A school mascot can be an animal or insect to a type of person, flower or other entity. Mascots have been associated with athletic teams since interschool team competition began in the post-Civil War era in the late 19th century. The school mascot in its essence is a symbol of pride in the school and a certain spirit. In many cases the answer to the question do mascots increase school spirit is self evident. As the shrine to the Nittany Lion of Penn State has illustrated it is a part of school events and celebrations. There is even a tradition that began in 1966 called Guard the Lion Shrine that takes place immediately following the Homecoming Pep Rally with guest speakers, food and beverages, and a DJ.
Part of the enjoyable experience of attending a school game is watching mascots performances. A mascot is fulfilling its purpose when it is rousing its audience. Mascots are a recognizable face or personality for a school that builds popularity with fans and boosts the team spirit at games and other community events. They add to school history, tradition and pride. It is not just about getting into a suit. Mascots even have training camps and manuals to help them play their role to the hilt.
The most memorable mascots embody the desire to support the school and are a visual representation of their affiliation with the school they are proud to call their own. Many have in fact been promoted by students such as Joe Mason of Penn State who came up with the Nittany Lion symbol, or the students who selected Cy the Cardinal for Iowa State University, Sammy the Banana Slug lobbied for by students of the University of California Santa Cruz.
The tradition of mascots in the United States goes back at least as far as the Civil War where many regiments had living mascots. In the post Civil War era, intercollegiate and interschool competition began using mascots when intercollegiate athletic games and rivalries emerged. Some schools do not have mascots. One example is the University of Michigan that does not have a mascot that entertains at games. Its athletic department has maintained there was no need of one and that one would not reflect the spirit and values of athletics at the University. It has refused to sanction one even tough over the years, mascots in a variety of wolverine costumes have been proposed. The word mascot came into the English language from a French word used to describe anything which brought luck to a household.
Mascots can be chosen without a great deal of deliberation or care. They can also be selected by popular choice as has happened more recently than it has over the years. No matter how they are selected there is a reasoning behind them. The mascots selected represent something the schools want associated with the symbol that can become a promotional tool as the most identifiable mascots have become.
When it comes to school mascots animal names predominate. Some are more common than others. A perceived image or quality associated with the animal makes some animals a more likely choice since they participate in supporting athletic teams. Hence, an eagle is a more common emblem than a slug. The more common mascots are animals associated with ferocity such as eagles, tigers, lions, bull dogs, wildcats and panthers. In the same vein, the more common human symbols are warriors, braves, chieftains, raiders, pirates. Besides animal mascots, warlike mascots account for about half of the human mascots. A martial spirit is represented in the majority of all mascot names. These mascots get the spectators to associate that spirit with the determination and will to succeed of the teams.
Mascots can have different uses. During games they get the crowd excited and involved in the game. They bring forth smiles and laughter with their antics and are an identifying brand, a symbol of school pride and a partner of the cheerleaders. The most identifiable mascots are ambassadors of the schools and their sport teams they have become associated with. An example is the Nittany Lion mascot of Penn State which makes more than 200 appearances each year of which only half are at sporting events, even though the inspiration for symbol came at a game between Penn State and Princeton in 1904. Being a mascot can become a career where one can earn a six figure income with a professional sports team, which is an illustration of their importance to the franchise they represent.
Mascots selection has taken different paths. Many mascots have been selected because students, school officials, locals or even reporters have given a nickname to the university or college. At BYU, in 1923 athletic coach Eugene L. Roberts in 1923 chose the cougar as the official mascot of BYU athletics because it was native to Utah and embodied the traits of strength, agility, grace, quickness and beauty he hoped BYU athletes would exemplify. Today Cosmo the Cougar is the official mascot of BYU athletics. Cosmo made his first appearance in front of BYU fans on October 15, 1953 when Dwayne Stevenson, the pep chairman of BYU, bought the costume for 73 dollars and persuaded his roommate to wear it. In 1924 a sports reporter used the description of wildcats for a game performance of the Northwestern University football team. That description became identifiable with the team. The first Willie the Wildcat mascot came to life in 1947 with a costume designed by the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity for their homecoming float. Mascots are a symbol of school spirit to rally round through losses and wins. For some students it is difficult to identify with or rally around a mascot attached to teams that do not inspire school pride with winning performances. However, as the Northwestern University football team has revealed, fortunes can change for the better. Through the lean period to the present period of improved performance Willie the Wildcat has been there for students to identify with as they stand by their team.