Athletic rodents at Nebraska Wesleyan University are facing their toughest challenge yet – the U.S. Olympic Committee.
For the past 28 years, hard-charging rats at the prestigious university have thrilled students, faculty and the occasional tourist from Frytown, Ohio, with their athletic achievements during the annual Rat Olympics.
The hardy rodents compete in a variety of verminous events, including climbing, running, weight-lifting and jumping. The best and brightest competitors in the annual Rat Olympics are awarded gold, silver and bronze medals for their athletic prowess.
The long-standing event for athletes of the pointy-tailed, beady-eyed persuasion is actually an integral part of the university’s Behavioral Learning Principles class, according to Wesleyan spokeswoman Sara Olson.
It’s been around since 1974, the brainchild of Dr. Marty Klein.
The competition gives rats something to strive for and teaches students how to successfully interact with rodents to achieve specific goals – sort of a win-win situation for all concerned.
Originally designed to teach students the power of positive reinforcement, the Rat Olympics went big time in 2001, growing into a communitywide celebration of pointy-tailed achievement and attracting international media attention.
Unfortunately, it also attracted the attention of the somewhat humorless U.S. Olympic Committee and its designated legal representatives.
According to a recent Associated Press report, the Olympic Committee was less than impressed with the rambunctious rodents at Wesleyan and has demanded that the university change of the name of event forthwith or face legal action.
Excuse me while I get all red in the face and pound on my desk, but exactly how petty do you have to be to threaten suit against a team of inoffensive rodents?
Or, as the newspaper’s fun-loving but notoriously short-tempered research librarian put it, “What? They think people won’t be able to tell the difference between the International Olympic Games and the Nebraska Rat Olympics? Unless, of course, they’re just talking about the figure skating…”
These are dark days indeed.
Without the Rat Olympics, young, goal-oriented rodents worldwide will be lost, falling back into the age-old rut of gnawing, scurrying and spreading bubonic plague.
Psychology students will have to content themselves with teaching chimps to speak Esperanto and play quoits.
Rat Olympics fans everywhere will be heartbroken and once-prosperous Nebraska sporting goods stores will be stuck with warehouses full of rodent-themed sweatshirts, running shoes and beer steins – all because the U.S. Olympic Committee worked itself into a snit.
Wesleyan University is considering renaming the competition “The Event Formerly Known as the Rat Olympics” until a better title comes along.
Sorry. Now is not the time to fold up on a time-honored tradition. The university should stand firm and tell the U.S. Olympic Committee to go rain on somebody else’s parade.
After all, if Nebraska Wesleyan University won’t stand up for rats, who will?
Originally published February 23, 2003.