School Mascot: The Team's Lucky Charm
Jan 01, 2016 11:21AM ● Published by Corinne Moore
Albert - 2015-16 Florida Gators cheerleading team - Saturday, June 27, 2015 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL / UAA Communications photo by Loreal Curtis
By BRIAN WIERIMA
It’s nearing game time and the electricity is pitching higher and higher. Chanting and cheering are building, and home fans in the sold-out stadium anticipate that special moment to push them over the edge into a crescendo of wild cheers.
And in sprints the team's mascot, making a grand entrance amidst the roaring crowd. As a duck, badger, cowboy or Viking, the mascot is a lone symbol proudly wearing the home team’s colors, providing antics throughout the game to hold fan enthusiasm and to keep players pumped.
Mascots aren’t just about games―Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are big-league celebrities. But school mascots feel more personal, representing the spirit and heritage of a team or a town. Think what the alligator means to the University of Florida or Osceola at Florida State University. Mascoting is also hard work. “The number one job,” former North Fort Myers High mascot David Crager says, “is to make sure your mask doesn't come off, because we try to make sure no one knows who is behind it. I really did enjoy it―and I know a lot of the students in the crowd enjoyed it.”
The mascot Knightro at the University of Central Florida “is by far the ‘big man on campus’ at UCF, and not just because he stands seven feet tall,” says UCF’s Mark Schlueb, the school’s media communcations coordinator. “No one brings more school spirit to the party than Knightro, and wherever he goes students gather around for high-fives and selfies. When it comes to his moves, Knightro puts other mascots to shame―fans love it when he stands tall atop a pyramid of UCF cheerleaders.”
The word mascot is French rooted, meaning lucky charm. In the early days of mascots, they were mostly living critters such as badgers and ducks. Although some live mascots are still used―such as Renegade the Appaloosa horse which carries Florida State University's Osceola to midfield―it's the larger-than-life, puppet-like entertainers that dominate modern sidelines, the top of dugouts and in the stands. And some schools have dropped references, icons and mascots of Native Americans to not offend.
But most mascots are free from controversy. That’s been true, for example, for the longest time in Gainesville. One of our state’s best recognized mascots has been the University of Florida’s Albert and Alberta gator. The alligator was introduced in 1908 by Austin Miller, a law student at the University of Virginia. Phillips Miller, Austin's father, was in Gainesville for business and was asking about the university’s mascot. Learning there wasn’t one, the Millers decided on the alligator and had to return months later with a photo of an alligator, because the designer had never seen one.
The school’s first live alligator, Albert, made an appearance in 1957. There was even a robotic alligator used at one time. It wasn't until 1970 that Albert the Alligator was given the full-time job in a vinyl suit. His sidekick, Alberta, was introduced in 1986.
Team nicknames are also based on local industry, such as the minor league Port Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball club and its mascot "Stoney." Stone crabs have been an important part of the area's fishing industry, with the Stone Crabs' official colors resembling the blue of its Major League Baseball parent team, the Tampa Bay Rays. And not all mascots are the team's nicknames, either. The Miami Dolphins, for instance, employed a pair of life-sized bobbleheads of two team legends, Dan Marino and Don Shula, during the 2014 season. The bobbleheads were fan favorites outside the stadium during pregame festivities.
Brian Wierima is a Cape Coral-based writer.
Bevo the longhorn steer at the University of Texas dates to 1916.
Sebastian the Ibis at the University of Miami was created in 1957.
The University of Michigan introduced Biff the wolverine in the 1920s.
Ralphie the buffalo at the University of Colorado dates to the 1930s.
The University of Oregon’s Puddles the duck dates to the 1920s.