Butler Basketball: Butler Blue III’s one last trip has come to an end
The day has come for Trip to officially hang up his leash. Butler Blue III’s last Trip has come to an end. It’s time for him to take a step back and relax with the Kaltenmark family in their soon to be new home. The year may not have led to the fanfare parade out as expected but Trip has made the most of his time at Butler University.
Five months ago, on a crisp fall Saturday afternoon in Indianapolis, Hinkle Fieldhouse was the place to be. With a sold-out crowd and the Florida Gators visiting, it was game day for the then-undefeated Butler Bulldogs. According to head coach, LaVall Jordan, few things in life are better than a sold-out Hinkle on a Saturday afternoon. The fans came for the game but like all games at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler Blue III, better known as Trip, stole the show.
After making rounds before the game and sitting down with John Fanta Trip gets to relax during warmups in the sports information office. A large glass window separating Trip from the passing fans making their way to their seats for the big game. Fan after fan stops with a smile on their face to get a glimpse of the famous bulldog. Butler fans taking pictures and some even lucky enough to come in and give Trip even more attention with a rub on the belly. Easily over one hundred smiling faces stop to take a picture Trip.
Filling up on water from his handlers squirting a Gatorade bottle for Trip to drink his time comes for the pregame introductions. Trip’s big moment is to lead the team onto the court. Fans from the upper deck zoom in on their cameras to get the best picture of Trip. Florida fans and Butler fans have one thing in common on this Saturday afternoon, Trip is worth the time for a picture.
After his big performance Trip is rewarded with a bone large enough for four dogs. The happy attention-seeking Trip has done his job and now it’s time to relax. Trip, Michael Kaltemark, and soon to be next handler, Evan Krauss, all file into the Wildman room to watch the game on TV. Hearing the roar of the fans minutes before seeing Butler score. Kaltenmark has no complaints. His smile is as big as ever and his commitment to Butler never fades. The most important thing he wanted to see on that Saturday afternoon was a Butler win.
Michael Kaltenmark is with Trip every step of the way. Shaking hands with friends and giving a plethora of fans an opportunity to pet the famed dog. With all the attention on Trip, the two make a good pair. It’s only fitting that at the end of the year Trip and Kaltenmark will retire together. Go home together and spend the rest of their years watching Butler from the comfort of their home.
Live mascot programs around the country have a rich history and tradition. The University of Georgia’s Uga has been around since 1956 according to the university. YaleNews reports that Yale’s Handsome Dan has been around since 1889 and the University of Colorado claims that Ralphie the Buffalo has been around since 1934 before becoming the university’s full-time mascot in 1966. Their history and tradition are rich which has brought them fame across the country. In twenty short years, Butler Blue has become the mascot schools now look up to.
Determination, passion, resiliency, and a little bit of luck have made Butler University’s live mascot program a reality. More importantly, they have made Butler Blue a household name. A name that has been risen to the heights of Uga at Georgia and Handsome Dan at Yale. A name that would still be minuscule if it wasn’t for Michael Kaltenmark.
Kaltenmark doesn’t take the credit, his modesty and bashfulness are what remains in the forefront with any conversation about the program. Kaltenmark didn’t build the program, but he perfected it.
As a student in 2000, Kaltenmark has been around since the beginning when Kelli Walker had the idea for a live mascot. It seems as if Butler didn’t know what to expect but the intriguing nature of a live mascot around won out and Butler Blue was born. For four years Butler Blue would attend games and come to campus on Fridays, but the time was coming to an end when Kelli Walker decided to leave the university. The beloved Butler Blue was to go with.
After graduating in 2002, Kaltenmark stayed at Butler working in the marketing department. There was something about Butler that kept Kaltenmark around. Visiting the campus as a high school student it was always miserable and rainy but Kaltenmark’s gut feeling said otherwise, “What place feels right, what’s a place that is not only a place I can have a good experience and good education.” Kaltenmark said, “but what’s a place I can truly thrive. For some reason when I went to Butler, I got that feeling.”
Thriving at Butler was no challenge for Kaltenmark. After being on staff for two years Kaltenmark didn’t want to see the Butler Blue program diminish. All it took was a question. Kaltenmark jumped at the opportunity asked if Butler was going to get another dog and if he could be the one to take care of it. Sixteen years later, it’s safe to say the university chose correctly.
Kaltenmark had no idea what he was getting himself into. He didn’t know what to expect or what he was doing. “Literally I was making it up as I went,” stated Kaltenmark. “Today it’s a lot more sophisticated and we have a lot more support for the live mascot program, but at that time it was much different.” Kelli Walker and Butler Blue started a tradition in Indianapolis, but it was time for Michael Kaltenmark and Butler Blue II to set the tone for the future.
Without Kaltenmark the program wouldn’t be anywhere it is today. Kaltenmark believes that without the social media boom and Brad Stevens and his two Final Four runs that the program wouldn’t be as successful. It’s a two-way street, however. Twitter and Instagram certainly gave the Butler Blue program a platform to stand on. Stevens and the 2010 and 2011 Final Four teams gave them the publicity that they needed, but it was Kaltenmark that grabbed a hold of the opportunity, began running, and never looked back.
Krauss has been chosen to replace Kaltenmark after years of training with him and he knows this wouldn’t be possible without Michael. Kaltenmark is the prototypical example of the Butler Way. Krauss couldn’t be happier to have learned from the best. “Michael has just given. He has given so much of his time, given so much of his effort, given his livelihood,” Krauss said. “They [The Kaltenmarks] have given so much to the Butler community without really caring what they got out of it.”
While working full time in the marketing department Kaltenmark has taken on the mascot program as an added addition. With doubt in his mind that he has done a good job, Michael isn’t sure how he was able to accomplish everything. Yet the witty humor Katltenmark and Krauss use to excite their fans and speak for Trip is captivating.
Butler’s mascot program is different than most. Athletics isn’t the only reason for the mascot, that’s why Trip is employed in the External Relations department. Trip’s job with Kaltenmark is to be the face of the university. “Our live mascot program stands apart from others. The fact that we aren’t housed in athletics and we pride ourselves in representing all of campus, all of Butler University,” Krauss said. “He’s not just a mascot for the men’s basketball team, and while that’s super important in what we do, he’s also the mascot for pharmacy, he’s the mascot for the school of business.”
Other programs do seem to struggle, Ralphie at Colorado isn’t an animal you can have students come to and pose for a picture. He is only really seen at football games. Uga at Georgia is the same way, it’s a football school and that’s where his fame lies. Dog mascots have a unique opportunity to be more. Two schools that are similar are Drake University and the University of Redlands.
Drake University’s current mascot Griff has been around since 2015. In a unique situation Erin Bell, Griff’s handler, is in that role as a fulltime position, something Butler will be moving to when Krauss grabs hold of the leash for good. Erin sees Griff as more than just a mascot but a member of the Drake community. Griff’s job is to show the University in a positive light. “Griff is central to everything at the university,” Bell said. “He represents everyone equally, not just athletics.”
Kaltenmark had two schools in mind when he took over the program. “I had the likes of Uga from Georgia in mind and Handsome Dan from Yale,” Michael remembered. “The problem for Butler was that we didn’t have big-time SEC football like Georgia, and we didn’t have Ivy league traditions like Yale.” With goals in mind, Kaltenmark built the program from the ground up. He had some ideas but didn’t really know anything and interesting enough didn’t even reach out to the schools that he aspired to be like.
Fast forward sixteen years and things turned out just fine. Kaltenmark loves Trip and he loved Blue II, but he admits he is no dog trainer. As a public relations and marketing guy, Michael’s job was to get this thing going and to see what they could do to get it moving. The NCAA tournament was just the place. “When I got the dog, I knew that if Butler made the NCAA tournament the dog couldn’t go to the games. That was just sort of a hard a fast legacy rule that the NCAA had, but I still sought permission none the less,” Kaltenmark said. “I think early on it wasn’t a big deal, but I think as Butler continued to go to the tournament and continued to go deeper into the tournament it did become a big deal. Butler fans took notice and then the greater public took notice and of course I played it up a little from the dog’s persona that he couldn’t be there.”
Butler’s run to the Final Four in 2010 gave Kaltenmark all the publicity he would need. When Butler continued their run through the NCAA tournament all eyes were on the Bulldogs. A small school making a big noise. Reaching the Final Four and playing six miles from the place where Milan High was the ultimate Cinderella. Butler was looking to make their own Indiana Cinderella story and in the midst of it was Butler Blue II. The exposure for the school was beyond compared and that same exposure was seen for Butler Blue II the adorable mascot that stole the hearts of the country.
The 2010 success was so great that when Butler made the NCAA tournament again in 2011 and the public found out Blue II wasn’t allowed to attend the games in Washington D.C. a free Butler Blue II movement began. The media covered it and Kaltenmark reveled in the amount of free publicity he was getting for the school. 2011 was capped off with another even more surprising run to the Final Four where Butler Blue II was in attendance.
The success of the program is in large part to those Final Four runs but also because of the work that Kaltenmark has done. He is recognized by others in the industry but sees it all as an opportunity for growth of Butler University. “Now, turn the table several years later, I’ve had many schools call me for advice including Yale, but also Drake, Redlands, Tennessee, Gonzaga, Georgetown, and all these schools that have live mascots,” Kaltenmark remarked. “What’s interesting is they called us to ask how we do it, and Fresno State’s another one and a lot of them have adopted our model of doing things. Which I think is really flattering and really cool. I think it’s a testament to what we’ve really been able to do here at Butler.”
Redlands not only has adopted the model of Butler, but they also have made it just as clear that Trip is “Addie’s boyfriend” says Redlands handler Mary Littlejohn. When asking Littlejohn what schools she models the program after or pays attention to she was saying Butler before the question was even finished. At Redlands Addie’s main job is admissions and Addie makes the campus feel like home. “Dogs mean hominess and it just feels like home,” says Littlejohn. She has seen students choose a school because of the dog and believes that dogs just make students happy.
Trip is now eight and with the lifespan of a bulldog only eight to twelve years it’s time for him to step down. Kaltenmark has a family at home and with some health issues is ready to take a step back. With the final season among them, the Bulldogs have made it a special one for Trip and Kaltenmark as they hang up their leash together.
Looking back at his time is difficult for Kaltenmark with so many memories. “I call myself a PR/ marketing guy so it’d be my job to get Butler publicity and notoriety and I think I can do that but not as well as I’ve been able to do it with the dogs,” Kaltenmark said. “The amount of earned media and eyeballs and awareness that we’ve been able to generate for Butler because of the dogs has been awesome. It’s super rewarding and it’s experiences like that, that I relish the most that I’ll look back on years from now and be proud of because it’s just been super fun.”
More importantly, Kaltenmark’s memories clearly show why he is a prime example of the Butler Way. He remembers moments when he was able to take the dog on the road and deliver prospective students their acceptance letters. He remembers the enjoyment that Blue II and Trip have brought to the children’s faces on their visits to Eskenazi hospital. Even in his last days as the handler, Michael is about Butler and the experiences that the university can gain.
Michael is stepping down from his role with the mascot program, but he is certain that the program is in good hands. Kaltenmark believes that Evan will do amazing things as he transitions into a new full-time role at Butler as Blue IV’s caretaker. He isn’t moving far though and his smiling face and joyful selflessness will still be present on Butler’s campus. Kaltenmark will be maintaining his current role while losing the added additions of the mascot duties. With more time available in his life, it’s not time for Kaltenmark to think of himself, but he looks forward to being able to give more attention to his job and his family. Kaltenmark’s one last trip is bittersweet, but with a dear loved one, Kaltenmark and Trip will hang up the leash together, one last time.
Trip’s leash is hung up, but not before he gave plenty of advice to the up and coming Butler Blue IV. Blue IV’s training is underway and the legacy of the live mascot program at Butler will continue to shine as Krauss grabs hold of the leash to lead the program to more greatness and success in the years to come.
Feature Image Courtesy of @ButlerBlue3 Instagram
All Images Courtesy of GettyImages