Savannah McNealy’s legacy lives on through game day tradition

Justin Michael

Beneath the fluorescent orange paint of the Ram Walk, Savannah McNealy’s fingerprints are ingrained on the pavement.

Savannah McNealy (left) and Lauren Kroll (right) smile for the camera, posing on the Ram Walk. Photo courtesy of CSU Creative Services.

“When they were doing the Ram Walk and testing out paints, both Lauren (Kroll) and Savannah put their hand in the paint and then put their hand down on the Ram Walk before it was even fully painted. So, somewhere underneath that orange paint, (Savannah’s) fingerprints are there,” said Elias Martinez, Colorado State University creative director and assistant vice president for brand strategy.

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“I think that’s a nice metaphor that Savannah’s fingerprints are literally on campus with the Ram Walk.”

Tragically killed in a shooting last week, Savannah’s creative spirit lives on and her influence on Colorado State University will not be soon forgotten.

A 22-year old art major from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, McNealy worked both for the Rocky Mountain Student Media and as an intern for CSU Creative Services. As an intern for creative services, she helped with the design of a variety of local projects including the Ram Walk leading up to the football stadium, placing over 160 banners around campus and creating the designs for the individual department logos around CSU.

The Ram Walk was a tradition that started at Hughes Stadium and is a way for CSU football fans to welcome the team as they get off the bus and walk into the battlefield. Two and a half hours prior to kickoff, the players, cheerleaders and marching band stroll through the masses of CSU fans and enter the stadium.

The event used to take place on the south side of Hughes Stadium and players would walk through the parking lot and would go in through the gates. Once the team moved to the on-campus stadium, CSU Athletics and Creative Services were tasked with revamping the tradition. Among other things, that included designing the north concourse artwork and all of the graphics in the Hall of Champions. 

Savannah McNealy (Facebook Photo)

During the summer of 2017, McNealy and her coworker, Lauren Kroll, the lead designer, were assigned the project. The journey to design the Ram Walk began. Attempting to create an experience like no other, they wanted to make the Ram Walk special and unique – just like the stadium, it welcomes the team into and the community it resides in.

“It was pretty awesome to see two designers who were so young in their careers be able to manage a project like that,” Martinez said.

Along with the obvious difficulties of determining the design and what kind of paint would look best on black asphalt, the creative team also had to determine where on campus the tradition would take place and coordinate a time for the street painting to occur. 

“Savannah is someone that was a key part of the trial and error process of coming up with something that would look great on game day,” Martinez said.

The final location ultimately ended up being on Meridian Drive between Hughes Way and Pitkin Street. A strip of the street was painted bright orange, and reads “Fight! Fight! Fight! Go Rams!” in white and green. The design pays homage to both the past and present while providing a beautiful entrance to the football stadium.

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Junior running back Izzy Matthews spoke of McNealy’s role with the project, stating that he considered her part of the team and was thankful for how special the tradition was with the opening of the on-campus stadium this fall.

“I feel like we should start playing for her and playing for all of the people that were lost,” Matthews said. “This community is really special to this team and I don’t think there’s any better way of showing unity than standing out there and saying she meant something to us.”

Much like the football team’s dedication to their sport, McNealy was competely committed to her projects. Never shying away from a difficult situation, McNealy’s coworkers praised her ability to work through the creative process and bring a simple idea to life.

A bouquet of flowers is placed along Ram Walk next to the new CSU stadium in memory of Savannah McNealy. Savannah played a critical role in the creation of this football tradition during her time at the university. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

“The way I look at it is it’s a process and an evolution. It’s hard to make something,” Martinez said. “I think what was impressive to me about Savannah was that she was able, for someone so young, to embrace that process and ultimately come out the other side of that pain of creation and make things that were remarkable and unique.”

Out of the pain and struggle of multiple organizations having to come together for a collaborative project came the Ram Walk. The same location is where hundreds gathered to mourn her with a candlelight vigil on Friday, Oct. 20.

Although the Ram Walk was quite solemn on Friday evening, on most Saturdays it is a place of happiness, a place where the community comes together as one. McNealy’s fingerprints are firmly etched in this community and will be celebrated every time people come together on campus for a game day Saturday.

Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at jmichael@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.