As is tradition, University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack fans and University of California, Davis visitors will again hear the boom of the Mackay Stadium's cannon as it's fired when Wolf Pack players score during Saturday's first home game of the 2013-2014 season. Those on the field and in the stands, all part of a University with deep-rooted traditions, will hear a familiar sound but will see something - or someone - completely new.
University junior Jessica Baldridge, cadet in the University's ROTC Program, will be the first female cannon commander in the history of the tradition, responsible for operation of the cannon and of the safety of a crew of eight. Baldridge has served on the crew in various positions throughout the last two years including loader, gunner and safety, making her well versed in every aspect of the howitzer's operations. She was also given the honor of gunner for last year's University of Nevada, Reno video entry for the nationwide Capital One Mascot Challenge.
"I am grateful to have the honor of commanding the crew and to be able to represent the University of Nevada in such a visible and well-known tradition here at the school," Baldridge said.
The tradition of firing the of cannon after a score started in 1970 when the Freemont Cannon was introduced as the trophy for the heated in-state University of Nevada, Reno vs. University of Nevada, Las Vegas rivalry, but the Freemont was only used during the rivalry game. The tradition was expanded in 1985 when the U.S. Army Center for Military History, Museum Division donated a 75mm howitzer to the University for ceremonial events, including home football games. The U.S. Army continues to support the use of the howitzer by allocating blank rounds each year, and the Nevada National Guard assists in the yearly maintenance on the artillery piece.
The Fremont Cannon - college football's largest and most expensive "trophy" - is the prize sought after when the two in-state rivals meet each fall. The University of Nevada leads the series against UNLV 23-15.
The ROTC Cannon Crew sets off a howitzer cannon after each Wolf Pack score during home football games.
"Thanks to these organizations, the firing of the cannon at all home games will remain an exciting tradition for years to come," Michel Minaudo, Lieutenant Colonel and professor and chair of the University's Military Science Department, said. "The University's ROTC program is proud to have selected a female commander for the first time this year."
Baldridge, a graduate from Shadow Ridge High School in Las Vegas, is pursuing a bachelor's of science degree in environmental engineering. She participated in the Air Force JROTC program though high school, lettered in bowling and track & field, played the flute as a member of the marching band, and served as editor-in-chief of the yearbook.
"I chose to attend the University of Nevada because of the great outdoor environment and traditional college setting," Baldridge said. "My experience here on campus has been great so far. I started out living in the dorms and was able to participate in the variety of activities always going on all over campus."
During many football games, special alumni and guests, such as Colin Kaepernick, Brigadier General Frank Gonzales of the Nevada Army National Guard and others, are given the honor of firing a round during a game. Baldridge will be responsible for giving instruction to these honored guests to ensure they perform the task in a safe manner.
"The cannon is such an iconic symbol at the University's home football games," Baldridge said. "The firing of the cannon really helps to get fans excited and fill the stadium with Pack pride."
Baldridge plans to commission into the Army after she graduates in 2016 and become an engineer. She wants to travel and live abroad, working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering or the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Being in ROTC is a great way to develop leadership skills as a young adult, whether you plan to have an Army career or not," Balridge said. "You get to meet people with common goals and drive who will become some of your best friends in life."