VALPARAISO — Love it or hate it, Valparaiso University has decided to ditch its Crusader mascot after 80 years of usage.
Much has been said about the change and the way the school made the decision. Trust me when I tell you that this column isn’t about that. No amount of handwringing, Bible-thumping or alumni donations is going to get Valparaiso to move back to the Crusader.
When incoming Valparaiso President Jose Padilla takes office next week, one of his first orders of business will be to convene a task force that will ultimately decide on a new mascot for the school. Knowing money is tight, I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring with a handful of options that Padilla and the task force could consider in lieu of hiring a pricey outside consulting firm.
There are a few options that are off my board already. While many have suggested the Valparaiso Gold, I’m just not a fan. I was living in Milwaukee when Marquette attempted to change its name from the Golden Eagles to the Gold. People lost their minds, and the school dropped the nickname less than two weeks later. It’s hard to get inspired by a color. That said, I do like the idea of the student section being renamed “The Gold Standard.”
I’m also not supporting any of the nicknames inspired by light. These include Rays, Beacons, Torches or Flamethrowers. I get it. Jesus said “I am the light of the world,” and the Lutheran school has leaned into this imagery. When Valparaiso moved away from the Uhlan nickname in 1941, it renamed the yearbook “The Beacon.” The best option here is probably “Flames,” but Illinois-Chicago has that name already and I’m all about being unique.
Let’s also do away with any alliterative names. Choosing something like the Valparaiso Victors or the Volts, Valiants, Vagrants or Vipers just feels lazy and surely, we can do better than that.
So, what is Valparaiso’s best option for a nickname and a mascot that will unite fans, alumni and current students that have found themselves on opposite sides of the Crusader debate?
Together with Kat Velez, an ultra-talented page designer at The Times, I present to you five choices for Valparaiso’s next mascot.
We’ll get the simple and obvious choice out of the way first. When Valparaiso rebranded the look of its mascot in 2011, the school put a shield in the hands of the Crusader. The “Shield of Character” has become a guiding force for students, as they are given a pin during the opening convocation service each year. The shield stands for eight “unwavering values and distinguished characteristics” including empowerment. This choice would save Valparaiso a ton of money as they already use the branding all over campus.
Valparaiso Golden Knights
The school could go one step further and keep both the shield and the current mascot and simply change the name. This would be another cost-saving move as Valparaiso could dust off the Crusader costume as well as the giant inflatable mascot and just rebrand as the Golden Knights. If the school wanted to deviate from the look, it could change the color scheme. Former Valparaiso athletic director Bill Steinbrecher recently shared with me that he tried to change the school colors in the early 2000’s to the scarlet red and metallic gold used by the San Francisco 49ers. Steinbrecher even had hats made up and he was distributing them around campus before he was told by the administration to embrace the Brown and Gold.
This is a play on a nickname that originated in the pages of the Vidette-Messenger shortly after Valparaiso moved away from the Uhlans. With the school going without a mascot for much of the 1941-42 season, former Vidette scribes Herb Steinbach and Ray Scherer took to calling the basketball team the “Dunes Hawks.” Not wanting to see their mascot taken over by local sportswriters, the school moved quickly to adopt the Crusader name. (Who knew we had such power!) Patrick Feaster, a 1993 Valparaiso graduate, started pushing for the Dune Hawks in 1992 when he wrote one of the first objections to the Crusader mascot in a column for The Torch, Valparaiso’s student newspaper. The mascot ties itself to the Indiana Dunes and could be a good way for the school to truly become The Region’s Division I Team.
Valparaiso is known globally for two reasons: The Shot and popcorn. I know this because every time I wear Valparaiso clothing on an airplane, someone stops me and mentions either Bryce Drew or Orville Redenbacher. What better way to bring unity to the area then by marrying Valparaiso athletics to Valparaiso history? Going deeper, the Valparaiso Male and Female College had many of its students and administrators go off to fight in the Civil War before the school ultimately closed for two years. Henry Baker Brown then reopened the school in 1873. Given that connection and the fact that Valparaiso has used mascots attached to wars in the past, we’ll name the mascot Colonel Kernel.
Longtime listeners of Union Street Hoops, my Valparaiso basketball podcast, will know the koala reference. When discussing possible mascots that wouldn’t offend anyone several years ago with my original co-host Parker Gatewood, I mentioned my love of koala bears. They're a lovable animal that can get pretty fierce at a moments notice. We laughed it off and never thought twice about it. Then I started getting tweets and texts from listeners telling me how much they loved the Koalas. It only grew from there. When Valparaiso announced the mascot change two weeks ago, dozens of messages came my way with koala references. What started as an innocent joke has now grown legs. The movement has started. Thanks to Kat, we now have a logo. I’m pleased to introduce you all to Valparaiso’s newest mascot, Rowdy the Koala.
Gallery: The Top 10 Valparaiso men's basketball players of the 2010s
Gallery: The top 10 Valparaiso men's basketball players of the 2010s
10. Shane Hammink (2015-17)
9. LaVonte Dority (2012-14)
8. Matt Kenney (2009-13)
7. Tevonn Walker (2014-18)
6. Keith Carter (2013-16)
5. Javon Freeman-Liberty (2018-20)
4. Kevin Van Wijk (2010-13)
3. Vashil Fernandez (2012-16)
2. Ryan Broekhoff (2009-13)
1. Alec Peters (2013-17)
Paul Oren has been a correspondent reporter for The Times since 2005. A member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, Paul has spent more than 20 years covering Valparaiso basketball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions are the writer's.
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