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125 YEARS / EDUCATION: A COMMEMORATIVE EDITION / MASCOTS

3 cheers for Slugs, Poets

College mascots range from the controversial (Aztecs) to the wacky (Anteaters). No Oysters.

September 12, 2006|Steve Padilla | Times Staff Writer

WHEN it comes to mascots, California colleges have a bounty of Bulldogs (the University of Redlands and Fresno State, for example) and lots of Lancers (Pasadena City College and California Baptist University).

There's a herd of Mustangs (the Master's College and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), and the horsemen to go with them (Vaqueros at Glendale Community College and Gauchos at Saddleback College).

But California colleges also specialize in the controversial and the strange.

The Stanford Indians became the Cardinal (the color, not the bird) after complaints by Native American activists in 1972. Similar concerns about cultural sensitivity have prompted many schools to drop Indian mascots. San Diego State -- the Aztecs -- in 2001 banned onetime sideline mascot Monty Montezuma.

Two years later, students and alumni overwhelmingly voted for a character called the Aztec Warrior. Supporters described the warrior as a dignified replacement, but critics complained that he wasn't much better than Monty.

Then there's UC Irvine, famously home of the Anteaters; Pomona College, which roots for the Sagehens; and Whittier College, where graceful competitors truly are Poets.

UC Santa Cruz gave the world the Banana Slugs.

The bright yellow mollusk that slithers through redwood forests had long been the school's unofficial mascot. But when the university joined the NCAA's Division III in 1980, it needed an official emblem. Though the university adopted the Sea Lions, students continued to cheer for their slugs.

In 1986, Chancellor Robert L. Sinsheimer bowed to student demand and tossed out the Sea Lions. As The Times reported, he jokingly called on university biologists to begin "a program of genetic research upon the slug to improve the breed."

The university has since embraced its beloved slug. It's been the subject of a children's book, "Sally Slug," and has inspired a large line of clothing, souvenirs and one great slogan: "Banana Slugs -- No Known Predators."

If another student election had turned out differently, Cal State L.A. today might have bragging right's for the state's most unusual mascot.

Students voted in 1981 to drop Diablo in favor of the less demonic Golden Eagles. The competition? The Oysters.

Martha Chono-Helsley, a communications major at the time, recalled that some students found criticism of Diablo "overly politically correct" and that some responded by voting for "the most inane thing they possibly could. People voted out of spite."

Despite a catchy cheer -- "Go, Oysters, Go!" -- the contest wasn't even close. The Times reported the outcome: Golden Eagles 360, Oysters 290.

steve.padilla@latimes.com

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