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Original SRU mascot attends alumni week, reunites with costume made by his mother

Rocky the Rock, Slippery Rock University’s mascot from yesteryear, is making a comeback. Submitted photo

Growing up in State College in the 1960s, Bob Jones’ family were Penn State University season ticket holders, and attended every home football game.

Like many children, Jones was more interested in watching the energetic and amusing antics of the Nittany Lion mascot.

With those memories dancing in his head, Jones looked forward to attending games at then-Slippery Rock State College upon arrival at the school as a freshman.

“I went to my first Slippery Rock game in 1978,” Jones said. “There was no mascot.”

Because his late father, Richard Jones, was then the superintendent at the Moniteau School District, the father and son were able to enjoy a meal together each week.

“I said ‘Dad, there’s no mascot at Slippery Rock,’” Jones recalled, “so he said ‘Why don’t you start one?’”

At that inconsequential dinner was born an idea that would result in a historical and homemade Rocky the Rock costume preserved in a 7-foot sealed Plexiglas case in a place of honor at SRU’s Bailey Library 45 years later.

Birth of a mascot

On Friday, June 23, a meet-and-greet with Jones was held at the Alumni Weekend Open House in the university archives in Bailey Library.

There, Jones discussed the origin of Rocky the Rock and the grassroots effort to reinstate the ingenious mascot at the university.

Sara Dickensheets, library assistant at Bailey Library, created an homage to the original Rocky the Rock that was visited by graduates during the open house.

Memorabilia — pictures, yearbooks from the retired mascot’s reign and video footage of Jones talking about his stint as Rocky — were on display.

Jones explained that at the dinner 45 years ago, he and his father sketched a crude iteration on a napkin of a potential mascot.

“Slippery Rock is a unique name, and I wanted a unique mascot to match it,” he said.

Figuring dogs, bears, lions and other animals were overused in the mascot game, Jones decided the Slippery Rock State College mascot should be an actual rock.

“No eyes, no mouth, no gender, just a neutral rock that was playful,” Jones said.

His mother, a talented seamstress, made a pattern for the costume and found double knit fabric in Pittsburgh that is normally used for men's’ suits at the time.

“She made this from the sketch,” Jones said, pointing to his old costume in the display case.

A now-vintage tassel cap of SRU green and white sits atop a head made from a Moniteau Warriors football helmet covered in fabric. The mascot does have eyes, and the stuffed torso, arms and legs are made of the suit material chosen by Jones’ mother. The mascot wears a cropped, green Slippery Rock T-shirt; green and white mittens; and sneakers with a green stripe.

“It took two weeks to make,” Jones said.

Becoming Rocky the Rock

The first time Jones slipped into the Rocky costume was in the parking lot at an away football game versus California University of Pennsylvania.

He hadn’t bothered to ask any Slippery Rock State College officials if he could be the school mascot.

“I just showed up like I owned the place,” said Jones, whose hair now closely matches the white of the original Rocky the Rock costume. “I walked through the tunnel and out onto the field.”

For a year or two, Jones attended every home and away football and basketball game as Rocky at his own expense, and attempted to emulate the amusing and energetic Nittany Lion mascot he recalled from his youth.

“I wanted to entertain, but not be a cheerleader,” Jones said. “I would find funny interactions to have and I always kept moving.”

He did react when The Rock scored a touchdown, field goal or clutch basket.

“I was pretty active behind the goal posts,” Jones said.

During the first year or two, no one bothered to question the appearance of the new mascot, or even whether the student inside had bothered to have it approved.

Eventually, Herb Reinhard, the college’s president at the time, approached Rocky at a basketball game and instructed Jones to be in his office the following Monday morning.

“So I showed up in my Rocky costume,” said Jones.

Instead of a dressing-down, Reinhard told Jones the college wanted to adopt Rocky as their official mascot.

“He put all the wheels in motion,” Jones said.

Officially SRU

The school secured a copyright on the mascot, and Jones’ job changed from a lark to an official position.

“They started giving me travel expenses,” Jones recalled.

After his father died, Jones told the college president that he had to transfer to Indiana University of Pennsylvania to take advantage of the free tuition there, as his mother was an employee.

Instead, Reinhard secured a full scholarship and living expenses — plus increased travel expenses as Rocky — for Jones at Slippery Rock.

After graduation, Jones took the original Rocky costume with him, and the college had replicas made using sweatsuit material.

The gray rock was Slippery Rock’s mascot until 1997, when an admissions director decided the mascot should replicate the concrete lions that guard a set of steps on campus.

The first Rocky, the Pride of the Rock lion costume, which was a fierce iteration, appeared in 2000. It also rests behind Plexiglas in the university archives at Bailey Library.

A more friendly lion costume was created in 2007, and it continues pumping up the crowd at today’s games and events.

“So now, we have something very normal,” said Jones. “It takes the uniqueness away from the school name.”

He said a groundswell of support has been ongoing to go back to the rock-themed mascot, but the university has yet to relent.

“Rocky 1, SRU’s mascot from the early 1980s through 2000, looked like a rock, but didn’t fully represent the pride we have at SRU,” says the university’s website.

“As of right now, we are not considering bringing back the old Rocky,” said Justin Zackal, interim assistant director of communications at SRU. “He is a retired mascot.”

No hard feelings about the difference in opinion exist between Jones and Slippery Rock officials, who are delighted Jones donated the original costume in 2016 and always welcome him to campus with open arms.

‘The rock is authentic’

Jones enjoyed talking to fellow alumni on Friday, June 23, at the Rocky the Rock display and reliving the good times he had while a student at the university 40 years ago.

Alumni enjoyed the Rocky-themed items in the archive room and the display case in the library that held the original pattern for Rocky, the mascot’s green winter and summer mittens, and a letter from the class of 1983 nominating Rocky for homecoming court, which he did not win.

The current lion mascot even showed up to support his predecessor, and made a heart symbol with his hands when asked how he feels about the original Rocky the Rock mascot.

Jodi Shaffer, of Lawrence County, Class of 1989, and Nancy Malinski, of Butler Township, Class of 1993, wore white T-shirts depicting the original Rocky the Rock to the archive room to meet Jones.

“We boycotted the lion,” Shaffer said. “We refused to accept him and refused to take pictures with him at alumni week last year.

“The rock is authentic. It represents Slippery Rock.”

Shaffer played clarinet in the marching band while at Slippery Rock, so she saw a lot of Rocky.

Malinski said the pair comes to Alumni Week every year.

This year, she was thrilled to meet the original Rocky the Rock, whose antics entertained legions of Slippery Rock football and basketball fans over the years.

“He was so nice,” Malinski said. “I can’t believe he agreed to spend the whole day here and shake hands with people.”

On Friday, June 23, 2023, Bob Jones, the original Rocky the Rock mascot at Slippery Rock University, and Judy Loney Silva, assistant professor at Bailey Library, where she serves as arts librarian and archivist, look at some photos from an SRU football game that was one of ESPN's first broadcasts. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
On Friday, June 23, 2023, Bob Jones, the original Rocky the Rock mascot at Slippery Rock University, stands with his old mascot outfit, which is on display at Bailey Library. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Bob Jones, the original Rocky the Rock mascot at Slippery Rock University, signs some autographs Friday morning, June 23, 2023, at Bailey Library. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
Bob Jones, the original Rocky the Rock mascot at Slippery Rock University, looks over a table of memorabilia Friday morning, June 23, 2023, at Bailey Library. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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