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Jay O'Dell: Marshall mascot's beginnings can be traced back to the 1950s

Oct. 25, 2008 @ 09:33 PM

Editor's note: Marshall alumni are raising funds for a new mascot outfit, and here's a look back at the history of the university's mascots.

In early days, Marshall football and also games for other sports were played in the field behind the present campus Morrow Library and science building, now named Buskirk Field for Lillian Buskirk, former dean of women.

Today, this area still remains as an open grass area, much like its early 1900's appearance.

During the late 1800s, the names of the sports teams, among others, were "Indians." Other late 1800's and early 1900's names utilized for teams were "Green Gobblers," "Rams," "Judges" and "Boogercats." Eventually the name became "Big Green" with the use of green uniforms in 1903.

In 1925, Zane Grey wrote a novel, "The Thundering Herd," about the western bison herds that eventually led to Marshall's present name for sports teams. This later name for the football team was utilized in local newspaper articles and short stories about Marshall athletic teams and came into common usage. The "Thundering Herd" was officially adopted in 1965 for Marshall's sport teams, replacing "Big Green" which had been used since 1903.

The green and white colors of athletic uniforms came into existence during 1903 with only green jerseys which were trimmed in white. In later years, the entire uniform colors became progressively green and white with a more balanced appearance.

Origin of Marco mascot

Marco, the bison mascot emblem originated and first appeared in the 1954 Marshall College yearbook, "Chief Justice." It was created by two Marshall students, Vance Smith, the yearbook editor and John "Jack" Carlsen, an assistant in yearbook development. The two creators of Marco both graduated in 1954 but the name persisted. Marco was chosen for Marshall's mascot emblem because when used as capital letters, Marco was an abbreviation for Marshall College. Seven years later, in 1961 when Marshall achieved university status, the Marco name was officially retained.

Since the 1954 creation of Marco, the bison emblem has undergone several redesign changes. During the later World War II years, Marco appeared in military uniform, also at times in a dress coat, sometimes with a sailor's cap and snorting, plus other symbolic representations.

Origin of live Marco

The official live debut of Marco was in the fall of 1965 during a football event. Various members of "The Robe," a university academic club, alternated in being Marco and established the precedent for keeping Marco's individual identity a secret.

During the 1960s and early 1970s a young live Marco bison appeared at football games, led by a rope and roaming the sidelines. Marco once tried to graze on the artificial turf at Marshall's old Fairfield Stadium. In later years, as Marco the Great Plains bison became larger, more active and difficult to control he was displayed at football games in an open view trailer with a covered roof.

Recent Marco changes

In 1999, Phil Evans, an alumnus of Marshall from North Carolina, designed a new look for Marco by dropping the sailor's hat and snorting look. A more serious look was created for the sports team usage of Marco and also utilization for other related university logos. At the 1999 Homecoming football game, 18 people who were former Marco's returned for the first annual Marco reunion.

Since Marco's creation for the 1954 Marshall College yearbook, the bison mascot symbol for sports teams has undergone many design changes which have evolved into its current appearance. Marco's design and redesign creations were based on the Great Plains bison rather than the native wood bison which was formerly present in the Tri-State and elsewhere in the eastern U.S. at the time of early 1600's settlements and much later.

The wood bison is a different species from the present native Great Plains bison of the western U.S., being smaller in size, with a smaller hump in the front of its back and is a darker brown in color.

'Marco makeover'

The Marshall University Alumni Association is partnering with university personnel and the Huntington community to raise money for a "Marco Make-Over." With generous financial support, this goal will become a reality.

The money raised will be used to redesign two new Marco uniforms at a cost of $9,000. Donations can be made at the Alumni Office or other university offices where a donation form is available for making or mailing tax deductible contributions.

Hopefully, features of the native wood bison can and will be incorporated into Marco's redesign appearance, thereby being representative of both Marshall University and the Tri-State where it was a native species.

Jay O'Dell is a former teacher of history, biological/environmental sciences and other subjects in public schools and college. Suggestions for column content or other inquiries can be sent to him at: P.O.Box 469, Lavalette, WV 25535.

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