COD commissions sculpture of chaparral mascot

It’s a bird that may be best known in popular culture for escaping Wile E. Coyote in Looney Tunes, and you may actually see the real thing in the American southwest, but at College of DuPage, the roadrunner has a completely different meaning.

Here they call the roadrunner a “chaparral” — the college’s nickname since the school’s founding in 1967. At that time, COD was little more than a compilation of office trailers at 40 leased sites throughout the county, where students got in their cars and hustled from location to location to make it to class on time.

Legend has it that someone started calling them roadrunners, or chaparrals, and the name has stuck ever since.

Now the fine-feathered piece of school spirit will be cemented into COD history.

More accurately, it’s getting bronzed.

The college is hiring an Omaha-based sculptor to create an 8-foot bronze depiction of a chaparral to be installed next year in front of the Berg Instructional Center. COD officials say the chaparral creates a unifying spirit on campus and helps in the school’s marketing efforts.

“We hope to build a greater sense of community on campus with the new sculpture being erected,” said Olivia Martin, who serves as the student trustee on COD’s board of trustees.

COD President Robert Breuder met with members of the Student Leadership Committee to discuss the possibility of a chaparral statue after receiving a promotional postcard in the mail from the sculptor, Matthew Placzek. The card featured a picture of the sculpture Placzek created for Creighton University of school mascot Billy Bluejay — one of several creations over the course of his 28-year professional career.

“The mascots are fun because I like working with the universities. It’s a whimsical type of subject matter they’re looking for, and everyone loves their mascots,” Placzek said.

In COD’s case, there isn’t a chaparral mascot that walks around at football or basketball games — and it was only a couple years ago that the college even developed the chaparral bird logo that’s now prominently placed on signage at campus athletic facilities.

So Placzek is going to be starting from scratch, in a way, sketching the mascot on paper — and getting feedback from COD officials before he starts the actual sculpture. He’ll also send a smaller, 10- to 12-inch chaparral sculpture to give officials an idea of what the real thing will look like.

“The president of the college gave me some direction. I can read between the lines of what I think he wants this to look like,” Placzek said. “It’s a process of back and forth a little bit. I see it in my head, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can envision it as well. We all want to be on the same page.”

Placzek is actually quite familiar with sculpting roadrunners; he’s done small-sized, tabletop pieces for art galleries.

His work runs the gamut from sports team mascots for colleges to sculptures for hospitals, such as a “healing garden” at Children’s Hospital in Omaha.

The chaparral sculpture will cost the college $54,000 — 51 percent of which is being funded through student activity fees, and the remainder through the college’s construction budget.

Placzek estimates it will take him 3 to 4 months to craft the sculpture — using clay — then he’ll send it to a foundry to cast it in bronze — another 3- to 4-month process.

The unveiling on COD’s campus could come as early as next June, he says.

Artist Matthew Placzek has created sculptures of sports team mascots for colleges nationwide, including Billy Bluejay at Creighton University in Omaha. Placzek sent a postcard of that sculpture to College of DuPage President Robert Breuder, who was so impressed with Placzek’s work that he’s asked him to create a sculpture of COD’s mascot, the chaparral. Courtesy of the College of DuPage
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