Not Your Everyday, Cookie-Cutter Boosters

Victoria Williams '81 the bingo wheel, picking out a winner. Courtside announcer Don Essig '64, '71, to the right, calls out the numbers. Photograph by John Bauguess

Extreme fitness, unrelenting speed, and innovative coaching gave the 2011 Oregon football team a formidable finishing kick.

Or maybe it was the halftime Rice Krispies treats.

“It’s the sugar, you know . . . that’s why they came out and won so many games in the third and fourth quarters. We like to say the Rice Krispies bars made them such a strong second-half team,” jokes Daisy Duck Karen Hansen, president of the unique booster group that cooks up these homespun performance enhancers—which may or may not have propelled the Ducks to their January 2 Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin—and does much more to support Oregon athletics.

Anyone who has attended an Oregon men’s home basketball game likely recalls the Daisy Ducks engaged in their most visible form of boosting. For twenty-two years, the Daisies, most often silver-haired ladies bedecked in a plumage of green and yellow, have posted up inside arena entries, hawking bingo cards.

At halftime, an announcer calls numbers until a yell of “BINGO!” from somewhere in the crowd. Many players then crumple their not-this-time cards and chuck them to rain down on lower seating levels—a tradition started at Mac Court that has migrated to Matthew Knight Arena. The winner takes home up to $750, half of the nightly pot, plus a $100 gift card from sponsor Bi-Mart.

The proceeds support two endowed scholarship funds for student athletes, often native Oregonians and those in non-revenue sports. The Daisy Ducks, part of the Oregon Boosters Association, donate $15,000 to $20,000 per year, mostly to the endowments with the rest to the general Duck Athletic Fund.

“I’ve sold as many as 500 or 600 tickets in a night myself,” Hansen says. “Some people will say things like, ‘I’ve been buying tickets for twenty years and never won a thing!’ And I’ll just smile and tell them to think about the good they’re doing for our students.”

While you’re most likely to encounter the Daisy Ducks in Knight Arena these days, they evolved from a group of women who convened in 1972 to learn about football in “chalk talks” with head coach Dick Enright. Forty years later, the club does more than many in the UO community realize to support athletics, and especially student athletes themselves.

It starts with care packages loaded with apples or other fruit, sometimes personal notes of encouragement, and always homemade cookies. The Daisy Ducks send along such a bundle for every member of every UO men’s and women’s team (excluding Club Sports) on every road trip.

Conservative estimates put the Daisies’ cumulative cookie contribution at somewhere around 325,000, with more than 25,000 baked annually in recent years.

“You talk to any former player about the Daisy Ducks, and the first thing they say will be ‘Man, I miss those cookies,’” says Dino Philyaw, running back for Oregon’s 1993–94 football teams and one of the stars of the 1995 Rose Bowl. “I’m a sweets guy, so I always liked getting that Daisy Duck treat.”

Philyaw now owns Philyaw’s Cookout and Catering in Eugene. “It was really nice to see that somebody was willing to go that extra mile to make you feel at home and make you feel like part of a family, like I did at Oregon,” recalls Philyaw, who journeyed a long way from his own home in North Carolina, via a California junior college, to Oregon. He went on to play six years of professional football, including three in the National Football League with the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, before resettling in Eugene.

Making Eugene and the University feel like home for all student athletes is a top priority for the Daisy Ducks. The group assigns a chairperson to each of sixteen UO teams, from acrobatics and tumbling to baseball to women’s lacrosse in addition to the Oregon Marching Band and cheerleading squads.

Along with their prodigious cookie output, the Daisies host annual welcoming potlucks for each team, send birthday cards to every athlete, visit those who are injured or ill in the hospital, and generally act as surrogate mothers and grandmothers for those struggling with college life and the stresses of their sports.

“It’s hard for a lot of people who go to the games to remember that these are still kids,” says Hansen, who is the Daisies’ football chair. “We try to be there if they need anything.”

Director of Athletics Rob Mullens says the University’s newest student athletes benefit most from the Daisies’ family-style support. “The upperclassmen normally are confident in who they are and where they’re at, but younger student athletes often struggle with being homesick.”

Beyond that, Mullens says, the Daisies provide a nurturing spirit that permeates every level of athletics at the UO. “It’s just this incredibly supportive group,” he says. “You always see their friendly smiling faces in and around the program, always there for us and willing to help with anything we ask.”

Mullens, who came to Oregon by way of the Universities of Kentucky, Miami, and Maryland, says he is not aware of a group quite like the Daisies at any other school.

He met a few Daisy Ducks during his first week at Oregon in August 2010, when they attended the news conference introducing him. Soon after, Mullens visited the club’s weekly meeting as a guest speaker. Just as they do with incoming student athletes, the Daisy Ducks did their best to ease Mullens’s transition from Lexington to Eugene—some longtime members surprised him with a playful Kentucky Derby skit.

“They had a little stick horse and raced around the room,” Mullens remembers, laughing. “Right away I got a real sense of how much spirit and energy they have. They are so full of life, and they absolutely love the Ducks.”

Most of the 250 or so current Daisy Ducks are retirement-age or older women who delight in donning UO colors—and not just on game days. Many have a connection to UO athletics, such as a friend or relative who competed for the school. Some are alumni, while others, like Hansen, are Eugene-area residents who became Oregon fans by proximity.

While not referred to as Donald Ducks or Daisy Dudes, some members’ husbands and other men pay the $35 annual dues for Daisy Ducks membership as well. “We won’t turn anybody away as long as they love the Ducks,” promises Hansen.

For many club members, Hansen says, the Tuesday lunch meetings at Eugene’s Red Lion Inn are a cherished opportunity to glimpse behind the scenes of UO sports. The weekly speaker, most often an athlete, coach, trainer, or administrator, shares candid insights, strategies, and sometimes a secret or two. The Oregon Duck himself has been known to drop by and musical guests with UO ties have included Supwitchugirl (of “I Love My Ducks” fame), a cappella group On the Rocks, and the Green and Yellow Garter Bands.

At every meeting, the Daisy Ducks representing each sport review upcoming road-trip schedules and line up volunteers to bake the requisite cookies.

Bill Clever, the University’s athletics compliance officer, also has addressed the group about the fine line between supporting student athletes and giving them special treatment.

“There are a lot of things you can’t do under the NCAA rules, and our members are very tuned in to that,” Hansen says. “You can’t invite student athletes over for dinner or take them out to dinner, you can’t buy them anything, you can’t give them anything.”

But the Daisies’ cards and warm wishes, potlucks, cookies, and Rice Krispies treats amount more to goodwill than gifts and pass scrutiny, as long as every athlete and every team receives equal treatment.

Such a stipulation seems to suit these egalitarian boosters, who strive to feather a welcoming nest for the entire flock of fighting Ducks.

By Joel Gorthy ’98

Download a brochure and membership information at www.daisyducks.org, or pick them up at locations including the UO Duck Store.