by Gerry Bishop
OK, sports fans—ready for some March Madness? Starting on March 12, people all across the country will be going crazy, rooting for their favorite college basketball team to win the NCAA Tournament. On the courts will be the players, battling for the title. And on the sidelines—strutting and leading cheers—will be the teams’ mascots.
Many schools have animals as mascots. Some schools bring live mascots to games, but, for most, people in animal costumes play the roles. Either way, the mascots are there to bring their teams luck, to cheer them on to victory, and to tell everyone, “This is who we are!”
Dribble on down to meet some of these animal mascots. You’ll soon find out why they can make fans everywhere stand up and cheer—like MAD!
“Wildcat” is another name for a bobcat—a fierce predator about the size of a boxer dog. Bobcats roam deep forests and other wild places in North America, on the lookout for prey to pounce on. Bobcats have a reputation for being fast, alert, and full of fight. So it’s no wonder that “wildcat” is a favorite mascot of school teams everywhere. Famous wildcat mascots include:
-University of Arizona: Wilbur the Wildcat
-Villanova University: Will D. Cat
-Kansas State University: Willie the Wildcat
-University of Kentucky: Scratch
These stocky, powerful dogs were once used to round up wild bulls. The dogs were trained to grab on to a bull’s nose and hold the huge animal until someone could rope it. Today’s bulldogs are bred to be gentle, loving pets. They no longer tackle bulls, but because of their “tough-guy” looks, many schools have
made them their team mascots. Bulldog mascots include:
-Yale University: Handsome Dan XVII
-Mississippi State University: Bully
-Butler University: Butler Blue III
-University of Georgia: Uga IX
At least three colleges have alligator mascots. One is the University of Florida. It’s not hard to figure that one out. After all, there are more gators living in Florida than in any other state. That may also be why the team has two alligator mascots: Albert E. Gator and Alberta Gator. San Francisco State University chose an alligator (named Gator) as a team mascot because the animal is “well built, steadfast, steadily moving toward its goal.” The university doesn’t seem to mind that the closest wild alligator lives more than 2,000 miles away! There also are no alligators in Pennsylvania, the home state of Allegheny College. But “Allegheny (al-uh-GAY-nee) Alligators” just sounded good. The mascot’s name is Chompers.
The University of Wisconsin is the only university with a badger for a mascot. The mascot’s name is Bucky, and he looks a bit like a real badger with a striped sweater and a bad attitude. Real badgers are fierce, super-tough animals. But that’s not why UW has one as a team mascot. The name comes from the state’s official nickname: The Badger State. This might lead you to believe lots of badgers live in Wisconsin. Not so. “Badgers” was also a name for men who worked in Wisconsin’s mines long, long ago. And that’s how the state got its nickname.
UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) fans started out with a bear cub as a mascot. But soon they wanted a mascot that was a bit more ferocious. So they picked the grizzly bear. But that was the mascot
claimed by the University of Montana—one of their opponents. So they settled on the name “bruin,” which is another word for “bear.” But take a look at their mascot, Joe, and you can see that this bruin is still a
grizzly—just not called one.
A little tweety bird as a team mascot? That’s not going to impress anyone on a basketball court! Well, having a cardinal as a mascot doesn’t seem to bother University of Louisville players. Year after year, they are one of the nation’s best basketball teams. But you still have to wonder: Why a cardinal? It’s because Louisville is in Kentucky, where the cardinal is the state bird. To give Cardinal Bird, as folks call the mascot, a bit more spunk, an artist added some teeth and a snarly look. Seems the school is slowly working its way from “Cardinal Bird” to “Bad Bird.” Tough enough? Other schools with cardinals as their mascots include:
-Lamar University: Big Red
-Plattsburgh State University: Burghy
-Wesleyan University: Cardinal Bird
-Ball State University: Charlie Cardinal
-Iowa State University: Cy the Cardinal
Husky dogs are famous for their strength, endurance, and toughness. It’s no wonder, then, that many colleges and universities have chosen the husky as a mascot. One of the regular “top dogs” in college
basketball is the University of Connecticut team. UConn is the school’s nickname. And that sounds like Yukon—a part of Canada where huskies are often used as sled dogs. But there’s really no connection. A
husky became the team mascot before the school’s nickname was created. The dog is called Jonathon, after Jonathon Trumball, first governor of Connecticut. Other husky mascots include:
-St. Cloud State University: Blizzard
-University of Southern Maine: Champ the Husky
-University of Washington: Dubs (live husky); Harry the Husky (costumed person)
-Northwestern University: King Husky
-Northeastern University: Paws
Here we go with another tweety bird as a mascot. What’s up with that? Well, blue jays can be full of fight—not a bad thing for any team. But for Creighton University, it’s all about color. In 1923, a contest was held to pick a mascot for the university. Out of 200 entries, “Bluejays” was the winner—chosen because
the bird matches the school colors of blue and white. Like Louisville, Creighton has given its mascot a new “fightin’ mad” look. Billy Bluejay is now bold and proud, according to the university’s president. Trouble is,
Billy now looks a lot like the mascot of the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team. Toronto’s message to Creighton: “Change it again!” More birds in blue that serve as mascots include:
-Johns Hopkins University: Jay
-Elmhurst College: Victor E. Bluejay
What in the world is a bearcat? An animal from Asia, a binturong (bin-TOOR-ong), is sometimes called “bearcat,” but it isn’t a bear or a cat. So how did the University of Cincinnati come up with a “bearcat” as a mascot? Here’s the story: One hundred years ago on October 31, 1914, the university was playing football against the powerful University of Kentucky “Wildcats.” Cincinnati was struggling on the field, even though it had a great fullback named Leonard Baehr. So, to urge the team to victory, a cheerleader suddenly shouted out, “They may be Wildcats, but we have a Baehr-cat on our side.” To some people, the Cincinnati mascot may look like nothing more than an angry kitty. But to all the fans at UC, it’s an awesome bearcat!
And guess what! Here are some other teams that have bearcat mascots:
-Willamette University: Blitz
-Northwest Missouri State University: Bobby
-Sam Houston State University: Sammy and Samantha Bearkat
"Mascot Madness" originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a closer view of the photos.