Celebrity American Eagle Ready for Super Year
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, January 7, 2002
For More Information Contact:
Al Cecere, President
American Eagle Foundation
Great Smoky Mountains, TN —
Challenger, the Bald Eagle, may be soaring to new heights of super-stardom during the coming year. If the non-profit American Eagle Foundation (AEF) gets its wish, the thirteen year-old free flying wonder will soon be featured in children’s books, a line of toys, and even on the silver screen. If those dreams come true, 2002 and beyond could be very prosperous for the U.S.A.’s freedom symbol.
Internationally known for his popular, soul-stirring flights during the presentation of the National Anthem at high-profile public events, this charismatic non-releasable eagle has led a most interesting life that has already touched the hearts and minds of millions.
His first major appearance before 20,000 spectators at the 1995 Bass Masters Classic was just the beginning of an incredible mission and journey. Challenger has been captivating audiences across the nation ever since.
“The eagle’s inspiring story, from the time he was blown out of a wild nest as a baby through his rise to fame as the U.S.A.’s most popular winged mascot, deserves telling,” says AEF president Al Cecere. “We’re seeking a publisher and producer to help us achieve this goal.”
The American Eagle Foundation (www.eagles.org), headquartered at Dolly Parton’s Dollywood entertainment park in Pigeon Forge, TN, has announced it will actively pursue development of a dramatic literary manuscript and screenplay based on Challenger’s life and adventures.
The preservation group hopes to partner with a major book publisher, film producer and toy manufacturer in an effort to support its ‘American Eagle Fund’—an endowment dedicated to keeping America’s eagles flying strong and free in the 21st Century. “Willy the whale, Lassie the dog, Gentle Ben the bear and Flipper the dolphin were all very successful with books and movies. So, it’s time to present the fascinating and spirit-lifting true tale of a majestic American Eagle,” says AEF president Al Cecere.
“An animated motion picture and children’s book with an underlying eagle protection message would not only generate significant public awareness for our conservation cause, but could raise much needed dollars to aid that important effort.”
Over the past several years, Challenger has flown into some of the largest stadiums, auditoriums, and ballrooms in the U.S. to help educate people about the plight of eagles in the wild, while arousing a feeling of passionate patriotism at the same time. His spectacular performances synchronized to end on the last note of the National Anthem, have been received with thunderous applause and emotional cheering by tens of thousands of fans, as well as high praises and rave reviews from the press.
Challenger’s extraordinary life has taken him from at least two near-death experiences in the wild to the White House, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and many major TV talk and news shows. He has appeared on such programs as Dateline NBC, Good Morning America, Regis & Kelly, The Late Show With David Letterman, the CBS Morning Show, Fox Sports Network, CNN, Fox News, Maury Povich, and Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures. Most recently, he was featured in major publications like Sports Illustrated, Delta’s Sky Magazine, Time For Kids and on Major League Baseball’s official web site.
“There’s certainly no lack of action, drama and heart-warming moments in Challenger’s life. It’s been quite interesting traveling along with him,” reports Cecere. “Lately, we’ve had so many inquiries for engagements that he could use an agent. We’re picking and choosing to give him enough quality time off the road.”
The Bald Eagle, named in honor of the late Space Shuttle crew, was blown from his parent’s nest in a storm before he was old enough to fly. He was rescued and raised until fully grown by well-meaning humans. But after being released into the wild twice, the young bird would always seek handouts from people when hungry. His last close call in the wild came when he was almost beaten by a stick-wielding man. Thankfully, a person who became his guardian angel saved him from serious harm.
After three recorded incidents of landing near people in search of food, Challenger was determined to be too human socialized for a normal life in nature. Soon thereafter, federal and state wildlife agencies placed Challenger in the care of the non-profit American Eagle Foundation to be used for educational purposes.
His calm temperament and ability to adapt to captivity made him ideally suited for mingling with and flying over large crowds of people. He has since become a powerful and effective ambassador for his species. He’s cared for and exhibited by the preservation group under government issued permits.
“There’s no doubt Challenger’s unique story would make a wonderful book and movie,” Cecere notes. “More importantly, a meaningful contribution to Bald Eagle care and recovery programs could result from it. Governmental funding is declining every year, and more financial resources are needed to monitor and protect this precious national treasure for future generations.”
Challenger is the first Bald Eagle in U.S. history trained to free fly into sports stadiums and at major events during the playing of the the National Anthem. He has appeared at four World Series—1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001. His many memorable performances at Yankee Stadium have become almost legendary. One afternoon in 2000, George Steinbrenner sent a private jet to Minneapolis to pick up Challenger and crew after an appearance at a Minnesota Vikings game. The Yankee’s owner wanted to ensure that the bird would be available to usher in Game 1 of the World Series in New York later that day.
Recording artists who have performed the Star Spangled Banner with Challenger, include Faith Hill, Michael Bolton, Reba McEntire, Billy Joel, Brooks & Dunn, Hanson, Charlie Daniels, Jessica Simpson, Billy Gilman, Lone Star, the Oak Ridge Boys, Ce Ce Wynans, the Georgia Mass Choir, Daniel Rodriguez, Alabama, Robert Merrill, Wynonna, Teddy Pendegrass, Ricky Skaggs, and Martina McBride.
This rare national bird fequently travels by commercial airline, mostly on Delta, where VIP treatment for him is always a top priority. Once in the air, pilots often announce to their passengers that “very special cargo” is on board, and even highlight some of Challenger’s unusual accomplishments. He is normally accompanied by an entourage of five Foundation staff members, who care for, handle and train him while assuring ample security.
At two Major League Baseball games in 2001, Challenger’s spirited presence warmed up the crowd (and the pitcher’s mound) just before President Bush threw out the first ball. For the Grand-Opening ceremonies of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, he soared over a cast of Broadway performers during the finale of a Lion King musical production and landed center-stage on his handler’s gloved hand who was flanked by an amazed Roy Disney and Michael Eisner.
Last November, Challenger attended a national trade convention, where he flew before an audience of corporate executives to the main podium as part of a special introduction of keynote speaker General Norman Swartzkoff.
In earlier days, he accompanied the Olympic Flag on a multi-city tour through Georgia, and ceremoniously circled a U.S. flagpole several times in a spirited kick-off to the Para-Olympic Games at Atlanta’s Olympic Stadium.
An equally impressive performance over a waving, field-sized version of Old Glory took place several years later at the Fiesta Bowl national collegiate football championship. The U.S. Mint has even photographed this regal eagle for use on brochures promoting their newest coins and as an image reference for eagle designs on future currency.
Challenger has also been invited to appear at the Pentagon six times, and was a guest of honor at an Environmental Ball during the week of George W. Bush’s presidential inauguration.
In July of 1999, Challenger received humorous international media attention when he suddenly pecked President Clinton’s hand during a White House press conference announcing the planned removal of Bald Eagles from Endangered Species Act protection. To both their surprises, Mr. Clinton had accidentally touched the eagle’s foot while quickly turning to shake the hands of other guests on stage.
On another occasion, the famed bird made a historic flight off the U.S. Capitol Building during a C.A.R.A. wildlife rally to draw nation-wide attention to the on-going funding needs of endangered/threatened species and natural areas. Numerous Senators and Congressmen were present for the event.
To further aid the cause of his relatives in the wild, Challenger’s natural soprano voice and proud presence was included in a “Save The Eagle” theme song and music video performed by country music artists Ricky Skaggs, Tanya Tucker, Lee Greenwood, Deana Carter, Terri Clark, Oak Ridge Boy William Lee Golden, and the composer, James Rogers. The song and video aired nationwide on country music radio stations, Country Music Television, TNN, Animal Planet and the Armed Forces Network.
In 1996, the star bird honed his public free-flying skills in numerous live stage show presentations of the same song with entertainer James Rogers at Dollywood’s Music Mansion Theatre. The production number climaxed with a stirring plea to help the Bald Eagle.
Challenger has participated in a Memorial Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the dedication of the National D-Day Museum, and the groundbreaking of the World War II Memorial. At the latter event, he was symbolically released toward the Washington Monument from a platform full of dignitaries that included President Bill Clinton, actor Tom Hanks, former Senator Bob Dole, Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and many honored war heroes. The Washington Post stated that he “blessed” all those present.
Most recently, the American Eagle Foundation’s staff and Challenger visited police precincts, fire stations, displaced school children, and hundreds of rescue workers in New York City to help lift spirits and put smiles on faces in the weeks following the September 11th terrorist attacks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued him a photo I.D. to access areas with tight security.
The noble eagle has even graced the funeral services for a heroic World Trade Center firefighter and Vietnam soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.Challenger has also thrilled the thousands of sports enthusiasts, school children, police officers, military personnel, firemen, airline workers, and other citizens who requested to have their photo taken with him.
While touring coast to coast, this magnificent bird has already rubbed shoulders with a host of Hollywood’s biggest stars, such as Dolly Parton, Tom Cruise, Jim Carrey, Lisa Hartman and Billy Crystal. The long list of music, sports, TV and political figures who have met him reads like a “Who’s Who in America.” They include Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks, Tug McGraw, Ricky Williams, Gale Sayers, Bob Euker, former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani, Joe Torre, Jimmy Carter, Sugar Ray Leonard, Cal Ripken, Clint Black, Richard Petty, Whitey Ford, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield, Beach Boy Mike Love, Donald Trump, the late Dale Earnhardt, Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, David Letterman, Senator Bill Frist, Mike Wallace, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Larry King, Evander Holyfield, Tim McGraw, Yogi Berra, EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman, Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Gore, Regis Philbin, Bruce Babbit, Newt Gingrich, Charlie Gibson, Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson, Ted Turner, and John Glenn.
“It’s interesting to watch anyone star-gazing at an eagle. Even well-known personalities are not exempt from the sensation of amazement,” reflects Cecere. “It’s like a spiritual experience. There’s a certain magnetism in their stately stare and stature. I believe eagles were made to inspire, and give us a glimpse of our Creator’s own great majesty.”
Challenger has made numerous appearances at professional football, baseball, soccer and hockey games across the country, plus NASCAR events, motorcycle rallies, Indian pow-wows, fishing championships, church services, conservation events, art exhibits, golf tournaments, schools, state parks, concerts, corporate trade conventions, graduation commencements, sportsman’s shows, federal buildings, and various other special activities.
Now, Challenger’s American Eagle Foundation caretakers are seeking cooperative sponsorship and licensing relationships with companies willing to help mainstream his exciting tales through bookstores, toy shelves, and movie theatres everywhere.
The non-profit organization will be looking for a substantial promotional and financial commitment to benefit America’s eagles and their habitat, as well as reasonable terms for story ownership and cooperative creative control. “We’ll be approaching the likes of Random House, Scholastic, Golden Books, Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and others if necessary. Hopefully, someone will recognize a high-flying blockbuster when they see it soaring their way,” says Cecere. “This is a very special opportunity to inspire, entertain, educate and bless our country. Our national bird certainly deserves a great deal.”