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NMU AD search: Finalist Karr brought uniformity to Nanook name, identity

April 9, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - If you take a seat inside the bowl of Northern Michigan University's Berry Events Center, you're sure to see your fair share of Wildcat logos adorning the home of the NMU hockey and basketball teams, as well as the United States Olympic Education Center speedskating team.

However, if you take a closer look at the Wildcat logos inside the BEC, you'll see not all 'Cats are created equal.

A survey on Sunday found at least four different versions of the logo inside the BEC, all in prominent places - home bench, visitors' bench, dasher boards and behind the pep band.

Article Photos

Four Northern Michigan University Wildcat logos are shown from inside the Berry Events Center in Marquette. All four are displayed large in prominent places including the home bench (top left), boards (top right), on the wall behind the pep band (bottom left) and on the visitor’s bench (bottom right), yet all four feature different eyes, ears, noses, colors and orientations. The Alaska Nanooks faced even bigger inconsistencies not only with its logo, but its name when Forrest Karr first took over as athletic director in 2005. Since then, the Nanooks have adopted the name and logo. (Journal photos by Matt Wellens/Alaska Nanook logo courtesy of University of Alaska-Fairbanks)

That's nothing, however, compared to what Forrest Karr encountered when he took over as University of Alaska Fairbanks' director of athletics.

At that time, some of the Nanooks' athletics teams were going by UAF, others by Alaska, and some Alaska-Fairbanks. Something needed to change.

"The actual change that we went through from UAF Nanooks to Alaska Nanooks was fairly minimal," Karr said Sunday night from Fairbanks. "At the time, the university just hoped to achieve consistency and appearance with different teams.

"Before we made that change, some of the uniforms said 'UAF.' Some just had the walking bear on them. Some would say 'Alaska-Fairbanks,' maybe on the front, or back, or both. Most of them just said 'Alaska' at the time, but there were some exceptions. We just - through our staff and others on campus - decided to standardize that and go with Alaska Nanooks."

While Karr considers the move to be one of the more minimal events during his seven years as head of the Nanook athletics department, it is one of the more visible differences between his department and that of previous administrations.

Karr has also overseen the addition of a new Nanooks athletic program, three individual and three team NCAA championships as well as a NCAA championship event in Fairbanks.

Now the Wisconsin native and former Notre Dame goaltender is seeking a new challenge closer to home as one of three finalists for Wildcats' open athletic director position following the resignation of Ken Godfrey in January for health reasons.

Karr, who graduated from Waunankee High School just north of Madison, will visit the NMU campus on Tuesday and meet with the public at 3 p.m. in the Pioneer Rooms of the University Center.

As Karr makes his way through airports in Fairbanks, Seattle, Detroit and eventually Sawyer International, any piece of Alaska Nanook apparel is sure to attract some attention, as his coaches and other administrators have learned traveling across the lower 48 states.

"Before that, when people had UAF on their clothing, people may just walk by and not notice or mention it," Karr said. "Alaska tends to draw attention and give our coaches the opportunity to talk about our university and what it has to offer.

"It feels like people's questions create opportunity for our staff to discuss the university and articulate the positive aspects of the Fairbanks community."

The Nanooks have been gaining attention not just from their attire since Karr became AD, but for what they are accomplishing in competition as well.

Since Karr was named interim athletic director in July of 2005 and promoted to full-time AD in January of 2006, the Nanooks have captured three individual NCAA championships - two in rifle and one in Nordic skiing - as well as three consecutive NCAA titles in rifle from 2006-08. The second title came in Fairbanks when the school hosted the NCAA rifle championships and not only did the Nanooks win some hardware, they smashed an NCAA rifle attendance record, selling over 900 tickets.

"I felt like the Fairbanks community really came out and supported the event," Karr said.

"I think the people who made the decision realized if they came up to Fairbanks, it would be a great atmosphere for the student-athletes."

The school's success has carried over to other sports.

Dallas Ferguson was promoted by Karr in 2008 to take over the school's hockey program and in 2010, the Nanooks reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

This fall, the women's cross country program reached the Division II national championships for the first time.

The swimming team, which was reborn under Karr's watch in 2005, finished 16th this year, while Northern - which has had a swimming and diving team since 1977 - came in 31st.

"Looking back on it, the university's decision to add swimming has had all kinds of benefits, but mainly brining additional students to campus that are good students with high GPAs that graduate at a high rate," Karr said.

The Nanooks' athletics programs are aided by the 80 corporate sponsors that help fund the teams' flights throughout the Great Northern Conference, Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Central Collegiate Ski Association and Pacific Collegiate Swim Conference.

With the Wildcats and Nanooks both competing in the CCHA and CCSA - and moving together to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in 2013-14 - there is a lot of familiarity between Karr and the Wildcat athletic department.

Karr said both of the remote schools are similar, only NMU is a little less extreme with buses instead of planes.

"Ken and the staff really run things the right way with integrity. There's a good foundation in place," Karr said. "Throughout the years working alongside the staff at Northern, it always felt like we had a lot in common and a lot that we were working together on. We were often on the same side of issues."

Karr's familiarity with Northern goes back even further, however, than his time at UAF. He had friends from Waunakee High School who went on to play football for NMU. He himself played midget hockey games at Lakeview Arena and eventually, he felt the wrath of the Wildcat pep band as a member of the Fighting Irish.

It's a memory that's has stuck with him long after his playing days.

"I remember being in warmups and people taking shots and the band just blasting away right over the top of you," Karr said. "That the memory that sticks out in my head."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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