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Sculpture, new tradition add to gameday spirit

Bronze eagle "Spirki" at UNT Apogee Stadium

(Editor's note: The Mean Green bested Florida Atlantic 31-17, the team's second win at Apogee Stadium. Learn more, buy tickets for the Oct. 22 Homecoming game.)

It all started with a simple question. Why isn’t there an eagle in Fouts Field?

Alumnus James Stinson was at a Dallas restaurant in the summer of 2008 with five other members of the Geezles, a social fraternity full of former UNT athletes that disbanded in 1970.

“I said it was a shame,” Stinson said. “When we were in school, our fraternity house had a big eagle. We decided that we should see about getting an eagle for the new stadium.”

That discussion hatched a project that came to fruition this fall. When Apogee Stadium opened Sept. 10, a bronze eagle with a fierce gaze was perched near the south end zone at the team entrance to the field. The bird recognizes the rich history of the Geezles, who hope the sculpture will help set the tone for the football program. The fraternity, which includes former NFL players Ray Renfro, legendary coaches such as G.A. Moore and community figures such as John Guyer and Billy Ryan, raised money for the statue.

Spiriki, the bronze spirit eagle, UNT Apogee StadiumThe bronze eagle bust is about 5 feet tall and weighs around 225 pounds. It was created by wildlife sculptor Kent Ullberg after the Geezles raised $150,000. The eagle’s name is Spiriki, an old fraternity greeting members believe is the combination of the word spirit and kee, the cry of an attacking eagle.

The Geezles challenged the team to start a new tradition of touching the statue on the way to the field before games, much like Clemson University players touch Howard’s Rock, named for legendary coach Frank Howard, before games at Clemson Memorial Stadium.  

“One thing you will never find a Geezle doing is quitting,” Stinson said. “We may get our butts beat, but we don’t quit. That is what this eagle represents to us. When you run out on to that field and touch that eagle, you are making a pledge to yourself, your teammates and the student body that you will do your very best.  This creates a whole new tradition, and we hope it will be a good one.”

The Mean Green play Florida Atlantic at 6 p.m. Oct. 8, the third game in Apogee Stadium. Wear your green garb and Green Out the stadium.

The Geezles started out as a five-man fraternity in 1927. Stinson said no one is sure where the name came from, but the group quickly grew into a prominent fraternity that counted several athletes as members. The fraternity no longer exists, but former members remain active in the UNT community.

C. Dan Smith went on to become the chairman of the UNT System Board of Regents, while Don C. Potts became chair of the investment committee of the UNT Foundation, and was appointed a regent in September. Several former Geezles often attend the school’s annual athletic Hall of Fame Breakfast, which will be Oct. 22 during Homecoming weekend. 

The group approached Director of Athletics Rick Villarreal about the idea of incorporating an eagle at the new stadium. “We wanted to do something for the tradition of the Geezles, something tangible,” said John Pettit, a member of the fraternity and a former professor.

“We made the decision as a committee to have a bust that will be a part of our game-day tradition,” Villarreal said. It will be special since it will tie the past to the future.”

The Geezles raised nearly $150,000, which was enough to fund the project.  The group then contacted alumnus and art agent Tony Altermann, and Robert Milnes, dean of the College of Visual Art and Design.

Altermann suggested Kent Ullberg, an artist known for his wildlife sculptures, to design the statue. Milnes is the chair of UNT’s Art in Public Places committee that must approve of all works of art created on campus. The committee approved the project. Kent Ullberg’s sculptures are of an international caliber and the statue will be in a unique place, said Milnes. “It will be our eagle. He captured a spirit the team wants to convey, and it will be a nice piece in and of itself.”

The Geezles believe the statue conveys the attitude the fraternity fostered in its time at UNT.

“It’s looking slightly to the visitor’s side of the stadium,” Stinson said. “It’s sending a message that we are going to claw your booty from one end of the field to the other. That was the look we wanted.”

The group also wanted a way for members of the fraternity to be remembered in the new stadium. Plaques installed along with the statue explain the story of the Geezle fraternity and list names of 186 donors or those who had money donated in their honor. All but three of those donors are Geezles.

“There are very few Geezles left who are not eligible for Social Security,” Stinson said. “The idea is that we are leaving something behind for the university.” – Researched by Elyce Franks, assistant to the dean, College of Visual Art and Design

Photos, above, Head Coach Dan McCarney leads the Mean Green on the field at the Sept. 24 game; below, the eagle was introduced on Mean Green Media Day.

Spiriki bronze eagle at Fall 2011 Media Day

(Photos by Gary Payne and Michael Clements) 

Posted on: Thu 06 October 2011

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