By Haley Hadge
In the middle of the Dwight Quad, the Sam the Ram statue stands tall and proud, but before Sam earned his moment in the spotlight on the field and in the pages of The Gatepost he was the brainchild of Richard Cunningham.
Richard Cunningham, ’69, led the charge to find a mascot for the University when he was an undergraduate student.
Cunningham was Editor-in-Chief of The Gatepost during the 1966-67 and 1967-68 academic years and a member of the University’s first varsity team – the basketball team.
He was part of the “second wave” of male students to be accepted at then Framingham State College, he said.
“My recollection is that there were about 1,100 women and about 39 guys. So, it was much smaller, much more intimate, I think, than it is today.”
When he first came to Framingham State, he said there were no varsity sports. “It was all intramurals.
“The men’s basketball team was the first very first varsity team. And as it turned out, I was [also] the editor of the newspaper,” said Cunningham.
Looking to create a synergy between these two teams, Cunningham, his teammate and Gatepost associate editor Larry Houser, and Sports Editor Steve Calvarese led the charge to create a University mascot.
They began with a contest to find a name for the mascot and students and faculty submitted their ideas.
Cunningham said, “We got a bunch of names.” He added, laughing, “We really didn’t think they really hit the spot too well.”
But all hope was not lost. Then Biology Professor Phil Stanton, who owned a farm in Upton saved the day.
One of the animals on Stanton’s farm was a ram.
“Larry and I approached him and asked him if he would be willing to bring the ram to the basketball games, and Phil said, ‘Yeah,’” said Cunningham.
With this generous donation, “Phil won the contest.”
The mascot’s original name was Ramsee, and “somewhere along the line, it got switched to Sam,” he said.
Cunningham added, “It was a nice thing because there was a lot of excitement on campus.”
With the addition of a varsity team and a school mascot, Cunningham noticed an increase in community involvement.
He said this enthusiasm encouraged the Men’s Athletic Association to create yellow buttons inscribed with the phrase, “Ram It.”
“Everybody was buying those buttons!”
Unfortunately, this newfound school spirit could not overcome a looming logistical obstacle.
Though Stanton donated his Ram’s time, he left the responsibility of transportation up to Cunningham and his team.
They had planned to use a cage built by the custodial staff for ram relocation.
Mike Conway, then a member of the Men’s Athletic Association, had connections with the custodial staff and coordinated ram-transport logistics.
“We ran into a problem, and the problem was the cage didn’t fit in the back of Mike’s father’s station wagon. I guess they never took measurements,” said Cunningham.
“So, the ram never showed up at any of the games,” he added.
Cunningham said Sam did eventually make it to campus, first appearing in 1972 at the College’s first football game.
With a ram’s charging speed measured at 20 mph, one can imagine Sam fitting right in on the team.
Even though Cunningham graduated by the time Sam the Ram made it to a game, his legacy was secure. Now more than 50 years later, Sam the Ram is immortalized with a statue on Dwight Quad.
On the Varsity Basketball team’s 50th anniversary in 2018, the team was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
They were honored for their mascot creation, and for being the founding team of varsity athletics at the University.
In 2019 the University’s English department honored Cunningham with the creation of the “Richard Cunningham Writing Award” for first year students.
From 1969 to 2004 Cunningham taught at Ashland High School. In 1984 he began teaching at the University until he retired in 2018.
During this time at the University he also taught in the educational leadership masters program and the international program for teachers overseas who were seeking their master’s degree.
“I did both jobs simultaneously for 20 years so I’m not 100,” he said.