At one time in his life, Ryan Hill disliked Oklahoma State University.
Superheroes often have surprising origin stories. Spiderman was a regular boy until bitten by a radioactive spider. Iron Man was captured and forced to build a powerful suit. The origin behind the OSU Superhero is just as surprising.
Hill, who is known around campus as simply “Hero” for his bright costume and passion for athletics, grew up a fan of the university some consider to be a supervillain.
“Before I came here in the fall of 2009, I used to be an OU fan.” Hill said with a remorseful smile. “But when I got accepted here, I immediately turned and immediately started wearing orange.”
Hill has since become one of OSU’s most passionate fans. And due to his costume and unwavering support, he’s gained the moniker of the OSU Superhero.
Many students are fans of OSU athletics. But there is only one OSU Superhero. Hill goes above and beyond the conventional fan. Though he has a mathematics degree to his credit and is working on is a statistics degree, Hill can’t begin to count the number of OSU sporting events he has attended. His constant presence at sporting events has made him one of OSU’s most unique and committed fans.
“It seems like I see him at every game,” Longtime OSU public address announcer Larry Reece said.
Hill can be spotted at all the big games of the year, whether that be Bedlam football, or the Jayhawks coming to Gallagher-Iba for basketball. What separates the OSU Superhero from other fans is that the he goes to more than the big games. Hill often makes the trek to Allie P. Reynolds Stadium, the Michael and Anne Greenwood Center, and Cowgirl Stadium stadium to support baseball, tennis and softball.
“I don’t think he misses anything,” Reece said. “If our Cowboys or Cowgirls are taking the field or court, he is there.”
Hill is a constant presence, in games large and small. He chalks up his passion to an intense desire to be supportive.
“I have this hunger to be up in the front row as much as I can and support my team. Whether it’s soccer, basketball, football, tennis, wrestling, softball, baseball … it just doesn’t stop.”
“I still want to make them sure that they (athletes) still feel loved,” Hill said.
Dusty Hone, a wrestler for OSU, has taken notice of Hill’s commitment.
“He literally goes to everything he can,” Hone said. “It’s cool to see how much pride he has … he does everything.”
“I attend sporting events as long as I have a good schedule and it’s clear,” Hill said. “And not only that but try and be rowdy and not only that but just try to continue to introduce myself to other student athletes and saying ‘Hey, I am here, and I am here to support you.’ “
“I want to bring that message out.”
Though superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, one component always remains the same — a signature costume.
Hill is no different. He now sports a costume that decks him out head to toe in OSU gear, although that wasn’t always the case. Hill’s costume consists of bright orange sneakers, with neon orange pajama pants to match. Hill’s favorite OSU logo, the Phantom Pete, is emblazoned on his chest and he wears an OSU themed cape to match. His vibrant look is topped off with his signature hat to make him unmistakable. Originally though, the costume was not so flamboyant.
“When I started doing this back in the fall of 2009,” Hill said, “I never really thought that I was putting out a brand or anything”.
The first OSU sporting event that Ryan Hill attended was over a decade ago, when No. 9 OSU played No. 13 Georgia in a high-profile football showdown. Hill remembers the game well.
“We were playing against Georgia and they were having the rededication to Boone Pickens Stadium.” Hill said.
That game took place well before Hill started coming to games dressed as a superhero. In fact, the only thing distinguishing Hill from an ordinary fan was his signature hat.
“Back then I didn’t wear what I wear today, which is all orange”, Hill said. “Back then it was just regular shoes, pants but I still had an orange shirt on and my infamous hat.”
“It came from Switzerland when I was touring there back in the summer of 2008,” he said of his signature hat.
Hill had been touring Switzerland, and while he was there his group decided to stop at a gas station. Though he hadn’t felt like going into the gas station, he knew that he would never be back, so he walked into the store where the hat caught his eyes.
“I saw it sitting on a shelf,” Hill said. “I knew I had to have it.”
The hat that cost 23 Euros (about $25) became an integral part of Hill’s OSU Superhero costume, where it where it sits atop Hill’s head during big games and specific instances. It is a medium-sized black wool hat. The lack of logos and way in which it was acquired sprinkle a little bit of mystery about the hat’s history.
“I bring it out for special occasions,” he said.
Keeping consistent with the rest of his costume throughout the years, the wool hat has undergone some OSU-themed upgrades.
Hill replaced the original black and brown woven band that encircled the hat with an orange band. He also added decorative pins to the hat, including ones that say “#RT10” and “#RememberThe4” — a nod to those in the OSU family lost in plane crashes.
Hill also took OSU’s slogan “Americas Brightest Orange” to heart when he decked out his hat with Christmas lights over the past Christmas season.
Bill Annan, a Cowgirl basketball assistant coach, remembers when the OSU Superhero added the #RememberThe4 pin to his hat, because the two shared a touching moment shortly after then head coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna died in a plane crash in 2011.
“A special moment,” Annan said. “He reached out to me and asked me if he could have a ‘4’ pin.”
Annan remembers the thankfulness Hill showed upon receiving the pin.
“He got a little emotional, like all of us do,” Annan said.
That reverent exchange was when Annan realized that the Hill was a truly dedicated fan.
Though the Swiss hat has remained a fixture of the Hill’s ensemble the past 11 years, the costume that was once an orange T-shirt and a beat-up pair of neon FILA shoes. It has changed significantly since 2009, evolving from a simple T-shirt to an unmistakable look today.
When there is a scheduling conflict and Hill is in a time crunch, the costume is passed over for a regular OSU T-shirt. Regardless, the plainclothes, Clark Kent version of the OSU Superhero is just as vocal and supportive.
“Anytime I see students dressed up like that it puts a smile on my face,” Reece said.
Reece said he is appreciative of Hill’s dedication and added that his efforts to fire up the student section contribute to making a game more enjoyable.
“The reason Gallagher Iba is the rowdiest arena in the country is because of our students,” Reece said. “Our students that would dress up and be crazy, whether their dressed up in a robe like back when we went on the 2004 Final Four run…or if your dressed up in a cape like the OSU Superhero, that’s really the essence of what makes Gallagher-Iba magical.”
Being a superhero is quite a commitment, whether that entails defending Gotham City or being an undying supporter of OSU.
“I know that he moves his work schedule around to make it to every Oklahoma State event that he can make it too,” Annan said.
Why does he do it? What drives him to focus his life, at least in part, around OSU athletics? What is the brand and message he is trying to display?
Hill describes his purpose as the OSU Superhero as simply “Someone who is loyal and true to the athletes here.”
“I know him real well,” Hone said about Hill. “He goes to my church. He is a good friend of mine.”
He doesn’t stop at merely attending games in costume. He is one of OSU’s loudest fans.
“I usually can only hear my coaches or my dad in the stands,” Hone said about what he hears during a match. “But I could hear him because he was right there, and he was yelling.”
“It means a lot, for me as an athlete, to have someone like him who is always there,” Hone said.
Being the OSU Superhero requires both time and energy. One of the things that Hill has done recently at OSU sporting events is join a campaign to “bring the rowdy back” to GIA.
Hill has been known to show up to multiple sporting events in one day and has even collaborated with the OSU Event Presentation Staff to print out flyers for distribution in the student section, with directions on when to cheer.
He helped make sure that the printouts poking fun at visiting teams were on every student’s seat before tip-off of basketball games. In addition to making sure fellow students know the cheering traditions.
While he may not be defeating supervillains or defending planet earth from a barrage of aliens, the mission of the OSU Superhero is still important to him. He strives to bring athletes, alumnus, spectators and supporters closer together, all with the goal of being loyal and true to OSU.
“If you’re not there to make a difference and be a part of it, you are truly missing out,” Reece said.
The OSU Superhero isn’t missing out.