5 Key Questions for Choosing a School Mascot

If I were to say to you, “Lions and tigers and bears,” you’d likely respond with “oh my!” and have a yellow brick road in your mind’s eye. However, if I were to say “Detroit Lions, Clemson Tigers and Chicago Bears,” you’d likely either growl or grin, depending on your loyalties. And your mind’s eye would likely picture an energetic mascot surrounded by crazy sports fans. 

I daresay everyone has a favorite mascot, whether it’s from a local high school, a collegiate team or the insurance gecko. A mascot is a visual representation of a group’s culture, and today, we’re talking about school mascots.

Source: North Star Marketing

Mascots should generate excitement and inspire loyalty from parents, alumni, athletes, middle schoolers, and kindergarteners. Fans should be proud to proclaim, “I’m a Hillcrest Raven!” because the mascot gives them a sense of belonging to a greater group.

In fact, that’s where mascots got started – uniting groups of people fighting for a cause. During the Civil War, the soldiers would rally beside animals who followed them to battle. Even after the War, some intercollegiate sports teams adopted the names of these well-known war animals, uniting their fans. 

When choosing a mascot, it’s important to choose wisely. If any group doesn’t feel connected to its mascot, the school spirit could quickly fizzle. 

So where do you begin?

School mascot options are endless, and the process of choosing one can be daunting. But rest assured, there is help. Our team at North Star has put together a series of questions, based on five different categories, to help you choose a school mascot that fits your unique school culture and identity. As you work through these questions (it will take some work!), we encourage you to brainstorm and write down everything that comes to mind

1. Historical Events: What historical events in your city or local area should be taken into consideration for the mascot? Your area has a unique history. How was it founded? Why was it developed? Is it agricultural or urban? Why was the school placed in this location? Has anything been discovered in your area like dinosaur bones or archeological artifacts?

Example: The Nebraska Cornhuskers rally behind Herbie Husker, a farmer who wears a red cowboy hat, leather gloves, blue jeans, and work boots, selected for Nebraska’s rich history in agriculture.

Source: sandiegohuskers.com

2. Historical People and Landmarks
Which historical people or places could be taken into consideration for the mascot? Think of names and occupations. Were they railroaders or architects? Is there a bridge or monument close by? Could the ideas be combined in a unique way?

Example: The Purdue Boilermakers’ mascot is Purdue Pete, who carries a large hammer which was used to mold railroad steel. 

Source: TheBlackSheepOnline.com

3. Animals and Weather
What animal, native to this region, could be the mascot? Make a list of the animals known to reside in the school’s area. Is your area known for weather like tornadoes or hurricanes?

Example: The University of Wisconsin has Bucky Badger, representing the animal found in the state’s tall prairie grasses.

Source: Jason Chan | The Badger Herald

4. Community Leaders
Which people have been leaders in the community? Think of who founded the school, who built the school, who donated money to help the school grow. Be careful when using the name of a person, as unknown parts of their history could taint the mascot in the future.

Example: Maybe your city has a large group of military veterans who fought for the United States. The Lamar State College Orange Gator is named “Tilly” after local war hero, Second Lieutenant Bill Tilley.

5. Ideals and Principles
Which ideals and principles should be considered when choosing the mascot? Is the school private or Christian? Is the school known for its academics or its athletics? Would families be interested in a “fighting” mascot? 

Example: If you’re looking for a peace-loving, non-athletic mascot, Syracuse’s Otto the Orange is a large fruit. Enough said.

Source: OrangeFizz.net

While this is not an exhaustive list of questions, hopefully they will generate positive dialogue and discussion for what makes your school unique. Be willing to explore other ideas that relate to your school’s story and community history.

The Mascot Selection and Approval Process

Now that you’ve gone through the categories and questions above, consider taking your thoughts through the following process for vetting.

1. Narrow – Your brainstorm should have yielded several mascot ideas. From here, it’s wise to pick your top three before going to your constituents. This is a completely optional step. But to gain buy-in from your parents, alumni and students may be a wise choice.

2. Vote – Have your school groups (students, parents, alumni) vote using a poll. Adding a suggestion box may be worthwhile if you aren’t confident in your ideas. While you can’t make promises that the top-voted mascot will be chosen, it’s a great gesture that all ideas will be considered in the decision. 

3. Decide – Form a committee or have the school board make the decision. Don’t put the choice on the shoulders of one person. Once chosen, all decision-makers should commit to completely support the new mascot. 

4. Design – Hire a professional graphic artist or agency to develop and design your mascot. It will be printed large on gym walls, small on polo shirts and everything in between. An agency or graphic design professional will ensure that your mascot is reproducible at any size on various backgrounds. 

5. Announce – Deliver the news strategically. Start with school stakeholders, leaders, faculty, and influencers. Then celebrate with the school body! Make it fun, and make it accessible. Consider a spirit day with a school pep rally. No one likes to be the last to know, so be sure to announce where lots of people can hear and spread the news. 

6. Promote – What better way to bring visibility to your new mascot than to promote it! Use Facebook and other communication channels to announce your mascot, and then it’s time to prepare the swag! You should be sure to prepare promotional materials – pencils for the students, t-shirts at sporting events, mugs for the grandparents, baseball caps for the parents, vinyl stickers for staff car windows. You get the point.

We would enjoy hearing how this process worked for your school. Leave a comment below with what school mascot you chose!

Need Help With a Mascot or a School Brand? 

North Star Marketing has extensive experience in designing mascots. We have designed for Ravens, Eagles, Patriots, Trojans, Bobcats, and more…oh my!

We’re based in Burlington, NC and have helped hundreds of schools across the United States develop both athletic and academic branding and rebranding, as well as websites, online search campaigns, and more. Contact us for a free brand review and assessment! 

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