College mascots play a pivotal role in defining their universities, from being symbols of school pride to representing the school at every athletic event. The UT mascot was chosen for us after we earned the name ‘Rockets’ at a football game 92 years ago.
According to the UT Athletics website, when the football team played Carnegie Tech in 1923, Pittsburgh sports writers were shocked to find out that UT did not have a nickname.
“Though an underdog, Toledo fought formidably, recovering a series of embarrassing fumbles by favored Tech. Pittsburgh writers pressed James Neal, a UT student working in the press box, to come up with a nickname,” the website said.
“Despite UT’s 32-12 loss, the student labeled the team ‘Skyrockets,’ obviously impressed by his alma mater’s flashy performance against a superior team. The sportswriters shortened the name to ‘Rockets,’ which has been used since.”
Rocky and Rocksy, our trusty mascots, didn’t just come from thin air — the UT mascot has had an interesting and ever-changing history.
Rocky the Rocket was first introduced during the 1966-67 academic year by the UT Spirit and Traditions Committee. It began as random students being chosen to dress up for the games as Rocky.
In the fall of 1968, the director of student activities, Dan Seemann, took Rocky under his wing, and the mascot began to take shape. Bill Navarre was the first official mascot. The costume, made by the theatre department seamstress, was a wastepaper basket with a pointed rocket top made of papier-mâché.
Rocky’s outfit has changed several times since then.
In the 1970s, Rocky’s outfit consisted of a tall metal rocket helmet that matched with different jumpsuits, including bell bottom pants.
In 1977, with the help of former astronaut and Ohio senator John Glenn, an authentic space suit, helmet and boots were donated to the University of Toledo by the NASA space center in Houston, Texas. The spacesuit was worn for football games, but a lightweight replica was made for basketball games.
The astronaut suits were used until 1980 when the Rocky costume was changed once again to take on a more futuristic look designed to look more like a space rocketeer.
Another Rocky costume was introduced in 1983. It was plush with huge feet, but was only used until 1986 when a bigger and bluer plush Rocky with smaller feet was unveiled.
Quite a few changes have been made to Rocky the Rocket through the years and one dramatic change was made by a UT student in 1994.
Carlos Gary, an IC cartoonist in 1994, said that students were throwing marshmallows at Rocky during a football game and were yelling that Rocky looked like “a blue condom.”
“This guy wasn’t very marketable,” Gary said. “You never saw Rocky on a T-shirt.”
After a few years of modification, Gary had created a “Fightin’ Rocket” and first came up with the idea of his female counterpart, Rocksy. It wasn’t long before these new mascots were being printed onto T-shirts and sweatshirts and being sold in campus bookshops; about 300 items had been sold at that point.
Gary struggled to get his idea launched and accepted by the university, but turned out to be more successful than he had ever imagined.
Although Gary’s idea of Rocksy was a hit, she was not actually made a mascot yet.
Rocksy was unveiled to the UT community at MusicFest in 2011 after a month-long online university poll was conducted.
Rocky the Rocket and the University of Toledo catapulted to national attention in 1996 when John Monnett, a UT senior who portrayed Rocky from 1995-96, fell overboard a cruise ship while on spring break in Puerto Rico. Monnett fell 77 feet and was swimming in the Atlantic Ocean for nine hours before finally reaching land four miles away from where he fell.
“It seemed like I had a higher purpose than to die in that little bay there,” Monnett told the New York Times.
More recently, Rocky, who’s real identity remains anonymous, faced another obstacle when he was involved in a car crash that placed him in UTMC three years ago.
Rocky suffered a head injury and broke the right side of his face. He had a spinal cord injury and sustained a concussion that caused memory loss.
Rocky was out of the hospital after a week and a half and did not sustain any physical repercussions from his injuries.
Not only has tragedy changed Rocky, but his appearance has changed too.
In 1998, at the rivalry Bowling Green football game, the old Rocky the Rocket stepped into a limousine and a new Rocky walked out to display the new Tower Blue and Rocket Gold costume, complete with a jetpack.
The UT athletics website said any student can try out to be Rocky in the spring semester for the following year. The only requirements are commitment, a fun personality, school spirit and the ability to communicate well through non-verbal communication.
Today, Rocky and Rocksy can be spotted at any UT football, basketball or volleyball game, as well as most other sporting events.