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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Big Blue Immortalized in Bronze; ODU Ushering in a New University Tradition

Old Dominion University loves its mascot, Big Blue.

At a packed celebration on Friday, Oct. 4, a 7-foot-tall bronze likeness of Big Blue was unveiled in Webb Center. The idea for the statue, the work of Virginia Beach sculptor Richard Stravitz, was conceived by members of ODU's Student Government Association (SGA) after seeing a similar statue at another university. The SGA leaders hoped to start a new tradition to go along with the statue.

Now that the bronze Big Blue stands sentry over Webb Center, looking out on Kaufman Mall, SGA leaders announced that tradition: as students start their career at ODU, each student will take their picture with Big Blue to mark the beginning of their Monarch journey.

Throughout their journey, ODU students are encouraged to revisit the statue and rub Blue's belly so as to bring wealth, good luck and prosperity. Four years later, students will again take their picture with Big Blue as part of their graduation celebration.

"This is a very exciting day for Old Dominion University," said President John R. Broderick. "For our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends to be able to see Big Blue immortalized, and take a picture with the statue and touch it for luck, makes this a very proud day to be a Monarch."

The statue unveiling was attended by hundreds of Big Blue fans, who crammed into the center lobby of Webb Center, cheering wildly when the blue curtain was pulled back, unveiling the bronze statue. It followed a week when passersby heard what sounded like roars and whimpers emanating from a large wooden box in Webb Center, with a guessing game springing up about what the box contained.

The Monarch symbol of a lion wearing a royal crown, a university tradition since the early 1970s, is representative of a historic past and a strong future. The selection of the Monarch name itself dates to 1961, the year before Old Dominion became an independent, four-year institution.

Big Blue, the king of the jungle manifestation of the school mascot, has become an absolute star through his playful antics at football and basketball games and many other events around campus.

In January 2011, after a frenzied fall of online voting, ODU fans helped ensure Big Blue's selection as Capital One Mascot of the Year; Blue received nearly 2 million votes in the competition against 15 other mascots, from schools such as Oregon, LSU and Ohio State.

The idea for a statue came about last year after outgoing SGA President Luis Ferreira and Vice President Fred Tugas toured the student union at Ohio State, where a statue of the OSU mascot, Brutus, is prominently displayed. "Big Blue's charisma and energy are part of a shared student body experience that brings us all closer to our university," Ferreira said of the plan to erect a statue in Blue's honor.

Joshua Darr, former program assistant with the Office of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services (SEES), said it's important for a young university such as ODU to grow its campus traditions.

"As an initiative from the students, the Big Blue statue represents the ability students have to shape and change the university while creating their own unique experience as a Monarch," Darr said.

SGA, SEES and Webb Center commissioned the statue, with the support of the ODU administration.

For the artist, creating Big Blue was a labor of love. "It was quite a challenge to take a beloved mascot, especially one that is 7 feet tall, and design a bronze statue that will resonate with all the audiences that recognize and appreciate him," said Stravitz, a master sculptor and former Marine.

It took months of work - by Stravitz in his Virginia Beach studio and casters at Carolina Bronze - to make a statue truly worthy of Big Blue's outsized personality. "I am excited that the unveiling occurred during Homecoming and hope Monarchs everywhere will cherish him this weekend and for decades to come," Stravitz said.

Stravitz, who specializes in historical and sports figures, works with armatures and clay. In fashioning his art, he replaces the clay with wax, which is then melted inside a ceramic form. Molten bronze is poured into the form, allowed to harden and then released into its final state.