In section 18, row 10 of Gaylord Family Oklahoma – Memorial Stadium, tears streamed from the eyes of Babette Davis and a smile lit the face of Rawlen Davis as Oklahoma fans roared around them.
At the same moment, the Sooner Schooner stormed out of the southeast tunnel and onto Owen Field with the Sooners’ players sprinting close behind. For the rest of the 83,221 fans in attendance last Saturday, they were watching Oklahoma’s usual 59-year pregame tradition.
For Rawlen and Babette, however, their daughter Jadyn made history as the driver of OU’s six-decade-old crimson and cream machine. A senior at the university, she cemented her place as the first African American woman to lead the Sooner Schooner during OU’s 73-0 win over Arkansas State.
Jadyn — like her family before her — is a trailblazer. She’s related to former Heisman running back and great-cousin Ernie Davis, who captured his own piece of history in 1961.
“We put it right with Ernie Davis, the first Black Heisman Trophy winner,” Babette told the OU Daily. “While this isn’t the Heisman trophy winner, it is a first of something that is well deserved and very memorable. So in our family, generation wise, the excitement is overwhelming.”
While she was focused on guiding the ponies on the field, there was a brief moment when Jadyn looked up at the crowd and saw herself on the south endzone video board. It wasn’t until midway through the drive that she realized the significance.
“Saturday was honestly pretty surreal,” Jadyn told the OU Daily. “I have never done anything with that many people watching me. I feel like I was a little bit nervous, but my team of drivers and my coaches were all talking to me and confident in me, which made me confident.
“I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to be nervous and think about the historical moment. It wasn’t until the drive when it kind of hit me that I actually created history.”
Jadyn is a member of the RUF/NEK Lil’ Sis spirit squad, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the 2023 season. The Lil’ Sis’ are female ambassadors for the program at a variety of alumni, civic and charitable events while also being a cornerstone for the Sooners game day tradition.
Since 1973, only white women have led OU’s ponies alongside the RUF/NEKS, the male spirit organization that was established in 1915. That all changed Saturday as Jadyn changed the course Lil’ Sis’ history, a moment that highlights a lack of racial diversity at OU and the slow systematic change occurring in Oklahoma’s spirit tradition.
Like her first cousin, Jadyn finally raced to history, breaking down the barriers that Black women couldn’t push down before her. Last year, Rawlen traveled to Syracuse for an event recognizing Ernie’s accomplishment and later shared his experience with his daughter.
Ernie, also known as the “Elmira Express”, won the Heisman after rushing 823 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns in 1961. His accomplishment inspired Jadyn to do some trailblazing of her own on Saturday.
“The main thing that we’re told from a young age is to aspire to be like him,” Jadyn said. “We want to just kind of go about trying to make spaces available for people after us. That’s a huge thing that’s kind of implemented into our family is to go out of your comfort zone and kind of create things so other people can live in the moment.”
After spending her freshman year at Concordia University Irvine in Southern California during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jadyn wanted to transfer to a university with a storied athletic program and spirit tradition.
For her entire life, she’s largely been involved with activities related to school spirit. Growing up she competed with the University Cheer Force, a competitive cheerleading squad based in the Sacramento area.
After touring numerous campuses and attending several football games, Jadyn remembers the moment she fell in love with OU. Once she saw the RUF/NEK Lil’ Sis and the RUF/NEKS and the Sooner Schooner, she knew Norman was her new home.
“This is what I want to do. This is where I want to be,” Jadyn told her dad on Sept. 26, 2020, during OU’s 38-35 loss to Kansas State.
After, she applied to OU, was accepted and transferred the same year. She joined Lil’ Sis with the intention of making an impact on the community and solidifying her role in Oklahoma’s spirit tradition.
After being an active member, she climbed up the ranks to become the organization’s vice president last year. Jadyn decided to take it one step further by becoming a driver for the Sooner Schooner, despite having no experiences with farm animals or ponies.
“Through driver training, I doubted myself a little bit,” Jadyn said. “Every other person that I was alongside had already worked with animals either cattle or horses. I felt like I was like two steps behind because I hadn’t worked with ponies or anything like that.”
Even with inexperience, she quickly picked up the tools of the Lil’ Sis trade. It wasn’t until she committed to the role when she found out she’d be the first woman of color to lead the Schooner last October.
Sooner Schooner getting plenty of yards so farArkansas State trails #13 Oklahoma 21-0 7:50 left 1st pic.twitter.com/rg3Dg8dLNa
— Chris Hudgison (@ChrisHudgison) September 2, 2023
The news shocked both her and the family due to the diversity in their hometown of Stockton, California. It signifies the struggle of Black women at the university and how long it’s taken them to reach positions of power at a university with a racist history.
“Because we’re from California, having a first as an African American is kind of new,” Babette told the OU Daily. “With her being at Oklahoma, she didn’t realize that there were still going to be first for African American women. When she became a driver, she just learned about the fact that she would be the first African American, so it wasn’t something that she set her sights on. She just learned about it after the fact.”
Since learning the significance, Jadyn made it her priority to be prepared once her moment came. She didn’t find out she’d drive the Schooner until a week before the Sooners’ season-opener against the Red Wolves.
Not only would she make history, she was tasked with guiding the ponies in their new pregame route — as part of revamping their gameday tradition ahead of the 2024 SEC move — from the southeast tunnel instead of the northeast tunnel, where they still charge out after every touchdown.
Learning of the date, her parents booked their flight to Oklahoma on Friday, a day before the game. Once they landed, Rawlen toured the farm where Boomer and Sooner are cared for before contests.
The next day he and Babette witnessed Jadyn lead the Schooner on the Lindsey Street Run before eating barbecue with a group of tailgaters. Afterwards, they were allowed on the field to take pictures with Jadyn and see the ponies’ stalls.
“The amount of support that she has received and we’ve received (has been amazing),” Babette said. “(They’ve) been 110% supportive of Jadyn and us as a family. … We feel really comfortable coming out to Oklahoma and attending the games. We always have that back support from all the parents.”
As Jadyn reflects on the moment, she expects to take the reins of the Schooner one more time if the Sooners earn a bid to a bowl game.
For decades to come, Jadyn will forever be remembered for her moment in OU’s history. In her final season as a Lil’ Sis, she wants to continue to be a role model for young African American women who want to join OU’s spirit squads.
Jadyn received recognition from OU president Joseph Harroz Jr. after he shared her accomplishment on social media. She also received kind words from Darby Dean on Facebook, who was the first woman to ever drive the Schooner.
“It gives hope to young Black girls and young girls of color,” Jadyn said. “They can get into this club and not feel like it’s a predominantly white organization. I’ll get little girls coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to be like you.’ I look like a princess to them. To be completely honest, that is the main reason why I do what I do.”
As Jadyn nears graduation next May, she hopes to pursue her master’s degree and get into some form of international diplomacy. Like Ernie, she wants to continue to pave the way for people of color across the nation.
She knows historical moments like Saturday are just one step of the puzzle.
“I want to make it better for the future,” Jadyn said. “I want to make sure that I’m mentoring the generation after me. I want to make sure that if I have to go through things that aren’t always fun, I want to go through them so that the next generation after me doesn’t.”