On The Women Who Run with Ralphie, Taylor Stratton, manager of CU’s Ralphie Live Mascot Program, Ralphie handlers Rachel Demby and Savannah Spakes, and Athletic Director Rick George talk about what it takes to train and care for a buffalo, as well as the opportunities the program creates for the development of women leaders.
Taylor Stratton, a former Ralphie Handler, was named the manager of CU Boulder’s Ralphie Live Mascot Program, assuming the role on April 1, 2020, after serving as the assistant coach for the program for the previous four years (2016-19).
She graduated from CU in 2013 with a triple major in ecology and evolutionary biology, environmental studies and geography. As an undergraduate, she lettered three times as a Ralphie handler in her sophomore through senior years under coaches John Graves and Ben Frei, and was interviewed by Bryant Gumbel for HBO’s Real Sports. She is currently working toward her master’s degree in business administration from the University of Illinois, with a target date of summer 2022 to finish the degree.
Though born in Florida, she grew up in southern Colorado on her family’s multi-generational working ranch. There, her family raised Register of Merit AQHA race and performance horses and had a commercial herd of Herefords (beef cows), with bloodlines dating back to her great grandfather’s herd. Her hobbies include playing soccer and golf, watching the Colorado Avalanche, country swing dancing, hiking with her dog, and traveling. She has also studied abroad in Tanzania, and her love for travel has taken her to some of her favorite destinations, including Montana, Wyoming, Morocco, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Austria, Greece, Spain, Costa Rica, Utah, South Carolina, California, Texas, and New Orleans.
Like many other future Ralphie Handlers, Rachel Demby’s first CU home game at Folsom Field—and seeing Ralphie charge down the field—led her to one day try out and be part of what she says is “the greatest tradition in all of college sports.”
Originally from Cortez, Colorado, Demby graduated from CU Boulder in December 2019, spending three seasons as a Ralphie handler, and is currently studying at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.
Demby said that the best part of being a Ralphie handler "is seeing the pure joy and excitement of all the fans as we bring Ralphie to a game or appearance. It truly makes me happy to see how ecstatic Ralphie makes her fans and those around to see her."
Savannah Spakes attended her first CU football game at 8 years old. Watching Ralphie and her handlers charge the field helped convince her that she wanted to one day join them, and the senior from Erie, Colorado, recently completed her second year as a member of the handler team.
For Savannah, the most surprising things about Ralphie and being one of her handlers was not only the work that goes into being a handler, but Ralphie's distinct personality. "You start to know what she likes and doesn’t like," she said. "It’s been a great experience getting to know her and having her recognize me. The experience has been exhilarating."
In her free time, Spakes enjoys rock climbing, running, hiking, Crossfit, hammocking, traveling, card and board games, and spending time with family and friends.
Rick George was named athletic director at the University of Colorado on July 17, 2013, returning to Boulder where he helped play a role in the school’s first and only national championship in football some 23 years earlier.
George came to Colorado from the Texas Rangers baseball club of the American League, where he was named chief operating officer on October 5, 2010 with a promotion to president of business operations in February 2013. He agreed to a 5-year contract at CU, and he officially started on the job on August 12, 2013. In June 2016, the Board of Regents approved a contract extension through 2020-21, and in June 2019, the Regents once again extended him through the 2023-24 academic and athletic year.
On July 19, 2017, George was named chair of the LEAD1 Association, which represents the athletic directors, programs and student-athletes of the 130 member schools of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). His two-year term with the organization expires this September. Its mission includes influencing how the rules of college sports are enacted and implemented, advocating for the future of college athletics and providing various services to the members. He also serves on the Division I Council of the NCAA, is part of the NCAA's D1 Council Transfer Working Group, and most recently, is serving on an 18-member committee exploring the ability of student-athletes to profit on his or her name, image and likeness; it’s called the NCAA Working Group on State and Federal Legislation.
Rick George’s full biography is available on the CU Athletics website.