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Tuesday, January 1, 2013
MascotMusician Memoirs: Tommie Wright

By Theresa Manahan

Playbook's Mascot Memoirs with Florida State's Tommie Wright
Tommie Wright is no mascot, but he has provided the face -- and some sounds -- of Florida State.
Editor's note: Welcome to a spinoff installment of "Mascot Memoirs," in which NCAA mascots from around the country relive their fondest memories from behind the mask. Previously, we checked in with Michigan State’s Sparty, Notre Dame's leprechaun and Georgia Tech's Buzz. Today it's not a mascot, but a logo -- and a song writer -- for Florida State.

At first blush, Tommie Wright comes across as your typical retired Florida State University music professor. But when he turns to the side, there's no denying his profile is the face of the school's logo. And Wright actually serves as a Seminole double-whammy: he’s not only prominent on all things FSU, he also composed the school’s fight song, echoed through all the sports venues on every scoring drive. But don’t be confused with the university’s background and Wright’s heritage: He’s not Seminole in any way -- not even Native American. His ancestors hail from Ireland by way of Scotland.

Wright reaps royalties of his musical composition whenever the fight song is used commercially. In exchange, the school has given him and his wife two season tickets to all sporting events every year. The original copyright on the song was renewed and expires in 2025, becoming public domain. Wright, in his 90s, is now five years removed from teaching in the classroom after breaking all records at the university for length of service by any professor and teaching more than 58,000 students in music appreciation.

He currently serves as an ambassador for the FSU Alumni Association, traveling to play programs and concerts for the organization. And yeah, he's got plenty of memories from his many years in Tallahassee.

So, before FSU plays Northern Illinois in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl, Wright shares some of them:




Date: Oct. 6, 1950
Where: FSU Music Department, Wright's office
Event: The creation of the fight song

Florida State Seminoles fight song
FSU student Doug Alley proposed these fight song lyrics back in 1950.
Wright says: When I first arrived at the university in 1949, they were using the Notre Dame victory march and "On, Wisconsin" -- the music to the song -- and putting FSU words in it. I thought we should have our own fight song. About that time, there was a young English graduate student, Doug Alley was his name, and he put some words in the student newspaper, called the "Florida Flambeau." I read those words and I thought those are good words, I think I’ll write some music to that.

I read that during lunch time and I went back to my studio in the College of Music and wrote the music to it. Then I gave it to the director of the band at that time. He put it on the field the following Saturday and the students liked it so much, the following week they adopted it as the official fight song. The person who happened to be student body president at that time was Reubin Askew, who later became the first FSU governor of Florida.




Date: 1955? 1960?
Where: The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper
Event: Tommie becomes the profile of the Seminole head.

Florida State Seminoles logo and Tommie Wright
The FSU logo was inspired by Tommie Wright -- unbeknownst to him.
Wright says: I read about it in the newspaper. The artist wanted to create a nose of the logo like mine and he did. I really can’t tell you very much about that. I read about it in the Tallahassee Democrat, our newspaper. It might have been 1955 or ’60. People who knew about it would ask me to make the face, which I can do. I used to have black hair like the logo, although now my hair is white. But I can still make that face sideways and you would recognize it immediately. I never met the artist and as a matter of fact I don’t even know who he was. I just read about it in the newspaper. I don’t own anything except the rights to the fight song, which I wrote.

My wife is amused by it. When I see it, I think that’s the FSU logo because they have a Seminole. 'Course I wasn’t ever a Seminole, but they fixed it up like a Seminole, I guess.




Date: November 21, 1964
Where: Doak S. Campbell Stadium
Event: First time FSU hosted the University of Florida. FSU won 16-7.

Florida State Seminoles fans at Doak S. Campbell Stadium
Doak S. Campbell stadium has served as a place of many memories for Tommie Wright.
Wright says: One of the events that please me most was the fact that we couldn’t play University of Florida for years. They wouldn’t play us because they thought it was beneath them to play little FSU. And it took an act of the legislature to bring the two schools together. For several years the game was in Gainesville and the University of Florida won. Then the first time they came to FSU, I remember they had painted on the helmets of the Florida football team “Never FSU Never.”

At that game, the Florida fans waved white handkerchiefs signifying that it was still a girls’ school. That game, turned out that FSU won 16-7. That was a great victory and our first victory over Florida. There was a big celebration that night in Tallahassee that was the largest celebration since the end of World War II. They had to close off the streets. I was there for that and it was fantastic. I did write a song commemorating that event called the “FSU Victory March.” I wrote the words and the music to that, and it’s played today.




Date: June 24, 1983
Where: Aboard space shuttle Challenger
Event: Astronaut Norm Thagard’s alarm clock while he was on the Russian Mir Space Station

Wright says: The song was played into space when one of our FSU graduates was an astronaut and they played the FSU fight song, beaming it up through mission control to space and woke him up in the morning with it. I thought that was kind of unique. It was early in the morning and I was asleep.




Date: Nov. 25, 2009/ongoing
Where: Doak S. Campbell Stadium
Event: Conducting & performing the fight song

Wright says: They honored me at halftime and asked me to conduct the Marching Chiefs. So I conducted it from a high step-ladder. So that was kind of a thrill to conduct the Marching Chiefs to my song. I appreciated that invitation.

Now they have a kickoff luncheon every fall honoring our football team. At that luncheon, they always use the fight song. For years, they asked me to play it on the piano and everybody would sing it. In the last three years, he has the band do it and I conducted the band and everybody sings the fight song. That’s kind of fun for me to do that.