Saturday, April 30, 2011

Mascot Envy

Our family is rich in many ways: we have a nice house, several cars and all manner of material goods. In less tangible ways we are also well off: we have friends and family, and pursuits both work and leisure related that fulfill us and bring smiles to our faces. However, all is not milk and cookies. In one particular area, the members of our household are wanting, bereft in fact, compared to many of our more fortunate acquaintances. For while both parents and offspring attended good colleges, when it comes to mascots, we are paupers.

Unlike the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the Wolverines of Michigan or the Gators of Florida, none of our alma maters' symbols are the kind that pump up those competitive juices and inspire a whole lot of school pride.  Thankfully the institutions themselves were and are wonderful bastions of higher learning which served us each very well. But the mascots, those tangible embodiments which are supposed to represent said institutions on hats and tee shirts, are a different story. At best they are cute; at worse they are embarrassing.

Let's start with our youngest. He attends Colby in central Maine. With a campus that is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen, and a demanding academic program that covers a wide range of ground, it's been a perfect fit for him. However he hasn't been as keen to embrace the school's alter ego, the White Mule. The choice derives from a time when the school's football team upturned its "dark horse" status. And what is the opposite of a dark horse? You guessed it. There is even a statue of the beast outside the gym that makes it almost stallion-like... but sorry, it's still a mule.

Then there's our oldest, who went to Williams. Again, a small liberal arts college that many rank as one of the best in the nation. And again, a perfect fit for our son and his interests. The teams there go by the moniker of "Ephs," a nod to the founder of the school, Ephraim Williams. But what does an Eph look like? In the case of Williams, the students back in in 1907 adopted the name of a popular humor magazine as their representation in intercollegiate contests. And so should you dress for battle in your football pads or tennis whites and face off against the Ephs, you will be facing the fearsome Purple Cows. It is worth noting, however, that while the Cow may not strike fear into others, it has other strengths: it was just named by Reader's Digest as "The Most Lovable College Mascot" in the country, edging out the University of North Carolina School of the Arts' Fighting Pickle.

My wife's alma mater has the most legitimate sounding mascot in the family. A fearsome cat, the lion is all that you expect a college talisman. But it's not that simple. She went to Mount Holyoke, an all women's college, and the lion in question is actually spelled Lyon, in deference to the founder there, Mary Lyon. Additionally, any ferocity attributed to the cat is somewhat tempered by its nickname, Paws.

And there there's me. I attended Ithaca College in upstate New York. Our teams were known as the Bombers, though no one had any real idea why. Turns out the nickname came courtesy of a long-ago sportswriter, who talked about the basketball team's "bomb-like" shooting, and the name stuck. It's actually taken until just this month when a campus committee narrowed down suggestions from student, staff and alumni to three finalists that would embody the name in physical form. Of course, these days, any choice of a mascot has to abide by NCAA guidelines and overall political correctness, some any obvious "bomb" or military connection was impossible. And so, just this week I got an email asking to cast my vote for the Phoenix (a throw to the Greek ancestry of the Ithaca name), the Lake Creature (a reference to the Lock Ness-like monster fabled to inhabit the lake on which the college is built) to the Flying Squirrel (honestly... I don't have a clue about that one). One can only hope that the voters do the right thing... whatever that is.

Admittedly it could be worse. At least none of our family went to Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Nothing to do with the school's academics, its fine faculty or lovely campus with an unobstructed view of the mountains.  It's just that as bad as things are for us, at least we don't have to muster any false enthusiasm for the Fighting Artichokes... Go Artie!


Marc Wollin of Bedford is pleased that he didn't go to Whittier College: hard to cheer on the Fighting Poets. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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