OU Introduces Sooner Jr. Initiative

NORMAN, Okla. -- OU athletic director Joe Castiglione announced a new initiative Monday afternoon called Sooner Jr., targeted at inspiring young school children.

"This program, with the involvement of experts in the field of education, the technology we've employed and the work of Premise Entertainment, is one of the most unique youth outreaches by any college athletics program in the nation," Castiglione said. "We want to be more creative in our community service, and this is a giant step in that direction."

The new program, which features an animated and digital Boomer and Sooner, will promote the acronym F.A.N.S., standing for Fitness, Academics, Nutrition and Sportsmanship.

It'll do so through the utilization of appearances at school assemblies and libraries, as well as internet programs and hand-held devices.

"Assemblies are popular because they give school children the opportunity to interact with our coaches and student-athletes," Castiglione said. "Now we also include a focused curriculum that we've constructed through consultation with a number of experts.

"By including online interaction, we make the program ongoing and available to even those locations that we can't reach in person."

One of the exciting parts of this initiative is the transformation of Boomer and Sooner, and the experts that are doing so.

Premise Entertainment, a premiere media based production company with an expertise in storytelling and character development for animation and live action productions, includes many veterans from live action film, even some from former Walt Disney Feature Animation such as Premise President Dominic Carola.

"Premise Entertainment is delighted to participate in this exciting youth initiative," Carola said. "It's always an added bonus to work on a purpose-driven project that is a positive influence. I applaud OU and its athletic leadership for taking a step in this direction in launching their quality message and allowing us to help bring their characters to life through the broad appeal of animation."

And personalizing these mascots to youth has been a long-term goal for the athletic department, Castiglione said.

"In many instances, the mascots are ambassadors for our program with a younger audience, and this program underscores the important role they play in that capacity," Castiglione said. "By utilizing them in the world of animation technology, the realm of animation, we further personalize the mascots and transition them into an educational role that broadens their impact."

The K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal, which is a statewide education research and development center that promotes innovative learning by means of school-university-community collaboration, will provide the basis for the educational aspect of this program.

Its goal will be to facilitate a collaborative network fully engaged in research and outreach that creates and sustains innovation and transformation through leadership development, shared learning and authentic technology integration.

Another important part of this initiative is the creation of the iPhone application performed by the OU Institutional Technology.

A series of avatars, news and events, points earned by the user in various activities, stories where Boomer and Sooner are the main characters and a game combining Sooner and educational themes comprise this new iPhone app.

There are a few other details, including the theme song "Sooner Saturday," created by Milwaukee-based Banshee Music, and the aim for year one, which is reading through the program Read Like a Champion.

"This facet of the program challenges young people to enhance their reading skills by reading more often," Castiglione said. "There is a statewide focus on literacy at this time, and we hope that we can provide another tool for the great teachers of this state in that endeavor."

In the presentation, Castiglione also praised two staff members for their roles in the development of this program, assistant athletics director for marketing Charlie Taylor and licensing director Renata Hays.

"I want to recognize the efforts of Charlie and Renata," Castiglione said. "They have worked very hard on this project and brought to fruition a program that takes the positive impact of the Oklahoma brand and transforms it into an encouragement and motivational tool for children."

The official launch will be this fall in coordination with the OU football season, Castiglione said, and there is already a line of apparel in several Oklahoma stores that typically have Sooner merchandise.

Sooner Jr. additionally has its own email address at Soonerjr@ou.edu.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.

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