Joe Kirk Fulton, Texas Tech's first Masked Rider, passes away - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Joe Kirk Fulton, Texas Tech's first Masked Rider, passes away

Joe Kirk Fulton at his first game in 1954 Joe Kirk Fulton at his first game in 1954

Provided by Texas Tech University

LUBBOCK, Texas – It's a scene every Red Raider has witnessed at some point in their lives and felt the excitement overcome them instantly.

The Masked Rider, donned head-to-toe in black, charging out of the tunnel to lead the Red Raiders on to the football field.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution said, "No team in any bowl game ever made a more sensational entrance," than when Texas Tech took the field in the 1954 Gator Bowl behind Joe Kirk Fulton – the school's first Masked Rider.

Fulton, 81, died on Thursday, nearly 60 years after taking the reins for the first time on his horse, "Blackie."

Services are scheduled for Wednesday, August 7, at 2 p.m. in Lubbock at the Legacy Center, 1500 14th St.

The man who helped start one of the most prized traditions and well-known symbols of spirit at Texas Tech left a legacy for all to remember.

"When I think of Joe Kirk Fulton, I think of one of the greatest traditions in all of college football," former student-athlete, coach and athletics director Gerald Myers said. "It's something that our fans, our students, our players and everyone is proud of.

"I don't think anybody realized when he made that ride in 1954, how important of a tradition the Masked Rider and horse would become for Texas Tech."

So important that in 2010, the Associated Press ranked the Masked Rider as the ninth-best mascot in all of college football.

A Lubbock native, Fulton attended Tech to study agricultural science and learn more about the animal he loved the most – horses.

The story goes that in the fall of 1953 Texas Tech head football coach DeWitt Weaver called in Fulton to discuss a plan to give Texas Tech a live mascot — the "Red Raider."

"He said, that all these other teams had mascots but we didn't. Then he asked me, ‘Would you be the first Red Raider?'" Fulton said in an interview with Texas Tech in 2011. "And the first game was going to be the Gator Bowl and I agreed to it. So I went out and got some chaps made at Wendy Ryan's in Fort Worth and that was how it all started."

Fulton graduated in 1954 with a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Sciences but his love of horses extended far beyond the Texas Tech campus. He continued working with quarter horses while he and his father worked on a large cattle operation on their Quien Sabe Ranch outside Channing, Texas.

He worked with more than 70 stakes winners, including Dash's Dream and Special Leader, according to his American Quarter Horses Association profile, helping earn more than $16 million on the track.

Sam Jackson, Ph.D., an associate professor in animal science at Texas Tech for the last 25 years, said Fulton had a huge impact on not just the Masked Rider program but also the animal science college and its students.

"The first thing that always jumps off the page about him is the fact that he was the first Masked Rider," Jackson said. "As I began to know Joe Kirk and a little bit of the history, he was very involved in the quarter horses association, and in particular the race horse business. So I see him in both roles – as a pioneer in the mascot program and as an influential person in the quarter horse business as well."

It is safe to say that the American Quarter Horse Association would agree with that statement, inducting Fulton into its Hall of Fame in 2011.

His legacy at Texas Tech lives forever with the statue in his honor in the lobby of the south end zone offices at Jones AT&T Stadium, across the street at the Frazier Alumni Pavilion, and with each ride prior to a home football game.

In 2013, Texas Tech will be led onto the field by its 52nd Masked Rider, the product of his legacy.

"I hope they always realize that Joe Kirk was the first," Myers said. "All the riders since him and today, they've all played an important part in the atmosphere of our games, and the entertainment of our fans and their show of support for the team and all the other parts that the Masked Rider represents as Texas Tech and the Texas Tech spirit."

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to the American Quarter Horse Association or the Texas Tech University Masked Rider Program

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