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THE NCAA MASCOTS

March 22, 2015

One of the joys of teaching is to see the students in your class excel in other areas of their lives. I teach in the religion department at the University of South Carolina Upstate. Ty Green was in my History of Christianity in America class last semester. Ty is an outstanding basketball player for the University of South Carolina Upstate. The Spartans’ senior guard was named the 2015 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. Ty finished the regular season ranked first in the A-Sun and 14th in the nation in scoring with 20.1 points per game. Ty is an exemplary student and president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

The USCU Spartans missed an automatic bid to the National Colligate Basketball Championship Tournament when they were defeated by the Ospreys from North Florida.

Ty and his teammates were extended an invitation to compete in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. On Tuesday night they defeated James Madison 73-72 in the first round.

As students filed into my New Testament class last week, I asked if their favorite college basketball teams had received a bid to the Big Dance, the NCAA basketball tournament. One student said, with obvious excitement, that Georgetown University had indeed been invited.

“The Georgetown Hoyas?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. That’s my team!” he replied.

I asked, “What is a Hoya?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe a bulldog of some kind?”

He was completely stumped. I assured him the question would not be on the next New Testament test. The truth is that I didn’t know what a Hoya was either.

Dozens of schools have rather common mascots. If Clemson tangles with Auburn or if Louisiana State University has a game against the University of Missouri, there is no doubt that the Tigers will win. All four schools have the same orange and black mascot.

In the 2015 NCAA basketball tournament there are four teams that answer to the nickname wildcats – Davidson, Arizona, Villanova, and Kentucky. We could see the Wildcats go to battle against their own cousins in the final game come the first Monday in April.

In fact, in this year’s tourney the big cats abound. In addition to the four Wildcat teams, the Lafayette Leopards, the Georgia State Panthers, The Brigham Young University Cougars, the Northern Iowa Panthers, and the Cincinnati Bearcats all will join the fray.

Then there are the Baylor Bears and the Bruins from Belmont and UCLA respectively, not to mention the Wolfpack from North Carolina State, and the Wisconsin Badgers. In this three-week tournament the fur is sure to fly!

Then there are those unusual mascots. Most sports fans are familiar with The University of Arkansas Razorbacks and the Ohio State Buckeyes. But what is a Hoya any way?

The University of California at Irvine Anteaters made it into the Big Dance, but some of the more unusual names will not be represented in the NCAA tournament.

Why did The University of California at Santa Barbara select an Argentinean cowboy, the Gaucho, for a mascot? How could Wake Forest, a school with Baptist roots, become the Demon Deacons?

The Iowa State University became the Cyclones in 1895. After the ISU football team trounced Northwestern, a reporter wrote, “Northwestern might as well have tried to play football with an Iowa cyclone as with the Iowa team it met yesterday.”

When the University of California at Santa Cruz decided to get into the NCAA in 1980, it announced that the school’s mascot would be the sea lion. But students at UC Santa Cruz had adopted the colorful banana slugs that populated the redwoods on campus as an unofficial mascot. Students rallied and won. Sammy the Banana Slug has become one of the most recognizable college mascots ever.

University of Arkansas, Monticello, President Frank Horsfall, noted in 1925 “the only gosh-darned thing that ever licked the South was the boll weevil.” The well-known pest became the school’s mascot.

Scottsdale Community College needed a new mascot in the 1970s. At the time, the student government was upset with the administration for steering funding toward athletics instead of academics. The power that be picked three unorthodox mascots and let the students vote. The choices were the Artichokes, the Rutabagas, or the Scoundrels. Former college president Art DeCabooter says that Artie the Fighting Artichoke won because he’s got heart.

Other strange mascot names include the Fighting Squirrels of Mary Baldwin College in Virginia, the Fighting Okra of Delta State in Mississippi, the University of Akron (Ohio) Zippers, the Columbia College Claim Jumpers, the Pittsburg State Gorillas, the University of Delaware Fighting Blue Hens, the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College, the Kangaroos of Austin College in Sherman, Texas, the Purple Cows of Williams College, and the Long Beach Dirtbags.

Among the most incongruent were the Fighting Christians from Elon and the Fighting Quakers of Earlham. Both schools have changed their mascot names.

The Stormy Petrel, an extinct seafaring bird, is the mascot of Oglethorpe University, a landlocked Georgia school. They made a rare appearance in the NCAA tournament. The ESPN announcer called them the Salty Pretzels.

Georgetown Hoyas display a bulldog, but their nickname is unrelated. The origin of Hoya dates back more than a century when Georgetown’s teams were known as The Stonewalls. A student, using Greek and Latin terms, dubbed the baseball team Hoia Saxa, which translates “what rocks.” The name stuck, spawning Georgetown’s popular “Hoya Saxa” cheer. Eventually the school adopted Hoyas for all athletic teams.

After Purdue’s football team smashed Wabash College, 44-0, in its 1891 season opener, a Crawfordsville newspaper ran the headline “Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.” The reference was intended as an insult. Instead it became a source of pride. Purdue teams are the Boilermakers.

A Terrapin is a carnivorous turtle native to the state of Maryland. It is better known as a snapping turtle. In 1932, Maryland football coach H.C. Byrd recommended the Diamondback Terrapin as mascot. Byrd had apparently had a run-in with a snapping turtle.

Wake Forest was originally known as the Old Gold and Black. In 1922, after a victory over rival Duke, a local sports editor referred to the football team as the Demon Deacons. The new name quickly caught on with fans.

Originally known as the Road Runners, The University of California at Santa Barbara adopted its present nickname in 1936. Inspired by Douglas Fairbanks’ performance in the 1927 film “The Gaucho,” female students pushed to change the mascot to the Gauchos.

This year, Wofford College has once again become a surprise entry in the NCAA tournament. For the Terriers to make it to the Big Dance really is a Cinderella story. As an alumnus of Furman University, I contend that being devoted to any Southern Conference team gives one the freedom to be a fan of every other Southern Conference team. Two of our sons are Wofford graduates so I am an enthusiastic supporter of Wofford.

Almost no one gives Wofford much of chance against the University of Arkansas in the first round of the tournament. Yet there is hope.

A woman had a knack for winning the NCAA pool in her office. Her strategy was simple. She decided, based on the mascots, the teams she thought would advance to the next round. For example, if the Florida Gators played the Oregon Ducks, she reasoned that a duck was no match for an alligator. Easy!

Using that approach, a terrier has a fighting chance against a wild hog.

Go dogs!

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