The University of California (UC) system not only has some of the world’s best universities, but also some of the world’s most interesting mascots. It has everything from the fearsome and mighty Golden Bear to the quirky and lovable banana slug, from the historically real Gauchos to the mythological Triton. If you’re wondering how this diverse and eclectic family of mascots came to be, allow me to take you on a journey through the past to explore the histories of each UC mascot.
1. UC Berkeley: Oski the Bear/Golden Bears
Built on the hills just beyond Oakland, California, UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 as the first University of California. The first athletic team competed outside the state’s borders in 1895, when the university’s track squad traveled to the east coast proudly carrying a flag depicting a large golden-colored bear. The color gold paid homage to California’s “Golden State” moniker while the bear represented the official state animal. Oski, UC Berkeley’s character mascot, was named for the opening lines of a cheer often heard in Cal rooting sections:
“Oski wow wow! / Whiskey wee wee! / Olee! Muckie-eye! / Olee! Berkeley eye! / California! WOW!”
2. UC Los Angeles: Joe and Josephine Bruin/Bruins
Founded in 1919 as the second UC, UCLA started out as the Cubs in recognition of their junior status to UC Berkeley. However, the growing university wanted something a little more intimidating so in 1923 they became the Grizzlies. Conflict arose again just a few years later, when UCLA entered an athletic conference with a preexisting Grizzly team. At that time, UC Berkeley was known as both the Bears and the Bruins, and decided to pass the Bruin name to their sister school, where it has stuck ever since. Joe and Josephine Bruin came about in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the athletic department used live bear cubs as the mascot. A bear cub named Little Joe Bruin rallied fans in the early 50’s, while female cub Josephine Bruin took his place in 1961. After she relocated to the San Diego Zoo in the mid-60’s, students in costumes have been representing Joe and Josephine Bruin in a much safer, more humane way.
3. UC Santa Barbara: Olé the Gaucho/Gauchos
Although UCSB joined the UC system in 1944, the Gaucho mascot originated when the school was still known as Santa Barbara State College. The original mascot was the Roadrunners, until 1936 when students voted to change the mascot to the Gauchos which are historically Argentine cowboys. Having been inspired by actor Douglas Fairbanks’ character in the 1927 film, The Gaucho, and the Spanish mascot (Dons) of Santa Barbara High School, the Gaucho mascot won the hearts of Santa Barbara college students. Today, character mascot Olé the Gaucho rallies UCSB fans as they cheer, “Olé,… Olé, Olé, Olé / Gauchos, Gauchos!”
4. UC Riverside: Scotty Highlander/Highlanders
In 1954, UC Riverside’s inaugural year, the school struggled to find a mascot. An unsuccessful mascot vote led to the men’s basketball team campaigning for the Hylanders mascot; once the name was changed to its current spelling, it stuck. According to UCR’s official athletics site, the name Highlanders was a suitable choice because it referenced the mountain range outside of campus, known as the Highlands, and the fact that the UCR campus has the highest elevation of all the UC schools. The character mascot is named Scotty and is often seen donning traditional Scottish garb, as the Scottish Highlands mountain range is popular for its picturesque scenery. In this spirit, some of the buildings on campus are even named after regions of Scotland!
5. UC Davis: Gunrock the Mustang/Aggies
UC Davis originated in 1905 as the agricultural branch of UC Berkeley before being recognized as its own university in 1959. In honor of their agricultural roots, Davis students and sports teams refer to themselves as the Aggies (Get it? Agriculture = Aggies), although their official character mascot is Gunrock the Mustang. In the 1920’s, students of the agricultural college were allowed to choose a mascot for themselves, and they went with the Mustang. They named it after a thoroughbred named Gunrock which was living at the university farm at the time.
6. UC San Diego: King Triton/Tritons
UC San Diego, which joined the UC system in 1960, was first established as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Due to its oceanographic origins and the fact that the campus is located on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, UCSD went with an ocean-themed mascot and chose the Greek god Triton, messenger of the seas. According to Greek mythology, Triton’s signature items are a conch shell and a trident, and it is the latter that UCSD’s mascot King Triton yields with ferocity.
7. UC Irvine: Peter the Anteater/Anteaters
In 1965, the year of UC Irvine’s establishment, need for a mascot was high after the school’s water polo team won a fierce match against Cal Poly. Two water polo players, Pat Glasgow and Bob Ernst, were fans of the comic strip “B.C.” by Johnny Hart which featured an anteater that made a “ZOT!” sound every time it stuck out its tongue. Drawing inspiration from this unique creature, the two suggested the anteater and it ultimately won the student vote. Now, anteaters and zots rule the campus, as seen in places like a dining commons named The Anteatery and a convenience store called Zot-N-Go.
8. UC Santa Cruz: Sammy the Slug/Banana Slugs
Although UCSC was established in 1965, the need for an official mascot did not arise until 1981 when UCSC athletics entered the NCAA and were required to have a mascot. The chancellor at the time, Robert Sinsheimer, chose a sea lion, but students vied for a banana slug instead. These slimy mollusks are native to the area and can often be spotted in the redwoods of the UCSC campus, and they fit students’ values of nonconformity and harmony (banana slugs have a symbiotic relationship with redwood trees and no predators). After a period of administrative refusal and nationwide media coverage, a student vote in 1986 ordained banana slugs as the official representation of UC Santa Cruz.
9. UC Merced: Rufus Bobcat/Golden Bobcats
In 2000, five years before the establishment of UC Merced, a contest garnering 2,600 entries was held to determine the mascot of the UC system’s newest institution. Then-chancellor Lisa Tomlinson-Keasey and members of a mascot selection committee sifted through the entries and ultimately chose the bobcat, altering the name to a Golden Bobcat to “[reflect] the sunlight of the valley and how we feel,” according to Tomlinson-Keasey.
Although the nine UC mascots derive from a myriad of origins that inspire folklore up and down California, they all succeed in one thing: sparking university spirit. These mascots represent the spirit, passion and pride brimming in the hearts of each campus, and UC students could not be more honored to cheer on their respective mascots for life.
Lead Image Credit: Pixabay