Big spirit and big impact: A behind-game-day look at TCU’s Frog Daddy

Frog Daddy

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If you’ve attended an athletic game at Texas Christian University in the last nine years, especially a football game, you’ve probably seen the purpled-out super fan Frog Daddy.

Almost a decade ago Kathy Vaughan, wife of TCU alumnus Jim Vaughan, was at a costume store when she stumbled on a purple velvet suit complete with hat and cane that made her think of her husband. On an impulse, she bought the costume and the persona of Frog Daddy was created.

“I would say the first few times I did it, I was, like, I don’t know if I can do this – just go out bold and just walk out,” Vaughan said. “I don’t drink, so to just go out sober in the morning at 11 o’clock and ‘Here I am!’ Now, I don’t even think about it. I can’t wait to get out there.”

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When decked out in costume, Frog Daddy wears his purple velvet suit with the open chest, where a large gold “$” necklace hangs. On his head is a large purple velvet top hat with silver embroidery that reads “FROG DADDY.” His face is obscured with large sunglasses and a mustache as his long, curled black and purple wig falls down his shoulders. A stuffed TCU horned frog sits on his left shoulder, in his left hand he holds a purple cane and he wears silver platform shoes.

Vaughan has worn that costume all around TCU athletics for the last nine years as Frog Daddy made appearances at 60 to 70 football, 100 baseball and 90 basketball games.

“I just love TCU so much and I love the athletics and I really want to just express that through [Frog Daddy] in a kind of wild and crazy way,” said Vaughan, who holds two bachelor’s degrees from TCU. “I’m pretty mild-mannered, but when game day comes it’s an ultra ego that I’m able to just really show a passion for my love for TCU athletics.

“I hope it’s contagious. I like that word,” he added. “I want to be contagious to other fans and get them excited, that’s really what it is.”

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The Frog Daddy persona represents sportsmanship and the spirit of all fans at a TCU game, extending even to competing teams, who he often wishes a good game and congratulates if they win.

Vaughan’s nephew, Gerald White, said that when they go to away games the other teams enjoy him just as much. At a game in Lubbock two years ago the pair was invited to a Petroleum tailgate hosting an expensive scotch tasting, he’s eaten frog legs on the news and in Omaha Frog Daddy was embraced by fans on both sides and asked for photos.

“Basically, fans are me, I’m just putting it out there on my sleeve,” Vaughan said. “It’s a concept and to me, we’re all Frog Daddies.”

A large photo of Frog Daddy is featured in the TCU exhibit in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia. White, who works with Frog Daddy, said he wanted to make Frog Daddy an unofficial fan ambassador because “he’s a visual representation of how other people feel and he’s there to bring fans together.”

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Vaughan, 60, says he plans to keep up the act “as long as the Lord keeps me going.”

“I’ve got a cane so it may not be more style, it may be a necessity item!” Vaughan said.

As Frog Daddy, he said, he certainly feels the love of college students, but interacts with fans of all ages.

“I try to get them going and walk by and say, ‘Hey man, let’s have a good game, I hope you have fun today.’ You know, just trying to get people like a shot of caffeine in them,” he said.

Vaughan said his favorite game was the 2011 Rose Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers, when he had a Twitter fan sit with him during the game.

“[The fan] said it was the greatest game day experience he ever had,” Vaughan said.

His wife and daughter, Michelle, are Baylor alumni and his son, Daniel, is a TCU grad so they are “definitely a house divided,” which makes home games against Baylor his favorites, Vaughan said.

White compared his uncle’s persona and his personal life as a licensed social worker.

“The interesting way to look at what he does is [that] when people put on their mask and their outfit to embrace and embody an alter-ego, that’s usually the superhero of what they do,” White said. “But in my mind, all this is kind of trivial compared to what he does in real life.

“When he takes [his outfit] off is when he goes and does some really incredible things with young kids and within the community. [Frog Daddy] is just a way for him to go have fun and take that same attitude to the game day atmosphere.”

Vaughan has had interesting experiences meeting fans sans costume.

“This guy owns a coffee shop in my neighborhood and I had this [Frog Daddy] shirt on and he goes, ‘Oh man, I love Frog Daddy’ – he didn’t know I was him – ‘I sit in front of him at the basketball game season tickets. I love that dude, he’s always bringing people up,’” Vaughan recounted.

Once Vaughan revealed his identity, the coffee shop owner said, “Get outta here! I love you. My son just loves you,” and embraced him.

Vaughan said he tries to keep his personal life separate from Frog Daddy.

White said his uncle keeps a “separate identity [but] similar lifestyle” because he brings the same passion to Frog Daddy as he does to his social and community work. However, now there is a bit of overlap with T-shirts sales, which will bridge the gap between the Frog Daddy character and Vaughan’s philanthropy.

“His face is so iconic with the hat and the shades and the mustache,” White said about the T-shirt design.

The shirts will be sold for $26.99 online at Proceeds will go toward Forward Training Center, a faith-based organization that assists people facing obstacles in life. Vaughan said possibly $5 from every sale will go to FTC but the amount hasn’t been set yet.

Vaughan explained that FTC teaches participants job skills such as how to present themselves and computer skills. It also offers mock job interviews, babysitting, assistance with GEDs and resumes feedback. The free classes are held twice a week for eight weeks.

“I’m very involved in the business partnership, bringing in speakers for these people so they can learn how to get a job,” Vaughan said.

But this isn’t the only way he is involved in philanthropy.

Vaughan has for many years brought underprivileged third to 12th graders to TCU football games, in and out of costume, through Happy Hill Farm’s Project Purple for many years.

“It was kids who never set foot on a campus and it gave them the hope and dream of ‘Maybe I can go to college’ and two of them actually graduated,” he said. “It planted that seed for them of hope that a lot of them never had, so that was very rewarding for me.”

In his professional life, Vaughan took a job in August as a social worker and counselor at Brewer High School in the White Settlement Independent School District.

A violinist himself, Vaughan said he also hopes to offer underprivileged kids free violin lessons.

“There are so many gifted kids out there that would never know until they had an instrument in their hands and to me that’s a tragedy,” Vaughan said

Vaughan earned two bachelor’s degrees from TCU. His first was in petroleum land management in 1982. Later he went back to school and received a bachelor’s in social work in 1995.

“I love youth and wanted to help change lives and it’s always been something I wish I would have done from the get-go,” he said. “It doesn’t pay well but that was where my heart was.”

Vaughan also has a message to TCU fans.

“I’ll just say a huge thank you to those who understand what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to be,” he said. “Thank you for understanding it’s not an ego thing. It’s not a self-serving thing. I’m here to bring TCU spirit. Hopefully it’s contagious, that you guys have fun. I love everyone that’s involved in TCU.”