NORMAN — The lights were on at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium early Wednesday for an event that sets the tone for the Red River Rivalry.
The stadium was prepped for the OU Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps’ annual Red River Run, which kicked off at 7:30 a.m. The annual event celebrates the OU-Texas football game, with NROTC units from each school running game balls from their respective campuses to tonight’s OU/Texas Celebrity Softball game at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas.
The run sends the OU NROTC unit on a 168-mile trek from Norman south to Frisco. The UT cadets started their 160-mile run north Wednesday. The football game is set to kickoff at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
This year’s send-off had a special twist to it as the ceremony was held at midfield at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. The run usually starts in the Norman Armory building, but the armory is undergoing renovations.
However, it appeared that the NROTC officers and runners didn’t mind the change of location. David McDermott, midshipman for Norman NROTC, said they will consider hosting the ceremony at the stadium in the future.
“Having the ceremony on the field was really cool,” McDermott said. “In years past, you could hear the news helicopters buzzing around outside but you didn’t get to see the people there that are supporting us. This year being able to actually see everyone support us in one area and everyone being together made for a great experience.”
This year’s event was attended by Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley, OU Interim President Joseph Herroz Jr. and Norman Mayor Breea Clark. Riley spoke to the NROTC unit before delivering the game ball to the runners.
This is the third time Tyler Goehler, NROTC cadet, participated in the event. Goehler said the run is a way for the members to bond with each other.
“The run is camaraderie building, and it builds a lot of friendships between everyone in the unit,” Goehler said. “We’re all running together a long distance, so it’s a really important friendship building (experience).”
Four units consisting of 42 total cadets will split up the 168-mile journey with all of the cadets dropping off toys in a box for the Toys For Tots charity drive on their way out of the stadium. The unit that left Wednesday morning travelled to Ada before switching with the afternoon unit, which then ran with the ball to Ardmore.
The run will continue at 5:30 a.m. today with the morning unit crossing the Red River before delivering it to the fourth unit, who will run to Frisco to deliver the game ball to Big XII officials.
The event ends with the OU and Texas NROTC units competing in a friendly game of flag football at 1 p.m. Friday at a field located near the Cotton Bowl. While the Texas NROTC has won eight of the last 14 games, the OU squad won last year’s contest, 12-7. The winner of the game receives the Red River Shootout Flag Football Trophy.
McDermott said the winner of the flag football game usually correlates with the winner of the real game, but Texas narrowly defeated OU 48-45 in last year’s matchup. McDermott said he’s hopeful both OU teams will pick up a win this year.
“Them being a completely different school, you get the chance to live out the rivalry that you learn when you step on campus,” McDermott said. “On the field, you’re enemies, but after the game both sides come together and the commanding officers come and speak. Even though we might be going to different schools, we know ultimately we serve as one unit and fight for the United States.”
As a small amount of rain drizzled onto the field during Wednesday’s ceremony, a rainbow could be seen in the sky over the stadium. Clark said the rainbow was a sign.
“It’s a sign of good things to come this weekend,” Clark said. “(OU) didn’t get the result we wanted last year, but I’m looking forward to the team getting (the win) this weekend.”
To learn more about the OU Naval ROTC, visit nrotc.ou.edu.