For children born and bred in Tiger Country, wearing black and gold and chanting Mizzou spirit cheers tends to come naturally.
Jason Christian has lived in Columbia all of his 20 years. MU was the only college option he pursued.
“MU was the only place I applied,” Christian said. “I didn’t even look elsewhere. MU seems to be the prominent choice for the majority of Rock Bridge and Hickman seniors.”
In fact, Hickman and Rock Bridge are consistently ranked as the top feeder high schools for MU. The university reported that in 2003, 138 Hickman and 101 Rock Bridge graduates began their first year of college at MU, far ahead of the third-ranked Parkway South High School in Manchester, which sent 79 for the freshman class.
“I would bet that most Columbia natives come here for convenience,” Christian said. “My relatives are here, and when you’re in high school, you have friends who are already in college. I already knew the campus from hanging out with them.”
Christian, a 2003 Rock Bridge graduate, said one major convenience of attending college in his hometown was being able to live at home. His parents allowed him to turn their basement into his own apartment, and because he only had to buy a meal plan at the university for lunch, he saved money that way.
Another townie, Nathan Smith, a 2003 Hickman graduate, opted to live in the dorms for his freshman year at MU.
“I decided it was time to grow up and move out of my house,” Smith said. “Staying in town was not a hindrance in any way, and I’m glad I stayed here for school.”
Smith looked at a variety of schools based on their running programs. After placing second in the MU Invitational cross-country meet his senior year, he was offered scholarships to the University of Florida and Mississippi State University, to name a couple. Smith had the advantage of an older brother who had previously run at MU, and he chose to stay in town because of his earlier experiences with MU’s cross-country coach.
“I was offered better scholarships at other schools, but after I visited here, the guys on the team just seemed more mature, and I really respect our coach,” Smith said. “It was nice to be somewhere familiar with someone I trust.”
Familiarity with the school might help many students make the choice to stay close to home. MU offers several programs in conjunction with the area high schools, and Ann Landes, director of Hickman’s guidance center, said some classes, such as calculus, are offered through MU for students who excel.
“The university and the Columbia public schools work well together and support each other,” Landes said. “We try not to hand out MU applications automatically, but a large majority of our students do want to go there.”
While MU is often used as an example in high schools as a four-year university, Landes said they also mention other local colleges, such as Columbia College and Moberly Area Community College, as examples for students who may want a smaller college or a two-year option.
Kelly Pierce, a 2002 Hickman graduate, chose to attend Truman State University in Kirksville. She agreed that her high school counselors never pressured students to choose MU, but rather to choose what was best for them.
“They were good about exposing us to a broad range of possibilities, and I just wanted a different experience,” Pierce said. “Money was a big influence, and Truman just offered me better scholarships and I liked that it wasn’t in Columbia. I was ready to move on.”
In a town with businesses donning the Tiger emblem and black-and-gold flags flying from front porches across the city, MU is, in a sense, the cultural tie that binds the community.
Ginger Devine’s two sons, Christopher, 7, and Andrew, 4, who donned matching Tiger basketball uniforms for a trip to the Columbia Public Library, enjoy going to the campus for the museums and sporting events.
“I’ve taken them to the various museums on campus, and we’ve been to basketball games and a gymnastics tournament,” Devine said. “We’re not as big of fans as we could be, but they are still young.”
Devine, a Texas A&M graduate, was born in Columbia and returned because of family. Christopher has said he wants to attend the University of Texas “to spite me,” as his mother puts it. Andrew, on the other hand, talked excitedly about wanting to be a Tiger, especially after he got to meet MU’s mascot, Truman.
The lovable mascot can endear children to the university at an early age, and the university draws support from younger families with children’s programs such as the Truman Club. Not only do children get to meet Truman, the National Cheerleading Association’s National Mascot of the Year for 2004, but they have the opportunity to be named honorary captains and guest coaches at selected games.
Stephanie Menio, a marketing associate with the MU Department of Athletics, said the Truman Club focuses its activities on sporting events, such as having a pizza party after a women’s basketball game, because “it provides a positive atmosphere for the kids” and helps boost attendance.
“We do try and incorporate parents in all of the activities because that makes it more interactive for the kids,” Menio said.
Because the club was started in the late ’90s, the effects on its members in terms of college choice have not been seen yet. Of its 670 members, 246 are Columbia natives, and the rest are from surrounding areas, Menio said. This could provide a strong potential base of young Tiger fans who could eventually pour their tuition money into the school they grew up cheering for.
However, potential MU students said they liked knowing that attending was their own choice, not one imposed on them.
“Kids and parents don’t like having MU shoved down their throats,” Landes said, “but people are homebodies when it comes down to it.”