By Jim • 

Sports Fan: Dust em, Dirtbags! Go, Banana Slugs!

And, let's say that in the first year of its existence, you decide that your new institution will include several athletic programs.

But, before you get the cart ahead of the horse, do you have a nickname suitable for your teams, one that will be acceptable to the student body and boosters? Let's face it: it would be difficult to cheer for a team if you didn't have a mascot.

Sure, you could say "Go, Podunk" or "Rah, Katmandu U", but a mascot makes it easier for fans to learn a catchy song or yell.

The good news is, you don't have to choose a brilliant, euphemistic term that has a classy ring to it; just search through the list of school mascots that are anything but brilliant or euphemistic, with some being downright silly and having nothing to do with the school, the area or its history.

Take, for example, the nickname for the University of California-Santa Cruz — "Banana Slugs". Just for an exercise, try to pen a jingle for the "Banana Slugs" or take on a serious demeanor yelling, "Go, Banana Slugs! Go, fight, win, Slugs!"

Sorry, I couldn't do it without losing my composure and rolling in the aisles. It's obviously one of those "tongue-in-cheek" nicknames, and I'm still trying to picture a student dressed as a banana slug parading in front of the student body screaming, "Go, Banana Slugs!"

And perhaps just as kooky a nickname is "Dirtbags", the moniker for Cal State-Long Beach. Seems like that nickname is a little demeaning, doesn't it? Try it on for size: "Dust 'em, Dirtbags!"

Now, without being too silly in my quest for the most imperfect mascots (personal opinion, of course), I've settled on a few that I rather like due to their literary nature. I always enjoyed the Robin Hood stories and Robin's Band of Merry Men and their antics in Sherwood Forest. Well, one school, Penn State University-Albington, adopted one of Robin's main men, Little John, as its mascot, thus the "Little Johns" is the sports' teams' call to action.

And, I also admire Coastal Carolina's adoption of the "Chanticleers" as its mascot since Chanticleer is a rooster character in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which I read in college and taught later in English Literature classes. But, if you were a visitor and hadn't read the Canterbury Tales, you might be a little confused when you heard, "Go, Chanticleers!"

Or, maybe not since anything seems to go in the world of mascots/nicknames such as the "Fightin' Blue Hens" of Delaware or "Fighting Camels" of Campbell or the "Mastodons" of Indiana University-Fort Wayne. However, since camels apparently existed on the continent eons ago, along with mastodons, maybe those nicknames are not such a stretch after all.

Some of the more unusual nicknames, in fact, have a ring to them, and often, a little power. Take for example, the "Paladins" (knights) of Furman. Nothing is more powerful... well, almost nothing... than the image of a knight clad in shining armor, armed with a lance and sword, galloping at his foe, with his steed breathing fire and foam.

And, how about the nickname for the University of Alaska-Southwest, "Humpback Whales?" One of the magnificent creatures of the sea important to the far north, the mascot could stimulate jingles and chants based on the natural sounds of the mammal as he communicates with his species. But, "Go, Humpbacks?" How catchy is that compared to "Go, Paladins" or "Go, Mastodons?"

In truth, there are many great mascots and nicknames in the college ranks, nicknames appropriate to the university, its geographical characteristics or local history. But I still can't visualize sitting in the stands chanting, "Go, Banana Slugs" or "Dust 'em, Dirtbags."

Personally, I think those schools can do better than that unless they think it's cool.

Cool is okay, too, and nobody else is going to "steal" those nicknames.

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