Cutting to the Chase: Blaze in desperate need of renovation

By on January 29, 2013

If you walk around campus, you will see many statues and sculptures representing the rich and diverse history of UAB. Many of these artworks were donated by alumni who have a passion and desire to see the university grow, and they feel the campus should be decorated to reflect the experience they had as students.

Blaze has stood tall outside of Bartow Arena since its construction in 2008. Daniel Twieg/Photo Editor

Blaze has stood tall outside of Bartow Arena since its construction in 2008. Daniel Twieg/Photo Editor

One of the newest and most recognizable of these sculptures is the ten foot tall, 6,000 pound smoke-breathing dragon known as Blaze.

Blaze was constructed five years ago this spring, by Florida-based artist T.J. Neil. UAB’s National Alumni Society commissioned the work as to implement a new tradition for future UAB students. Dragons, as portrayed throughout literature, had amazing vision, and were intellectually keen creatures that maintained heightened psychic abilities. In many ancient tales, a dragon would be the guardian of a temple. Defeating the dragon was viewed as the key to immortality, happy golden apples, or some other obscure treasure. For UAB alumni, Blaze signifies strength and vigilance while embodying a winning tradition that Gene Bartow had started many years ago. Although Blaze doesn’t actually breathe fire, Neil included a fog machine, which is kept in the belly of the sculpture. A smoke-breathing effect will be seen during commencement, homecoming, after a big win, and many other celebratory events.

The spring 2008 graduating class was the first to have their pictures taken with Blaze, and since that year he has become the physical representation of UAB’s athletic department.

But over the past few semesters, something strange has happened to Blaze. His smoke is irregular, he looks pale, and his skin is littered with cracks and chips, which leaves some wondering if it’s time for his restoration or replacement.

Extreme weather and poor quality materials have all played a part in what has happened to Blaze over the past few seasons. Blaze is relatively young, but he already looks more cartoonish than ferocious. Oddly enough, there seems to be a correlation between Blaze’s physical appearance and the fact that UAB’s athletic department has had many loses over the past few years. The memories of the “old glory days” are slowly fading away.

Recently, UAB changed the coaching staff of several departments in an effort to revive the Blazer spirit. Now some attention should be given to Blaze, seeing as though he is the single largest symbol of Blazer pride on campus.
If the Blaze statue is sent to rehab, should it be sandblasted, or refinished and left unpainted? Or should the statue be repainted, weatherproofed with a protectant sealant, and placed under an awning or covering? Some have argued that the statue should be renovated before it is moved to another part of campus, and a Gene Bartow statue of the same size should be put in its place. Although a Bartow statue is a good idea even though there is one located just 20 yards from the suggested site.

Blaze has added a different feel to campus that students seem to enjoy, and if properly renovated, I want to believe that his mystical ability can inspire the coaching staff as a symbol of revitalization. So I don’t support that it be replaced with another statue. For it to be kept in its current condition sends the message that our guardian is old, tired, and easily beaten.

Think about it this way: the UAB Blazer’s history is every bit as unique as its mascot and its name. Even in its current condition, anytime there is a home game at Bartow Arena you always see fans taking pictures with Blaze. Blaze has become a very popular campus attraction. So in the spirit of rebuilding, Blaze must be updated, and restored to reflect the changes that are happening all around him. Let me know your thoughts at chascole@uab.edu.

Chase Cole Senior
Staff Writer
chasecole@uab.edu

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