Eight members of the Daisy Ducks were waving pompoms in the parking lot when a bus carrying Oregon’s Final Four-bound basketball team pulled out of Matthew Knight Arena on Tuesday morning.
If you’ve spent any amount of time around Oregon sports, you should know about the Daisies. They are some of the most ardent Duck supporters anywhere, mostly women and mostly of the AARP demographic. At one time they operated the foremost cookie-baking operation in Lane County.
At their peak, the Daisies were baking more than 26,000 cookies per year to place in goodie bags for Oregon athletes. They’ve turned to healthier options at the request of team nutritionists, but the spirit of the gesture remains intact.
“Our goodie bags now include fruit and jerky and that kind of thing,” said Leone McGuire, one of the women who participated in the send-off. “They’re going for healthy things now.”
Oregon’s first trip to the Final Four had the room buzzing when the Daisies met for their Tuesday lunch meeting at Roaring Rapids Pizza in Springfield. There were 60 or 70 women, most dressed in some shade of green and yellow, and in the back one 30-something sports columnist taking notes.
I’ve spoken to the Daisies several times since arriving in Eugene in 2013. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, which is not to say it’s totally stress-free.
The Daisies love their Ducks and protect them with a certain motherly instinct. As sports columnist, I’m sure I’ve written a few things that came across as unnecessarily critical. And trust me, they know how to make a speaker squirm.
Don’t be fooled, though: The Daisies are as sweet as the chocolate chip cookies they bake. Each time I visited, I’d promise to write a column one of these days about their group and all the good they do for the community.
Well, today’s the day. It seemed like a fitting way to mark the occasion of Oregon’s first Final Four appearance in women’s basketball, a sport the Daisies have supported since their inception in 1972.
We hear a lot about how Sabrina Ionescu and the Ducks have inspired a young generation of female fans, and it’s true. They’ve also inspired a generation of women on the other end of the spectrum, Oregon fans who were waving their green and yellow pompoms long before any of the current players were born.
“What an awesome team,” McGuire said. “What an awesome bunch of young ladies.”
Some quick history: The Daisy Ducks formed in 1972 because Oregon football coach Dick Enright wanted to recruit more female fans. More than 350 women responded to a notice in The Register-Guard announcing a football luncheon where Enright would discuss football strategy and terminology.
Yvonne O’Herron, 94, attended the first meeting and has been a Daisy Duck ever since.
“They put an ad in the paper and said every woman who came would receive a drink,” O’Herron said. “Three hundred and sixty women showed up.
“They didn’t all come back. They came for the drink, I think.”
The remaining members officially incorporated the club and adopted the Daisy Ducks moniker later that year. As a booster group, they have to be careful not to run afoul of NCAA rules. They can’t provide anything to the athletes worth more than $5, which poses a challenge when they’re trying to assemble goodie bags for road trips.
“You can’t do much with five dollars,” said Carlene Karp, membership coordinator for the Daisy Ducks. “You can buy a package of chocolate chips.”
The Daisies host potluck dinners for each Oregon team and sell bingo cards at basketball games to raise money for the scholarship they sponsor. They do other charitable work in the community, too, including a drive for warm clothes in the winter.
The most important thing they provide is love. Athletes come to Oregon from all over the world, many with no family connections in Eugene. The Daisies are here to make them feel welcome and offer a few comforts of home.
“Everyone is good at cheering when you win, but we’re good at giving hugs when you lose,” said Sue Seeley, the club’s president.
The Daisies say they’re the only club of their kind in the country, and without exhaustively researching the claim, I can vouch for the uniquely Oregon nature of their meetings.
If someone wandered into Eugene and wanted to see the best of Oregon fandom, I’d probably send them to meet the Daisies. Other boosters might wield more clout or give more money, but no one puts more care into supporting the Ducks.
“What the Daisies mean to these people, that blesses my heart,” said Sharla Davis, the club’s program coordinator.
Membership has declined a bit through the years, but the Daisies still have nearly 200 members spread throughout the country. They’re always recruiting new ones, trying to make sure the club endures for another generation.
Their members are getting older, and most meetings include updates about someone who fell ill or passed away. While working on this column, I learned that the woman who first invited me to a meeting — Barbara Unck, whose father was a member of Oregon’s famed Tall Firs — died in February.
The club is still going strong, though, and all of us can hope that continues for decades to come.
At a time when athletes receive unlimited snacks, meals in the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex prepared by a sous chef and nutrition guidance from a team of dieticians, you can ask whether the Ducks really need a group of retired women baking cookies and stuffing goodie bags before road trips.
The answer is yes. Now more than ever.