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Masked Rider Ashley Hartzog gives the guns up sign atop Midnight Matador. The Masked Rider became a permanent Texas Tech tradition in the 1954 Gator Bowl, while the guns up sign is a relatively new tradition that began in the 1970s.

It's tradition

Guns Up sign, Goin' Band, Masked Rider all key elements of Tech's spirit

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Don Richards remembers when the “Guns Up” signal hadn’t even received the thumbs up from Texas Tech.

The idea crossed Richards’ desk in the form of letter a when he was editor of Tech’s student newspaper, The University Daily, in the early 1970s. The correspondence, from a Tech graduate attending law school, included a drawing of a hand with a gun.

“I remember thinking that if we held up our hands like kids making guns, people would laugh at us,” Richards said. “We ran a picture of it in The University Daily, and I remember some saying this is a good idea.”

It was more than that. It was the genesis of one of Tech’s best-known traditions.

“Traditions are part of a school’s identity,” said Jean Ann Cantore, editor of the Tech Techsan, a publication of the Tech Alumni Association. “People who did not go to school here are familiar with Tech’s traditions. They know what the ‘Guns Up’ sign is, even if they have never set foot in Lubbock, Texas.”

With more than 80 years of history behind it, Tech is known for a number of traditions that help connect former students with current and future Red Raiders.

“Tradition gives a university name equity,” said Keith Bearden, former longtime director of the Goin’ Band from Raiderland, the school’s marching band. “Tradition is something that brings the university community together and gives it cohesiveness.”

The Goin’ Band, which debuted in 1925 with 21 members in Matador uniforms, has grown in size, stature and reputation in the ensuing years.

The Goin' Band from Raiderland is one of the more popular traditions at Texas Tech football games.

“Tech was one of the early universities to have a band,” said Bearden, who retired in 2003 after 23 years at the helm of the Goin’ Band. “It was one of the first bands to travel and to do so many other different things. It’s a collegiate thing. If you go to a pro game, you get a lot of the JumboTron. The collegiate game has always had a different environment, a different setting, and that is part of the tradition.”

Bearden said the band provides more than mere entertainment.

“(Former director) Dean Killion was my predecessor, and he was there 21 years,” he said. “I learned everything I knew from him. The Goin’ Band is a great tradition that is being carried on. Students from all over the state are in the band, and it is highly respected nationally. I’m glad it’s still going strong.

“When the band comes out of the ramps, a tradition that started with Mr. Killion, it became a traditional entrance to the stadium. It gets the crowd pumped up. It’s a very exciting entrance to the game.”

Cantore said the university spends time and effort educating incoming students about Tech traditions, their origins and their importance.

“I think, in general, the traditions speak for themselves, but students who are coming to Tech are educated about our traditions at Red Raider Camp,” she said, referring to an orientation session held at the Tech campus in Junction each year. “They learn about the school song, the Carol of Lights and many others. It’s a nice way to educate them, and it fires up students.”

The Carol of Lights, which began in 1959, is another popular tradition that dictates the buildings on the Broadway entrance to Memorial Circle, the Science Quadrangle and the Engineering Key are decorated with red, white and yellow Christmas lights. Traditionally, the event begins the first Friday in December and continues throughout the month.

“It’s a very important tradition,” Cantore said. “It’s one that enjoys a lot of involvement from the community as well as one that everyone on campus is a part of.”

Cantore said Tech is known for traditions that will always stand out in the minds of people familiar and unfamiliar with the school.

“I think the Masked Rider is a special tradition for Tech because it’s unique,” she said. “People love the Masked Rider. It symbolizes a lot of things for people, and I think it’s thrilling. I’ve been around it my whole life, and it never gets old.”

According to “Tech Traditions,” an alumni publication, the tradition dates to September 1936. Called Ghost Riders because their identities were unknown, riders on horseback would mysteriously appear at home football games, circle the field and vanish.

The tradition became official several decades later. The first Masked Rider was Joe Kirk Fulton, who led the team on the field for the 1954 Gator Bowl. Atlanta sports writer Ed Dansforth wrote after the game, “No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance.” It didn’t hurt that the Raiders went on to pummel Auburn 35-13.

“It was exciting, obviously,” Fulton said of his dramatic ride on the horse named Blackie. “I don’t think Coach (DeWitt) Weaver had any idea it would go over like it did.

“But the fact that it took off like it did is something that makes me very proud.”

Richards, a Lubbock attorney with two degrees from Tech, has similar feelings about another longtime Tech tradition — the Saddle Tramps. He was a member of the student spirit organization from 1970-72.

“To me, there is no other organization like the Saddle Tramps,” he said. “I think a lot of the other schools in the conference have tried to copy it because it’s been such a long-term, successful organization for providing support.”

Richards said the Saddle Tramps are involved in aspects of campus life beyond the athletic realm.

“They’ve been involved in general academic recruiting, tours of the campus for students,” he said. “I remember doing a tour for a visiting foreign dignitary once. The Saddle Tramps are involved in a lot of activities that support the traditions of Tech.”

Those traditions are the ties that bind a university’s constituency.

“When people participate in traditions and embrace traditions, it makes them feel like a part of the Texas Tech community,” Cantore said. “It is fun to stand there with your ‘Guns Up’ and sing. It’s something special.”

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