Megan Maye took the Mulerider mascot to new heights and helped Southern Arkansas University reach record enrollment numbers before she graduated on May 9, 2014, leaving some big boots to fill for the new Mulerider Payton Baird.
Baird, a freshman pre-nursing major from Fouke, will have the reins officially passed to her from Maye during a ceremony at SAU’s first home football game this fall on September 6, 2014.
SAU is proud to have one of the most unique mascots in collegiate athletics, but being the Mulerider requires more than just appearing at football games. Baird, a freshman pre-nursing major, was pitted against more than a dozen other Mulerider hopefuls to succeed Maye in representing SAU in marketing initiatives and appearances across the region.
“I am so happy for Payton, and don’t think the committee could have hand-picked a better replacement,” said Maye. “Payton is really excited about this title for all of the right reasons. She love mules and she is motivated to get Molly Ann out there for the public to see.”
Baird grew up raising and riding gated mules with her grandfather. She said she has traversed many miles of mountainous terrain in Northwest Arkansas and Oklahoma on the back of a mule, as well as ridden in several local parades. Baird said she has seen Maye and Molly Ann in commercial spots at the Cinemark Texarkana 14 in Texarkana and on Pandora online radio. So it seemed like divine intervention when she heard of the upcoming Mulerider vacancy on her first tour of SAU.
“Being able to represent SAU as the Mulerider is a great honor to me, especially since it’s doing something I love,” said Baird. “Megan is recognized all over for her outstanding job of being the Mulerider. I can only hope that my peers will look at me the same.”
Rusty Hayes, SAU rodeo coach and Mulerider mascot mentor and adviser, is ordering Baird’s custom outfit. It includes handmade chaps and a custom belt buckle. She, like Maye and Sunny Wilcox before her, will get to keep her outfit after graduation in recognition of her service to SAU.
Wilcox, 2011 alum from Greenbrier, rode Molly Ann’s late predecessor, Molly B, alongside SAU President Dr. David Rankin in the 2009 SAU Centennial Great Southern Arkansas Mule Ride. She also took Molly B to compete in the Pea Ridge Mule Jump, and the duo finished in second place against 25 other mules.
Maye, recent spring alum from Mena, rode Molly B and Molly Ann during a time when SAU increasingly embraced the history and uniqueness of the Mulerider mascot. She helped raise awareness of the University in a broadening region across Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana and beyond.
When the idea was approached to Maye, she graciously agreed to go on public relations trips with Hayes and the video crew from SAU’s marketing department. The initiative was touted “Taking the Mulerider on the Road.” Maye rode Molly Ann across cities, ordering Starbucks through the drive through window and hitting other popular spots, in what ended up being an award-winning institutional awareness public relations campaign. She was also featured in SAU’s popular online video “Mulerider Style,” and starred in several SAU television and cinema commercial spots.
“As a business major, I was able to see the importance of the use of Molly and myself to help brand and market the University. We were able to get more publicity because we had a live animal, and generally people tend to just love Molly,” said Maye. “I saw my duty as the Mulerider to be not only a mascot, but also a recruiting tool for SAU.”
In the fall of 2013, SAU surpassed three enrollment records thanks to the Mulerider campaign working in coordination with exciting new academic degree offerings, state-of-the-art campus facilities and SAU’s complete college experience.
Maye is now putting her marketing prowess to work as the interim manager of the Story Arena and Farmers Bank Reception Center. She is again working with Hayes, but now to increase awareness for the arena as a potential economic engine for the region.
Baird hopes to continue in Megan and Molly Ann hoof-steps to market SAU from atop her saddled position. She is also looking ahead at the priority of balancing her schoolwork with being the mascot. As a pre-nursing major, this balancing act will become increasingly difficult as she advances into this challenging field of study. It was the nursing program that attracted her to SAU, and it was through tragedy that she was initially inspired to consider devoting her life to caring for others through nursing.
“My aunt was in a terrible car accident that killed my four year old cousin, and it brings tears to my eyes to think of how good the flight nurse was to our family. That was something I noticed even as a child. I really want to help people, and when people are going through tough times with a loved one, I want to be able to care for them,” said Baird.
To find out more about SAU, the SAU Department of Nursing, Story Arena, or the history of the Mulerider, visit www.SAUmag.edu.
[VIDEO below: Maye and Baird team up to promote submissions for the #SAUselfie project.]