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Raising the Ram

Around four hours before stepping onto the field, the UNC-Chapel Hill live mascot, Rameses #22, undergoes a lengthy transformation from a regular farm animal to a beloved symbol of school spirit.

The day begins with Don Basnight armed with a handful of sweet feed, a mixture of corn, feed and molasses. He feeds other animals, ignoring the ram. Annoyed, Rameses pushes to the front, which allows Basnight to slip a rope around him.

Rameses grazes outside the barn while many helpers get him ready. They wash him with Dawn soap, brush him with a curry comb and prepare the paint for his horns, Carolina blue latex water-based paint.

Rams’ horns, which like our fingernails, constantly grow, always have new areas that need paint. Helpers follow him as he wanders through the grass, and attempt to cover all bare spots in Carolina blue. Basnight humorously calls this “action” painting.

The handlers exchange the rope for a collar, drape a handmade blanket over Rameses back, and attach a lead. They load him into a trailer and upon arrival on campus, they lead him through many fan-filled areas, such as Tar Heel Town. The handler and Rameses answer questions and take pictures. Fans love interacting with Rameses and learning more about him.

Rameses is then brought onto the field, where he spends the rest of the game motivating the players and energizing the fans.

“Seeing Rameses is one of the best parts of game day,” UNC-CH sophomore Daaniya Rana said. “Our school spirit would not be the same without him.”

Basnight’s family has raised and cared for the UNC-CH mascots for 99 years. Basnight, age 64, is currently one of the handlers for Rameses #22. While he works as a real estate agent, he has helped with the preparation of the ram for game days and fall rallies for most of his life.

“Most of the time, I was a helper because it was exciting and fun. Like, hey, what are you gonna do? Let’s go help out with the ram!” Basnight said.

As a teenager, Basnight’s uncle would often ask him and his cousins to guard the ram the night before game days. They would hide in forts made of hay bales prepared to thwart any possible ram-napping plans. Under their watch, there were no ram-thefts.

“That was just a terrible amount of fun,” Basnight said. “Uncle Bob Hogan would sneak up on you in the middle of the night and just scare the bejesus out of you because, of course, we would fall asleep.”

The entire family has shared important roles in this tradition and has great pride in their jobs. The blanket draped over Rameses back is replaced every several years and has been made with love by Basnight’s aunt. Passing on the tradition, the most recent blanket was made by a family friend and fabric artist.

Basnight’s cousin Rob Hogan took over when the central part of their farm closed in 1996 and the previous caretakers passed away. He was responsible for every 6-to-7-hour home game. Basnight would pitch in to help Hogan and give him time off when needed. Sadly, Hogan passed away in a tractor incident in 2010, and Basnight stepped up to become a primary handler.

Rameses #22, described as a giant pet by Basnight, is much more well-behaved than the ram mascots of the past, according to the handler. Some of those rams’ behavior caused them to lose the job.

Bam Bam was one of the rams proven unfit for the role.

“His teeth were crooked. His horns were not symmetrical. His wool was matted instead of curled. His back hips were not symmetrical, so he walked funny,” Basnight said, “And he was mean!”

Basnight recollects the caution they had to exercise to avoid a head-butt from the animal. “When you got into the field that had the flock of sheep, it was like, okay, where is Bam Bam?” Basnight said, “Because he will hunt you.”

Rameses #22, born and bred on a farm in southwest Virginia, has a much calmer demeanor and is trusted to be petted by all on game day. Basnight attributes this to the fact that the ram is a COVID-19 baby. Due to the lockdown, he received extensive special care and attention shortly after his arrival on the farm.

“They walked him on the lead often. They sat in the barn yard and let him come up to them to learn to associate a farmer with a treat and a special scratching of the ears,” Basnight said.

This resulted in a friendly ram who seems to enjoy interactions with UNC-CH fans.

“I play snare drum in the marching band and before the game we always see Rameses in the tunnel,” Barrett White, a sophomore student said. “I was really surprised with how well he behaved through tons of people petting him and taking pictures.”

Jeffrey Fuchs, director of university bands and faculty member for over 25 years, said that him and others have advocated for a designated spot in the stadium for Rameses.

“There’s a whole contingent of us that wish we could design an area on the concourse that could be Rameses home,” he said.

Basnight emphasized how nothing could get done without a large team of helpers, such as his fellow handler and cousin Chris Hogan. Their family members and friends from all college backgrounds attend the game in support of UNC-CH.

“They’ll go to the game pulling for Carolina but have attended or graduated from Duke or Wake or App,” Basnight said.

When the game ends and the ram returns home, he is shown thanks from those on the farm.

“He runs to his girlfriends and barn-mates, all the goats and sheep that have been home all day, and he gets a nice appreciative pile of sweet feed,” Basnight said.

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