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Rich Copley: Why it's a good thing the Transylvania University mascot is not the Vampires

Some pumpkins on display as part of Pumpkin Mania on the front steps of Old Morrison at Transylvania University in 2012.
Some pumpkins on display as part of Pumpkin Mania on the front steps of Old Morrison at Transylvania University in 2012. Herald-Leader

This fall, I have been immersed in the midlife joy of college shopping for my child.

It actually is something of a fun process — by that statement alone, a lot of people will know I have yet to fill out a FAFSA form — surfing through pages of websites, letters and brochures and visiting campuses in an effort to figure out which school will be right for my kid. I've been able to see schools I had previously only heard about and discovered new institutions that are intriguing.

I also have recycled at least a good shade tree worth of come-ons from colleges and universities that seem to really, really want my kid, even if we have given them no indication by this point that the feeling is mutual.

It has been a true learning experience about schools, scholarship, finances and culture.

And one other thing I have learned is that Transylvania University has been smart to avoid the temptation to change its mascot to the Vampires.

It is an idea that comes up ever so often, either just for fun or in the interest of making a lot of money off merchandise sales.

In 2011, Lexington Legends founder and local visionary Alan Stein told our sports columnist Mark Story: "It would be gigantic. There would be international appeal for the 'Transylvania Vampires.' They would sell all over the world in so many different genres. Vampires are a hot thing anyway and the connection to Transylvania would just be incredible. They would make a lot of money."

He went on to talk about minor league baseball teams that have cashed in on fun names like the Richmond (Va.) Flying Squirrels, and I have to admit, my favorite proposed nickname for the team when it was founded was the Horse Flies.

But, as Stein went on to note, institutions of higher education are not minor league baseball teams.

If you are trying to persuade parents to shell out thousands — lo, tens of thousands — of dollars for their child's education, you don't want your first impression to be that you are a joke.

The school that actually prompted this thought, and affirmed Transy's wisdom to me, was Delta State University in West Cleveland, Miss. I don't know if Delta State has ever solicited my kid. But a friend of mine said I had to check out The Fighting Okra.

And let me tell you, The Fighting Okra is a scream.

Delta State promotes its "unofficial mascot" in a series of videos at Feartheokra.com that make the Fighting Okra look as scary as eating actual okra. (See the note at the end of this column, okra lobby, to yell at me for picking on your vegetable.)

Criticize the Okra's guitar playing? He will cut you down with his Stratocaster. Swim team member who's not moving fast enough? He'll drop an alligator in the pool to motivate you.

And woe be unto you if you eat okra in the Delta State cafeteria. Just sayin'.

It is a clever campaign that did catch my eye and made me think there was some real marketing savvy down in West Cleveland.

But my initial thought was, "Is this a joke school?"

Looking it over, Delta State does look like a good regional university, with a good sense of humor. But the okra campaign is probably better for selling merchandise than selling the school.

Even though Transylvania was a school in Kentucky more than a century before Bram Stoker put the central Romanian region on the map with his novel, Dracula, the school already has to live with initial reactions to the name. And while becoming the Vampires might be an economically enticing way to go along with the joke, remaining the Pioneers gives the school an entree to seriously discuss its historic status as the first college west of Allegheny Mountains.

And, when you look at things like Transy's annual Pumpkin Mania (see Best Bets, Page E2), stories of the haunted Old Morrison building (I've taken the tour) and other late-October celebrations, it's clear this is a school that has no trouble embracing the name and having fun at Halloween.

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