MTSU went worldwide on Tuesday — thanks to one of the most beloved comic strips that’s been around since the 1930s.
Two sources provided the inspiration for syndicated cartoonist Guy Gilchrist to draw Aunt Fritzi wearing a T-shirt that read “MTSU BLUE RAIDERS” in the “Nancy” comic strip that ran Oct. 1 — perfect time coming days before True Blue Friday and Saturday’s MTSU homecoming game.
True Blue Friday is the first event stemming from the True Blue Community Initiative, a grassroots effort launched in September to bolster community support for Blue Raider academics and athletics. (To learn more about the initiative, launched by Rev. James McCarroll of First Baptist Church on Castle Street in Murfreesboro, and watch video from the Sept. 16 gathering, go to http://mtsunews.com/true-blue-community-initiative/.) The purpose of True Blue Friday is to encourage as many people as possible to wear blue on Friday in support of Homecoming Week.
The motivation came from an August interview Gilchrist had with Murfreesboro Daily News Journal reporter Mealand Ragland-Hudgins and from his longtime friend Boots Donnelly, the former MTSU football coach, athletic director and ambassador. Donnelly and Ragland-Hudgins also are MTSU alumni.
“I was on the phone doing an interview with a reporter from the Murfreesboro paper awhile ago, and when we got finished she was asking me about all the different T-shirts that Aunt Fritzi wears and she said, ‘What would it take for her to be wearing MTSU?’” said Gilchrist, a Nashville-area resident. “I said, ‘Do you know I get about a letter a day from somebody asking me about their alma mater or when somebody’s going to be in and all the different schools and everything of course?”
“One night,” Gilchrist said, “I was working along and I had that blank shirt there to put something on, and I said, ‘Why not MTSU?’ I said, ‘Won’t it be interesting to see if anybody notices?’ Well, we got noticed.”
Originally penned by the late Ernie Bushmiller but inherited 16 years ago by Gilchrist, “Nancy” is seen by 57 million readers and carried in more than 400 newspapers in 80 countries and the www.gocomics.com website. Gilchrist’s earliest influence was the late cartoonist Walter Lantz, and his craft began at an early age while drawing on menus at a restaurant where his mother worked.
Including those from MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, football coach Rick Stockstill and the MTSU Alumni Association, more than 100 tweets came Gilchrist’s way quickly. And Gilchrist said the tweets, Facebook and other social media will keep on happening for days to come.
“We go out all over the world,” he said. “… But you know how it is with these Blue Raider fans. As soon as somebody sees it, they start spreading it around to all their classmates and alumni and all that. I wasn’t paying much attention, I’m drawing and working on the ones for the future, but boy last night, you guys have really got it going. It’s pretty massive.”
Gilchrist said that he had heard from people from all kinds of different states, including California, upstate New York, Florida — “all over the place, some different countries. Between the Twitter and Facebook and all of that, (MTSU) graduates are everywhere.”
Donnelly was the other inspiration for Gilchrist. The cartoonist and author of many (and award-winning) children’s books works with Donnelly’s Backfield in Motion inner-city program and other charities.
Were he not going to be at the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday, Oct. 5, on a project with country music artist Steve Wariner, Gilchrist said he would be attending the Blue Raiders’ homecoming game against the visiting East Carolina University Pirates.
“I’ll definitely be at a game later this season,” he said, adding that he’s “gotten at least four or five dozen requests to be at tailgating.” The requests include gumbo, brats, ribs, pulled pork — “every kind of food. Blue Raider Nation has been welcoming to me and my family.”
Gilchrist has a permanent “Nancy” and painted guitar exhibit at Nashville International Airport that will show through 2015, he said. He also has a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools in “Keep Nashville Beautiful” and eating healthy programs.