Column by Michael P. Wright
Citing evidence of hazing and alcohol abuse, University of Oklahoma officials announced in late October that current members of the Ruf-Neks, the male cheering squad known for blasting amplified shotguns at football games, were banned from official university events. Other than improper use of alcohol, abusive hazing practices in which Ruf-Neks are alleged to have engaged include “sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, demeaning actions and the potential for physical harm.”
OU president David Boren and Clarke Stroud, the former Ruf-Nek for whom Boren created the position of vice-president for student affairs, have indulged and even encouraged Ruf-Nek misconduct for years. Apparently, with memories of the 2004 death by alcohol poisoning of OU Sigma Chi pledge Blake Hammonfree still fresh on their minds, Boren and Stroud have become fearful that Ruf-Nek mischief might place another blemish of that magnitude on OU’s record unless they intervened.
Suddenly Boren, OU’s president since November 1994, is talking tough against this group, which has historically enjoyed favor. “The university has standards, and we are going to hold groups to those standards,” he said. “We will not tolerate any group that doesn’t respect the safety, dignity and well-being of individual students.”
For insight into Boren’s idea of “standards” and “dignity,” some recent Ruf-Nek history deserves examination. For several years, OU was annually publishing a brag book distributed to new freshmen and entitled What Possibilities. On page 58 of the 2004 edition there is a photo of Robin Mitchell, who in 1991 was president of the Ruf-Neks’ “Lil Sis” organization. The text accompanying the photo of Mitchell reports that she and Ruf-Nek president Brian Amy were in Monnet Hall and had crawled through the hatch of an elevator onto its roof. It also says that the two had “decided to leave their legacy in the form of a four-story Ruf-Neks paddle painted in the elevator shaft.”
Thirteen years later, OU physical plant employees discovered the “legacy.” John Lovett, assistant curator for the Western History Collections housed in that building, learned that “it was done during his tenure by none other than Robin and Brian.”
Did Lovett tell this jolly pair of pranksters that they had to pay for the damage? I e-mailed him and asked him this question. He has not replied.
Mitchell and Amy had been members of the privileged Ruf-Neks and “Lil Sis” group when they enjoyed this adventure. The article in the OU publication reports that they are now “both eager to share the story.” Further, Robin Mitchell became the wife of Clarke Stroud, and was appointed as the assistant to OU’s vice president for administrative affairs. Boren, identifying with the fictional criminal boss Don Vito Corleone, loves to speak fondly of the “OU Family.”
During the 2004 football season, the Ruf-Neks harassed the visiting Nebraska team mercilessly with tactics that were close to gang warfare. Near the Nebraska warm-up area, they disrupted the team’s activity by taunting and verbally abusing them, distracting them with shotgun noise, and filling the air with smoke.
Nebraska offensive lineman Darren DeLone collided with one of the Ruf-Nek noise aggressors and broke out two of his teeth. Later DeLone was tried on a felony charge of aggravated assault and battery, but was acquitted by a Cleveland County jury.
An ESPN article describes the Ruf-Neks’ use of their shotguns at the OU-Texas game: “Your eardrums are pounded by the screams of 75,587people and the blasts of the modified 12-gauge shotguns that the OU Ruf-Nek spirit group carries, though they will try NOT to put the barrel next to your earhole if you’re a Sooner.”
Go here for a photo of the Ruf-Nek shotguns. Observe the obscenity: http://students.ou.edu/M/Phillip.L.Mann-1/shotguns.jpg.
Boren’s idea of “dignity”?
Former Texas quarterback Peter Gardere describes his experience with the Ruf-Neks, when he was entering the field from the tunnel at the start of OU-Texas games. “I’d be running out, and the Ruf-Neks would be shooting off their popguns, or whatever those things are,” said Gardere. “They’d stick it right by my ear. Blam. Blam.”
Beginning in the 1980s, it became an annual tradition to allow the Ruf-Neks to paint the scores of the Texas game on the street west of OU’s South Oval. Then in the summer of 2006 Boren destroyed the street and had it replaced with a pedestrian walkway named for his multimillionaire friend Michael F. Price. After this, professionals were hired by OU to replicate the original Ruf-Nek markings on the mall southwest of the library near Elm Street.
In 2005, the Oklahoma Daily reported that an OU student, Patrick Frensley, was killed by a train while attempting to cross the tracks on Lindsey (April 7, 2005). He was out jogging, and detective Steve Lucas observed him sprint toward the track as the train was approaching. Lucas said “it was pretty clear that he was trying to beat the train.” On April 9, the Norman section of The Oklahoman reported that Frensley, described by his friends as an “avid athlete,” tried to cross the railroad tracks even though the crossing gates were down.
Frensley was both a Ruf-Nek and a fraternity member (Beta Theta Pi). One wonders whether Frensley was engaging in this insanity in order to satisfy the requirement of a hazing ritual.
For years before the 2004 Hammontree alcohol death at a Sigma Chi party, OU administrators also looked the other way at under-age and binge drinking in the fraternity houses. In December 2002 The Oklahoma Daily reported that two 19-year-old fraternity members were arrested with 2,100 cans of beer in their car while driving to a party at the Phi Gamma Delta house. Quoted in the Oklahoma Daily, Clarke Stroud called this unlawful activity an “isolated incident” and cautioned against making “a broad stereotype from it.”