Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unique University Mascots

As I've been watching March Madness on TV over the last week I started to contemplate with some friends about where some of these universities got their names from. You come across teams like the Bulldogs, Huskies, Panthers, and Jawhawks its really pretty obvious the origin behind it. However have you ever asked yourself what a Tar Heel is, or Hoosier. Although there are numerous universities with unique and entertaining names I narrowed it down to simply 7.

North Carolina Tar Heels
Like so many odd names and phrases the exact origin of the term “tar heels is unknown. Luckily the legends behind the term keep us well entertained. Most of the legends connect two things; North Carolina’s early production of tar due to their vast pine forests that cover the state and the fighting style of North Carolina troops in both the American Revolution and the Civil War. One of the earliest references was in 1779 when General “Mad” Anthony Wayne led troops in New York to retake a position near West Point which became the headquarters for General Washington and his men. After the victory by the Continental army, General Wayne explained to Washington that much of the success of the battle goes to the North Carolina boys whose “heels were stuck like tar” as the British fire upon them relentlessly. There was a book written in 1901 about North Carolina’s history and in it referenced that the term Tar-heel State started during the Civil War because “in battle the soldiers of North Carolina stuck to their bloody work as if they had tar on their heels.” The book even stated that General Roberts E. Lee at one moment stated, “God bless the Tar-heel boys.” It seems that no matter when and where the term was first used it seems fairly obvious why it was started. So next time all you North Carolina see your team take the court or hit the field just remember, that they are “Tar-heels” and you should expect them to hold their ground and never give up under any circumstances.

Alabama Crimson Tide
The football tradition of Alabama University started as far back as 1892. Surprisingly it was not until 1899 that football at Alabama was a full time traveling sport. At the time the name for the team seemed to vary. Sometimes they were known as the “Crimson White” and other times they were simply known as “varsity”. In 1907 Alabama took the field against Auburn for the final time until the series was brought back in 1948. With Auburn a heavy favorite it was not looking good for Alabama. With all the rain that fell, the field was mired in mud which to the sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald, Hugh Roberts, seemed like a sea of mud; when the final seconds game off the clock, Alabama had tied the score 6-6. As Roberts wrote of the game the next day he compared Alabama to a Crimson Tide. It was at that point that Alabama became known as Crimson Tide. So to all those Alabama fans out there be glad you still aren’t called “varsity”, Roll-Tide.  

Stanford Cardinal
Win you first look at the Stanford Cardinal name your first thought is probably that it probably should be plural. You have multiple students on the field or court and they are each a cardinal, fighting together they are cardinals. However the name is actually not referencing the bird but rather the color. it probably Stanford’s first win as a football team was against California in 1892. Following that game the university established the color cardinal as their official primary color, however it was not until 1930 that the athletic department adopted a team mascot which was the Indian. By 1972 enough objections were made by Native American students that the President of the university dropped it and the name Cardinals took over. Despite the plural form being used the mascot name still referenced a color and not a bird. By 1981 the university president declared that athletic teams for Stanford would be name the Cardinal in the singular form to represent the color to avoid confusion. To this day Stanford has no official mascot however a member of the Stanford marching band continues the tradition of wearing a costume designed like a redwood tree. The tree is based on El Palo Alto which is believed to be over 1,000 year old and is depicted on the Stanford logo. At least for all Stanford fans it will be really easy to pick the right swatch when trying to paint your man-cave.

Delta State University Fighting Okra
 When one takes the court or the field it can be difficult to garner excitement for the “Statesmen”. It sounds more like a golf club society than a college mascot but sadly the teams of Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi wear it proudly. In the late 1980s the baseball and basketball players of Delta State were discussing how embarrassing and un-fearful a Fighting Statesmen was to their opponents. They all agreed that an alternative needed to be developed which was mean and maintained the school color, green. Bob Black a pitcher for Delta State suggested Okra because of its color and toughness. It was not long until baseball players who attended basketball games were chanting, Okra, Okra, Okra and from there the Fighting Okra of Delta State University developed. As something only college students could conjure up the costume depicts a giant Okra with an angry look on its face and boxing gloves. Tragically the university refuses to recognize the Fighting Okra as their official mascot but in the mid-1990s the student body elected to adopt the Okra as their unofficial university mascot. From there the popularity of the Fighting Okra grew exponentially with all kinds of merchandise available for purchase as well as folktales and legends about the “true” origin of the Okra. The most commonly told on involved a stubborn okra plant which grew near first base on the university field. However every time the okra was cut down to practice or play baseball the okra would spring back to life the following day. Although not an official team name for the university it is well worth learning the history behind the most feared vegetable in all of sports.

Indiana Hoosiers
Growing up in Indiana it was difficult to answer the question, what is a Hoosier? Because to be honest it sounds like a pretty silly word, almost made up but what could it possible mean? The number of possible legends and stories of the words etymology is too much to bear. Three stories involve men with the last name Hoosier. There was Harry Hoosier, a black Methodist minister, who evangelized throughout the frontier around 1800. Being one of the great preachers of his day his followers famously became known as “Hoosiers.” There was also Samuel Hoosier who was a contractor for the construction of the Louisville and Portland Canal in the late 1820s. Samuel was known for preferring to hire Indiana workers who quickly became known as “Hoosier men”. And finally a similar story as with Samuel Hoosier there was another contractor named Robert Hoosier whose employees had asked him if they could work on the new National Road being built in the Richmond, Indiana area. The federal foreman in charge of the project referred to those men working on the project as “Hoosiers.” Aside from these stories of men with the last name Hoosier, one historian of the Indiana Historical Society believes the word “Hoosier” was defined in the nineteenth-century as woodsmen or rough hill person. He believes the word comes from the Cumberland dialect of England which is “hoozer.” The word “hoozer” means anything unusually large, such as a hill. So from the word “hoozer” the people of Southern Indiana especially became known as “hoozers” and eventually “Hoosiers”. Where ever the term comes from it never has really given an Indiana native a great since of identity. Most of the time we try to ignore the question of “what is a hoosier” and focus on basketball or racing, things our state is normally pretty good at.

UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs
 When you first enter the Thimann Hall lecture building you will find a statute on the outside commemorating a sea lion. This was the mascot chosen in 1981 when UCSC started to first participate in collegiate sports. However long before the sea lion was selected the banana slug was the common mascot used in all campus coed sporting events. Even despite the university embracing the sea lion the student body would continue to chant for the slugs.  Quickly the student body rejected the notion of a fighting sea lion. In 1986, students rejecting the idea of a sea lion offered up a banana slug as apparently a better alternative. After a student vote was made to officially accept the banana slug as the official mascot of the school. The chancellor refused to honor the vote believing the athletes should choose the mascot. The athletes upheld the students’ choice and the banana slug was chosen as the official mascot of UCSC. The popularity of the Banana Slug mascot is so wide spread that ESPN voted it as the best team mascot name. Nice work UCSC, way to slug it up.

Akron Zips
The stories behind the names and mascots of universities and colleges can be unique and humorous. For the University of Akron there team name was selected from a contest back in 1925 by Margaret Hamlin who submitted “Zippers”. By the 1950s the school was seeking a mascot to represent the school. In steps All-American Akron diver Bob Savoy recommended the kangaroo and it was approved by the student council. Despite the initial resistance to the kangaroo it was eventually accepted and named “Zippy”. In fact Zippy is so widely accepted now that he won the 2007 Capital One Mascot of the Year award. Despite probably never seeing a kangaroo in real life, you have to love how popular their mascot has become.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Lincoln's Assassin Escaped?

I've been watching the series "Brad Meltzer's Decoded" which is well worth your time to watch. Recently I watched the episode on John Wilkes Booth and the theory that he was not killed in a barn by Union soldiers. Instead the group chases down the possible aliases of John Wilkes Booth and the stories told by several people on why they believe he lived nearly forty years after Lincoln was assassinated.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Our Nation Divided: Cornerstone Speech

“The prevailing ideas entertained by him (Thomas Jefferson) and most of the leading statesman at the time of the formation of the old constitution (1787), were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that is was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with… Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
Alexander Stevens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, stated this to a packed crowd in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861. The crowd grew so large that many demanded that Stevens give his speech outside but he felt that no matter where he gave it some would be unable to hear. Stevens’ speech was meant to layout for the people the clear differences between the United States constitution and the Confederacy’s newly formed one.  He started out referencing differences such as tariffs, responsibility of internal improvement, cabinet construction more in line with the style of the British parliament, term length and limit of the President, and finally, according to Stevens, the foundational difference between the United States and the Confederacy, slavery.

Stevens builds a detailed argument with the center of it being that the African’s inferiority was created and mandated by God. Stevens stated that “they (being anti-slavery advocates) were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.” Clearly the philosophy being laid out here has nothing to do with a need for slavery to maintain an agricultural economy but rather a superiority over the African laid out by God himself. In the context of 1861, the Confederacy is forming and the Union is trying to hold itself together. Citizens of the North are scrambling to find resolve and compromise to maintain the republic of our founders. However the battle lines are being drawn and Stevens is clearly defining the separation not in political ideals or legislative policies but rather a foundational philosophical and moral parallel which can not find compromise nor communion. Stevens speech is building the stark reality that two nations are now formed and it is the will of the Southern or Confederate people to maintain their independence from the United States. Not because of petty disagreements that have built over time but a basic difference in the way each views the world and it is because of that different worldview that the two sides can not coexist. 

From the Norths perspective after reading through this speech in the papers the following day two things seem quite clear. The time for unity through compromise has long past. And that the only way in which the Union can be maintain is through force. Stevens even understands this however believes that Lincoln is bluffing in his threats to use force, especially when it comes to Fort Sumter. "The prospect of war is, at least, not so threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion, shadowed forth in President Lincoln's inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so vigorously as was expected. Fort Sumter, it is believed, will soon be evacuated." The next steps are quite clear and the inevitable conflict is on the horizon. This cornerstone speech is clearly a necessary cog in the establishment of an independent republic to separate itself from its mother country and seek its own identity. Its identify, the Confederate States of America's identity is routed in practice and establishment of slavery. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New 9/11 Footage from the Sky

For those of you who may not have realized this September will mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. For many of us that day will forever be burned into the memories of our lives. A few days ago leaked footage taken from a NYPD Sea and Rescue Chopper was posted on the Internet. It shows chilling footage of the towers after they were hit and even video of the area from sky after the first tower fell. I suggest spending a few minutes and watching the video. It gives you a different perspective of the destruction as well as reminds us of that terrible day and the many lives lost.  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Our Nation Divided: Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

By March 4, 1861 the Confederate States of America had been formed for nearly a month with a leader, Jefferson Davis, in place and a clear establishment of two countries. Then in steps Abraham Lincoln to give his first inaugural address as President of the United States of America. Immediately Lincoln tries to remind the people of our history and our Constitution, as well as the significance of its history to the American people. Then Lincoln jumps right into addressing the issue of the secession of Southern states.
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
We talk all the time about how Lincoln was the champion of abolitionists and how he emancipated the slaves. We can not discount Lincoln’s past speeches and writing that describe his distaste for slavery, however the reality is as President he was not planning on emancipating the slaves the very day he took office. In fact most of speech tries to reassure the South that slavery will be enforced by his administration because it is supported by the Constitution. He speaks directly to the seceded states of the South saying that the President and all members of Congress are sworn to protect the rights of all States per the Constitution. Lincoln was attempting to build a trust with the South that he is their President as much as he is the President of the North.

Lincoln then justifies his position of authority to protect the Union in the event of a break which was happening in the South. He looks to the Constitution and his position as an enforcer of laws. A secession of a state is a violation of the Constitution and as he points out the “more perfect Union” that the founders created must be protected. Without question Lincoln’s only objective was to maintain the Union and avoid conflict. He wanted the people of the South to realize that they have a place in United States of America as citizens protected by the Constitution and laws, not lost among a tidal wave of majority rule. Lincoln believed that conflicts could be resolved and war could be avoided but it was not up to him, it was up to the South.
“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it. I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Lincoln’s first inaugural establishes the direction that the North was going to take when it came to dealing with the South and their secession, their newly formed government. They wanted to maintain and preserve the Union through diplomatic and amicable means, however if it came down to it they would go to war to keep it together. 
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