FARGO — Bill Lucas was in his late teens when he learned clogging, a type of folk dancing that limits upper-body movement and focuses on footwork.
Four decades later, the dance has become a trademark for Lucas, better known as “Ole” to Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks fans.
The 63-year-old Lucas is retiring as “Ole” after this season, having served in that role since the team’s inaugural season in 1996. About 20 years ago, Lucas said he started clogging to the song “Cotton Eye Joe” in the top of the ninth inning. That has become a fixture at home games at Newman Outdoor Field.
“If you watch during the game, I’m not moving real fast,” said Lucas, who has been “Ole” for 26 seasons. “But for some reason when I do that silly dance, nothing hurts for that 25 seconds.”
The RedHawks hosted the Kansas City Monarchs on Saturday night, Sept. 18, in Game 2 of the American Association baseball championship series. The game was the final one for “Ole” as Lucas plans to move to Arkansas to help care for his grandson, who has a rare health condition. He said ending on what is being called the 25th anniversary season seemed like a good time to step away.
“It’s kind of nice with the 25th,” Lucas said. “I was pretty close to retirement anyway because the knees are getting shot and the steps are getting steeper.”
RedHawks general manager Matt Rau, whose family had season tickets for the inaugural F-M season in 1996, said Lucas will be missed.
“Having anybody around for 25 years that is as entertaining as Ole is an asset to a ballpark,” Rau said. “Bill brings the character to life everyday and was definitely a constant at the ballpark over the past 25 years. A lot of it had to do with his personality, his friendliness, his ability to create that character. It’s really a testament to his performance.”
Mayor Tim Mahoney declared Sept. 2, 2021, “Ole: aka Bill Lucas Day” in Fargo for his longtime community advocacy. Lucas was recognized after he threw out a ceremonial first pitch at the RedHawks game against the Milwaukee Milkmen in the wild card playoff round.
“I was emotional that whole game,” Lucas said. “You think, I just goof off, it’s no big deal.”
Lucas, who used to teach at Ben Franklin Junior High, was hired as “Ole” by one of his former students. Julie (Opgrande) Kunka was the team’s director of community relations and had Lucas as a drama teacher in junior high.
Lucas said the “Ole” character is a Norwegian farmer and his role started out with him taking balls to the umpire. The gimmick was similar to the St. Paul Saints having a trained pig carrying balls to the umpire, Lucas said.
“I thought it was maybe going to be a two-year gig,” Lucas said. “Next thing I know 25 years later, I’m still doing it.”
Lucas would sit in his red rocking chair near the opposing dugout wearing his signature overalls. It didn’t take long for the performer in Lucas to want to do more than carry balls to the umpire.
“You can’t be a drama teacher and not be a ham and go ‘Wait a minute, just sitting there?’ I could do so much more,” Lucas said. “It was a progression. It morphed over from the first couple years.”
Lucas said the first couple seasons, he did every home game, but that got to be too much so “Sven” was added to the mix. His new sidekick’s real name was Mark Kummer, who also taught at Ben Franklin Junior High at the time. “Sven” was around for about four seasons, Lucas said. After the first couple seasons, “Ole” pared back his schedule to around 30 games per summer.
The 1998 Northern League championship was one of Lucas’ more memorable moments with the team since it was the franchise’s first championship and the team featured players like current manager Chris Coste. Lucas called Coste the best two-strike clutch hitter in RedHawks history.
Lucas received a championship ring after the RedHawks won a fourth league title in 2009.
“They thought enough of ‘Ole’ that they gave me a ring,” Lucas said. “That meant a lot.”
Lucas’ favorite player walk-ups included former third baseman Johnny Knott and shortstop Chad Akers. When Knott came to the plate the PA announcer would bellow, “Johnnnnny” and pause and wait for the crowd to respond, “Knott.” When Akers came to the plate, the theme from the television show “Green Acres” was played.
Lucas said he was near his rocking chair when he first started clogging to “Cotton Eye Joe” as the song was being played in the stadium. It started to build from there.
“Then I did it a couple, three times, and then one time I did it all the fans started going, ‘woo’ and they’re cheering. It’s like ‘Oh my god,’ they’re watching it.”
Lucas said then the dance became a featured thing in the top of the ninth inning when the RedHawks had a lead. The fans, however, wanted more.
"On the nights that I didn’t do it, they actually got phone calls saying 'Ole’ didn’t dance last night.'" Lucas said. "So I started doing it every night. That was the genesis. That was like the lucky charm for the RedHawks."
Lucas said he enjoyed being able to connect with the fans as “Ole” and his goal was to have everyone in the stands to be able to laugh together.
Lucas said he is going to be more emotional for the team than him in his final game because through the season he sees how much work and care players put in.
“I’ll be emotional for the players, but not for Ole,” Lucas said.
Rau said there are currently no plans to replace "Ole," but his late-inning dancing will leave a void.
"That’s kind of become a staple," Rau said. "We’ll definitely be missing it right around the ninth inning next year."