If you gave them a choice of sitting around and being cared for and fed well or fighting , freezing to death and starving to death. I am sure they would take being cared for. I think we need to put or energy on animals being abused and the well fair of our children
Owl biologist
October 10, 2013
Looks like the university can't ID birds, either - that's not a great horned owl but a juvenile Eurasian eagle owl, a species commonly held in captivity (and, unlike native birds, available for purchase from a licensed breeder). The orangish eye color, horizontal barring on the breast and dark vertical streaks below the neck are diagnostic.
Monteen McCord
October 10, 2013
This is NOT a Great horned owl. It's from the same genus (Bubo) but this bird is a Urasian AKA European Eagle owl, of which there are over a dozen sub species, none of which are native to this country.
ksu prof
October 09, 2013
As a KSU faculty member...I don't remember that any of the ksu community were involved in this decision. Only that we were invited to submit stupid names for this beautiful raptor. And do any of us really believe the statement that this majestic bird will "enjoy being the center of attention". Sounds a little self-serving coming from the person who got a signing bonus and will get paid an additional fee everytime the sad owl makes an appearance. And I am sure the owl enjoys watching videos of football players entering the stadium to screaming fans. I'm sure he is thinking.."how lucky I am to be caged and tethered with a flight harness so that I can one day be the center of attention. I'd rather do this than fly freely at night and live my owl life." Saddens and sickens me.
Mike Dias
October 09, 2013

Looks more like an Eurasian Eagle owl, but of greater concern is the fact that using a live mascot will be construed by some (many?) as animal cruelty.

October 09, 2013
You all are a bunch of hippies.
Mike In Smyrna
October 09, 2013
KSU has some very deep pockets - the back of the student body and the taxpayer. Why did the bird's trainer receive a signing bonus? The contract between the trainer and KSU should be public domain.
Wild things matter
October 09, 2013

Quoting the KSU official- " It’s all part of an effort to provide the “full experience as a college student” . NO!! It is all about taking wild things and abusing them.

“It’s about pride, it’s about brand, it’s about branding.” No, it is about plundering and pillaging wild things for human's pleasure and entertainment. Will the KSU community sit by and let this happen?

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Great horned owl training as KSU mascot
October 09, 2013
This is a crime! From a free "fluffy owlet" to a caged adult. When will we stop caging and dominating wild things for our own entertainment and sport. You all should be ashamed.

animal lover
October 09, 2013
What an awful for a beautiful creature to have to live. Instead of flying free as he should he's living caged to entertain sports fans.
Ann KSU community me
October 09, 2013
A LIVE owl is going to be KSU's mascot?! This is clearly not a well thought through decision. KSU does not need to waste money on a live mascot. Owls are wild animals and should not be used as play things for the entertainment of crowds at sporting events and as a promotional tool. As a member of the KSU community I am frankly embarrassed this choice was made and am very sad for the owl that has to suffer through this atrocity. Completely inappropriate!
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