Bat and Tee Retrieving Dogs Are Fan Favorites at College Football and Baseball Games

At the University of California, Davis, near Sacramento, Calif., a black Labrador retriever named Cori is a campus celebrity. Rather than being the school mascot, Cori serves as the university’s official tee dog at football games. One of several dogs in collegiate football, Cori is trained to run on the field after each kickoff and retrieve the small rubber holders (tees), on which the football has been positioned.

It’s an adorable tradition that dates back decades and takes place at colleges across the country. In addition to UC Davis, universities including Boise State, North Carolina State, and New Mexico State also boast tee-fetching canines.

While some colleges, such as the University of Houston, task their student equipment manager, with retrieving football tees, other universities have found success using tee dogs.

“Cori was originally trained to be a field trial dog in Idaho,” says Lisa Tell, Cori’s owner and professor of medicine and epidemiology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “She didn’t make the cut to compete, but she found a good home, and a job, here with my family.”

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Putting It All Out on the Field

At the direction of Tell, Cori has mastered the art of retrieving kickoff tees during the university’s home games. The three-year-old pup assumed tee-retrieval duties last September, after Pint, a Nova Scotia duck trolling retriever, retired after serving as the UC Davis Aggies’ official tee dog for 11 years.

“Cori is loving and energetic and she wants to please,” Tell says. “She’s very focused and knows that she can’t return to me until after she’s retrieved the tee.”

Like most Labs, Cori loves to retrieve, the difference is she does it in front of more than 14,000 boisterous fans, a marching band, and a cheerleading squad, at the UC Davis Health Stadium.

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To prepare Cori, Tell began practicing tee retrieval with her in November 2021. She also took her to Davis High School football games, so Cori could become acclimated to the sounds of a game. By fall 2022, Cori was ready to take over tee retrieval duties from Pint.

“Cori is the only female tee dog in college sports,” Tell says proudly. “As focused as she is on the field, when she’s not working, she loves to interact with students.”

Cori fetches a bat during one of the UC Davis baseball games. Photo: Leroy Yau

Hey Batter, Batter

The black Lab has also proven to be a multi-sport athlete, helping to retrieve bats for the UC Davis baseball team.

“Cori sits in the dugout with the team at home games and they love petting her,” Tell says. “Bats are heavy, so we only let her retrieve bats for the first couple of innings.”

Tell says Cori is also the honorary spokesdog for the UC Davis Veterinary School. She has recorded a video for the university’s Giving Day and regularly makes impromptu visits on campus. “A lot of students are away from home and missing their pets, so they love visiting with Cori and she loves meeting them,” Tell says.

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Doin’ the Wave

At New Mexico State University (NMSU), Wave the Wonder Dog, a seven-year-old black and white Border Collie, has retrieved football tees for the university team—also called the Aggies—for the past two years. Wave took over tee retrieval duties from Striking, the Wonder Dog, who began working as a tee dog in 2012 and retired in 2021 at the age of 13.

NMSU’s first tee dog was Smoki the Wonder Dog, who was owned by a student, and started the tee retrieval tradition at NMSU in 1996. NMSU electrical and computer engineering professor, Steve Stochaj, owner and trainer of both Striking and Wave, says tee dogs take their jobs very seriously.

Wave the Wonder Dog retrieves a football tee during a New Mexico State University game. Credit: Steve Stochaj

“On game days, there are screaming fans, two marching bands, a cannon that goes off, and cowbells,” Stochaj says. “It was an acclimation process teaching Wave how to retrieve a tee under those conditions.”

In addition to his prowess on the football field, Stochaj says Wave is quite popular on campus.

“He’s on every invitation list,” Stochaj says with a laugh. “He appears at freshman orientation and enjoys making the rounds on campus and greeting students.”

Wave the Wonder Dog, prepares for the moment when he’ll retrieve the football tee at New Mexico State. Photo: Steve Stochaj

A Rich College Tradition

At Boise State in Idaho, having a tee retrieving dog at football games has been a college tradition since the 1990’s.

Kicks, a black Lab, retired his from football tee-retrieving duties in 1998. In 2010, the tradition was revived, and Cowboy Kohl, a black Labrador Retriever, became the team’s tee dog in 2016. A rescue dog who made over 500 media appearances in his career, Kohl would wag his tail in appreciation when football crowds chanted, “He’s a good dog!” after he retrieved the kickoff tee.

Cowboy Kohl began his career in sports retrieving bats for the minor league baseball team, the Boise Hawks. Impressed by his skills, the Boise State football team asked Britta Closson, Cowboy Kohl’s handler and trainer from Boise’s Positive Pets Dog Training, if he might be interested in joining their team as a tee dog. The black Lab was a Boise State fan favorite until his death in August, 2021 at the age of 11.

Today, Cowboy Kohl’s son, Blitz, a black Lab owned by Devin Martin of Positive Pets Dog Training, has assumed tee-retrieval duties and is carrying on his legendary dad’s legacy.

In North Carolina, one of Cowboy Kohl’s other sons, Ripken, serves as the tee dog at North Carolina State. Owned by Michael O’ Donnell, of Sit Means Sit Dog Training in Apex, N.C., Ripken is also the bat retrieval dog for the Durham Bulls Minor League baseball team.

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