News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

April 2, 2013

RONN MOTT: Mascots

There are many loyalists to the idea of mascots. There have been many I don’t even know about. The University of Oregon started out as the Webfoots. (It rains a lot there.) But that evolved into the very cute and animated duck that is their mascot today. He’s an oversized edition and a dead-ringer for Donald Duck, Mr. Disney’s somewhat ill-tempered and energetic duck. The Duck looks like Donald because he is, under license, from the Disney Corp. (My grandpa used to say, “If it has an orange bill, orange webbed feet and quacks, you can bet it’s a duck.”)  

I’m not going to say which of the mascots I find best in the ranks of the NCAA, they are terribly restricted on what they can do or not do … which brings us home to the blue and white Sycamore Sam. If Sam looks like an animal that is indigenous to this area, except for the coloring, it is because he was designed to be a fox.  

A fraternity took the charge on the ISU campus, got an election set up, and made sure it was gerrymandered to elect a squirrel as the mascot. It was said, but I don’t know if it was true, that ISU’s president received a dead squirrel in the mail. The ad agency I was employed by at the time tried to come to the university’s rescue. After much chomping, researching, (reading), it was decided the fox would be the perfect mascot. A native of the Hoosier State, brave, cunning, and with excellent family traits, the fox has endured and flourished even though the Native Americans wanted him wiped out. And so did the Anglo pioneers, and now the immigrant coyotes have targeted the fox. Because of these good traits, it was thought it would be a good mascot.

The athletic director at the time was concerned for his female athletes and the term “foxes” may not be flattering to these young women.  So the design was well-liked, but the term fox was not to be used. No natural coloring for this designed fox, and he would never be called that. He would come in wearing school colors, blue and white, with a tail being optional. You may have noticed the said animal sometimes wears a tail and sometimes he doesn’t. It was agreed upon he would not be called a fox. In fact, no reference was to be made of the breed of animal at all. In his blue and white, he would be called Sycamore Sam and that’s what he is. A good mascot? I don’t know. My guess is he’s not a bad mascot, but is what he is for the fighting Sycamores.  

Sam will probably be around longer than I and the stories of the other mascots will have to wait for another time. For example, how a radio station’s greed gave birth to the San Diego Chicken. It’s a good story.

Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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