What's in a Name?
The Origin and History of Summit League Nicknames
The Summit League features the NCAA's most unique collection of one-of-a-kind nicknames among its member institutions. Within U.S. college athletics, four names are exclusively held by Summit League schools: Mastodons (Fort Wayne), Golden Grizzlies (Oakland), Jackrabbits (South Dakota State) and Leathernecks (Western Illinois). In addition, the names Coyotes (South Dakota) and Kangaroos (Kansas City) are unique to NCAA Division I athletics. Below is the story behind the origin of each member institution's name and its mascot.
It all started in the Ice Age more than 10,000 years ago when mastodons roamed the southern Great Lakes region of North America. No w extinct, these stocky mammals stood about 10 feet tall, had long trunks, and weighed about five tons. They were distant cousins of modern elephants.
The Ice Age passed. Landforms changed. Then one day in 1968, Orcie Routsong, a farmer who lived just south of Angola along what is now I-69, decided to dig a pond. The location was a boggy area where nothing much grew and equipment got stuck. Pond excavators unearthed a large bone. Realizing it could not have belonged to a horse or cow, Routsong contacted a number of people to see if anyone was interested. Nobody was. Then he reached Jack Sunderman, chair of the IPFW geosciences department, who asked, "How big is it?" When told it was about four feet long and six to eight inches across, Sunderman said, "I'll be right there."
The IPFW Department of Geosciences took on the excavation. Using metal rods as probes, geology students along with faculty members Geoffrey Matthews and Bernd Erdtmann joined Sunderman. They were able to locate about two-thirds of the skeleton as well as the skull of a baby mastodon nearby. The Indiana-Purdue Student Government Association provided funds for additional machine excavation in hopes of finding more bones, but nothing major surfaced. Routsong graciously agreed to place the adult mastodon skeleton on permanent display at IPFW. It is still in the lobby of Kettler Hall. The baby mastodon skull was placed on loan to Science Central, a Fort Wayne hands-on, student-oriented science activity center, where it remains today.
Mascots: Jinx and Jawz
In 1998 IUPUI changed its official nickname from the Metros to the Jaguars, a key part of a dynamic major change of direction for the IUPUI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. At the same time, IUPUI joined the Mid-Continent Conference and moved from NCAA Division II to NCAA Division I.
The Jaguar was chosen because it represents the spirit of IUPUI: powerful, swift and confident. It reflects the energized spirit of our urban institution.
The Mid-Continent Conference affiliation - IUPUI's first conference membership - links the campus with universities stretching from Utah in the west, Michigan to the north, Louisiana to the south and Indiana to the east.
Voters drawn from students, staff faculty, alumni and friends of the university chose the nickname Jaguars. In the first round of nominations, the original nickname - the Metros - remained, along with such oddities as River Rats. The final ballot included such choices as City Cats, River Hawks, Indy Wolves, Indy Cats, City Hawks, Metro Cats, Indy Hawks and Circle Cats.
Jinx the Jaguar has been representing IUPUI since 1998 when the Jaguars began playing in the NCAA's Division I Athletics. While he carried all of the weight of promoting IUPUI for the first eight years, Jinx's long lost cousin came in to help spread Jaguar Fever in 2006. Since then Jinx has concentrated his efforts on community involvement, scholastic endeavors and endearing young kids everywhere to the Jaguars of IUPUI.
Jawz is the perfect personification of IUPUI athletics - He is powerful, swift and confident. He's seen most often times courtside at Jaguars athletics events. Jawz reflects best the urban energy and spirit of our institution.
What do The Kansas City Star, Walt Disney and the Kansas City Zoo have in common? All are pieces to a puzzle concerning the question, "How in the world did UMKC pick a Kangaroo as its mascot?" The Kangaroo issue was first brought up in 1936 when the editors of The University (then named Kansas City University) newspaper decided it was time to find a mascot for the debate team. There were no organized University athletic teams at the time, yet the students on the newspaper staff still wanted a unique identity for their debate team and, more importantly, their school.
The fire was lit later that year when an article appeared in The Kansas City St ar titled, "Kangaroo May Go to KCU ... Student Editors Believe University Should Have a Symbol." Interest in the mascot was also spurred by the Kansas City Zoo's purchase of two baby kangaroos about that same time and the subsequent publicity generated by the Kangaroo nearly suffered a quick demise in 1937 when the editors of the University yearbook The Crataegus decided that a kangaroos was not an appropriate university symbol. They opted to delete the proposed kangaroos emblem from the yearbook's feature section, but supporters of the mascot began a vocal attack.
Just as the criticism began to mount and support for the kangaroo was beginning to wane, famed cartoonist Walt Disney came to the rescue. In April 1937, a leading KCU political group, the CO-OP Party, won a landslide election with "Kasey the Kangaroo" as its insignia. "Kasey," the group stated, "fit KC."
The same month, the first issue of the KCU humor magazine The Kangaroos was published. Six months after the first kangaroo appeared on the cover, another kangaroo was featured, this time alongside Mickey Mouse. The artist of the drawing was the famous Disney, and support for the kangaroo mounted.
In a matter of a few years, The Crataegus folded and The Kangaroo became the school's yearbook. Over the years, the kangaroos went through numerous changes and refinements before a final edition was agreed upon via a special committee appointed by then-chancellor Randall Whaley.
The Athletics Department introduced a new set of marks in November 2004, working with Plan B. Branding of San Diego, Calif., to create the identity.
The Kangaroos is a unique nickname, and UMKC shares it with a
slight few. Just two other colleges in the nation use Kangaroos as
its nickname - Austin College in Sherman, Texas and State
University of New York at Canton. The Akron Zips, meanwhile, use
the kangaroos as its mascot.
North Dakota State
North Dakota State University's athletic teams have progres sed from the "Farmers" in the 1890s, to the "Aggies" in the early 1900s, to the "Bison," North Dakota State's current athletic symbol.
It was developed by head football coach Stan Borleske in 1919 because he and members of the football team didn't like being known as the Aggies. Borleske wanted a strong and fierce mascot.
The Bison was a logical choice. The great animals once roamed the North Dakota prairie in vast numbers, and over the years Bison athletic teams added an additional name, the "Thundering Herd."
Thundar was one of two finalists for the 2008-09 Capital One Mascot of the Year.
Nickname: Golden Grizzlies
Mascot: Grizz and Clawzz
When Oakland University decided in 1997 to move its athletics
program from NCAA Division II to Division I, all aspects of the
program were examined, including its mascot, the Pioneers.
To make sure its mascot was ready for big-time college athletics, the university formed a 19-member universitywide Mascot Advisory Committee. The committee was ch arged with determining desired attributes in an athletic nickname and mascot and to come up with three names and graphic images to pass along to the President's Cabinet for consideration.
The Mascot Advisory Committee spent months working with a professional design firm - SME Design, one of the country's leading firms in creating sports brand identities - to suggest names, create designs and conduct survey and focus-group testing.
Committee members, representing faculty, staff and students, received hundreds of suggestions and narrowed down the possibilities to three - the Golden Grizzlies, Saber Cats and Pioneers.
Before becoming the Golden Grizzlies, OU's nickname was the Pioneers and the unofficial mascot was Pioneer Pete. Pete started out in the 1950s as an aerospace pioneer , but when a student drew a buckskin-clad Pioneer Pete, the image stuck.
When looking for a new mascot, the Mascot Advisory Committee established specific criteria and Pioneers failed to measure up in many ways. The committee's criteria included that the new mascot be animal-based, tough, unique, have regional ties, be collegiate, have graphic potential and be gender- and race-neutral. Pioneer Pete couldn't stand the test of time. He was neither gender- nor race-neutral, a problem many students wanted resolved.
Golden Grizzlies met the committee's criteria and when logo images were created, it quickly became the favorite choice among all groups tested.
"We are really excited about the new name," OU Athletic Director Jack Mehl said when the Golden Grizzlies mascot finally was selected by the President's Cabinet on March 23, 1998. "It's original, it ties in directly with our school colors, and it represents the new, aggressive nature of our athletic program's move to Division I competition."
The "Grizz" made its debut at OU's inaugural basketball game against Michigan State University in the new athletics arena on Nov. 17, 1998.
OU Athletics welcomed the newest member to the Golden Grizzly family on November 14, 2009, at the men's basketball game vs. Eastern Michigan.
The fierce, the ferocious, the high flying, basketball dunking, new Golden Grizzly...Clawzz is proud to be Grizz's new friend and yours!
Durango the Maverick has ruled as the UNO mascot since 1971.
An estimated 2,000 voters turned out for the 1971 Student Senate elections on campus. Among the items on the ballot-the selection of a new university mascot. The final tally as reported by The Gateway (the student newspaper)-Maverick, 566; Unicorn, 515; Roadrunner, 397; Demon, 346.
Durango even has a deli named after him-Durango's Deli, located in the Milo Bail Student Center Food Court.
The word Coyote came from a horse race at a military fort in 1 863. When a Dakota cavalry horse outran a larger horse entered by the Iowa Sixth Cavalry, one of the Iowans said, "look at the Kiote run." The name stuck. According to longtime USD historian Cedric Cummins, the Coyote was customarily assumed to be the University's mascot without any official action. Cummins writes: "First of the University annuals were published in the spring of 1902 with William Williamson, Jr., as editor in chief, fixing the name 'Coyote' upon its progeny." The use of the term by the yearbook helped to popularize the Coyote nickname. Another symbol that originated during this period was the yearbook that was given the title, "Coyote." The state animal of South Dakota is the Coyote.
Dr. Mick Shaeffer of Ottumwa, Iowa, helped create the legacy of Charlie Coyote in the early 1970s. He established Charlie while performing at old Inman Field and th e New Armory. Shaeffer, a USD student in the 1970s, helped design the costume and persona of "Charlie Coyote." He once passed the hat among South Dakota students to pay for the first mascot suit, which was constructed of paper-mache. Mick, who spent 5 1/2 years as "Charlie," including two years while attending medical school, also funded his own way to USD games. At an NCAA D-II regional in 1973, "Charlie Coyote" was the only team mascot named to the all-tourney team while endearing himself to a St. Louis, Mo., crowd. Since Shaeffer established Charlie Coyote, the mascot has been a fixture at South Dakota sporting events.
South Dakota State
What's in a name? A great deal if that name is associated with
There are two theories as to how and why the Jackrabbi t nickname evolved. The most common belief is that the name "Jackrabbits" came from a story that appeared in a Minneapolis newspaper following a 1905 football game between the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State College, as the university was then known. A reporter for the newspaper, knowing of the preponderance of jackrabbits in the Brookings area, was believed to have written that the SDSC team was a quick as jackrabbits. Many people believe that the school adopted the Jackrabbits as its official nickname from the beginning.
The other theory about the origin of the nickname is given in The Jackrabbit, SDSU's yearbook. There is a poem in the 1907 yearbook that puts forth the idea that the yearbook is called The Jackrabbit because a group of juniors wished to immortalize themselves by changing the name of the yearbook. Athletic teams followed suit, adopting the nickname.
It is not clear if athletic teams had nicknames before this time or if SDSC teams were merely called the "state team" or "Brookings."
The origin of the logo is even more difficult to locate than the origin of the nickname. While there is no documented history of the logo, it seems to have appeared almost as soon as the nickname. A picture in the 1908 yearbook features a rabbit in football garb, but a standard Jackrabbit logo wasn't adopted until 1940s, when the literal representation of a rabbit was changed to a characterized version.
The characterized version of the Jackrabbit is still used today, although it has been modified over the years.
Nickname: Fighting Leathernecks
Western Illinois University holds the distinction of being the only non-military institution to officially have its nickname derived from a branch of the military service. The school began use of the Marine Corps' official nickname, "The Fighting Leathernecks," in 1927 when then-athletic director and head baseball, basketball and football coach Ray "Rock" Hanson was granted permission by the U.S. Navy, based on his status as a Marine hero, to use the Marine's official seal and bulldog mascot along with their nickname.
In June 2009, the female student-athletes were unified with their male counterparts when the University decided to begin using "Leathernecks" as the school's lone nickname.
No more has been written and told about any other Western Illinois athletics leader than Hanson. The Marine colonel's quest was simple - Build an athletics tradition second to none using the Marine ethic as a central force. A true pioneer in collegiate sport, Hanson was a national giant in the coaching profession. His own nickname originating as a reference to his friendship with Knute Rockne, Hanson brought a Notre Dame style of play to Western Illinois that built a foundation for years of success. After serving in World War I and attending Springfield College, Hanson began his career at Western Illinois in 1926, departed for a tour of duty in WWII, and returned to his athletic director post in 1946.
Hanson coached Leatherneck football for 16 years (1926-41) and was Western's all-time winningest coach until 1998. In 1950, Western's football stadium, Hanson Field, was dedicated in his honor, despite a campus policy that prohibited any building or property to be named after a living person. After the dedication, Hanson was overwhelmed by hundre ds of telegrams and phone calls, including one from friend Bob Hope.
Rock retired in 1964 after serving at Western Illinois for 38 years. He passed away in 1982, at the age of 86.
Western Illinois' first mascot made its first appearance on Oct. 10, 1959 at the Homecoming football game. One day earlier, the English bulldog, which was purchased by the Student Government Association at the suggestion of Student Personnel Services Dean Dr. John Henderson, was officially named "Colonel Rock" at the Homecoming bonfire. The nickname was chosen from more than 200 entries submitted in a campus-wide contest. The winning entry was submitted by Richard Stevenson, a junior from Nauvoo, Ill., who chose the name to honor former coach and athletics director Ray "Rock" Hanson. Hanson, a former colonel, was responsible for bringing the Leathernecks nickname and the Marine tradition to Western Illinois. The English bulldog, which is the traditional mascot of the U.S. Marine Corps, was cared for by the John Storey family in Macomb.
After Colonel Rock passed away in February 1966 during his
second cancer operation, Captain Dale A. Luster, a recruiter from
the Marine Corps League of Chicago, was instrumental in assisting
the Corps' purchase of Colonel Rock II, a.k.a. "Rocky." Two years
later, on September 26, Luster was killed in action over North
In 1973, with the retirement of Rocky, a costumed version took over for the live dog, but English bulldogs have frequented Western Illinois football games since. Rocky continues to cheer his team, ignite the crowd, joust opponents' mascots, plead with officials and bring smiles to the faces of many fans. He has received three "groomings" since his first appearance, the most recent on Feb. 15, 1997 when his new look was unveiled at a Leatherneck basketball game. The 'new' Rocky still holds the same grudges against Western Illinois opponents, as well as the cool temperament to high-paw a Western Illinois fan.
Rocky was immortalized in the form of a 900-pound cement statue which was unveiled on Oct. 6, 1971 behind the University Union. A gift from Country Schools Restaurants, Inc., the statute was created by sculptor Herman Morrill. To this day, the statue is painted several times a week by student groups as a sign of school spirit between the many student organizations on campus. Rocky was moved as part of the redesign to the entrance of Hanson Field in 2001, where he sits today greeting fans and players as they enter the gates.