Asking why UCSB lost to a struggling basketball team wasn’t the only question that got posed at the Thunderdome last Saturday.
Exactly who beat the Gauchos?
The sports teams of Long Beach State change their nicknames as often as their socks. In the course of a few months last year, their multiple personalities went from 49ers to Sharks to simply “The Beach.”
Who’s running that school? Sybil?
And that’s not even counting its baseball team, which officially switched to “Dirtbags” in 1989. Working as the marketing director at that school is no day at The Beach.
One of the first things Long Beach’s administration did at the start of the 2018-19 school year was give its mascot, “Prospector Pete,” the bum’s rush for being a politically incorrect symbol of the gold rush. The prospects for California’s indigenous people did indeed take a fatal turn in 1849.
Long Beach’s nickname of “49ers” had actually stemmed from the year the school was founded: 1949. But hey, what’s a century when you’re trying to make amends for genocide?
Their choice of “The Beach” as a replacement nickname actually went contrary to a student referendum in which Sharks won 53% of the vote. The administration later explained that they were actually only asking what type of costume to have represent “The Beach” mascot.
It turned out to be a very foggy day at The Beach.
Insisting on “The Beach” also went against one of the basic tenants of journalism. My old college professor, who once proclaimed that “redundancy is the handiwork of a dunce,” would’ve turned over in his grave reading Sunday’s News-Press had I been covering beach volleyball instead of basketball:
“UCSB had its six-game winning streak snapped by the Long Beach State The Beach beach volleyball team.”
UCSB, which last changed its nickname in 1936, nearly became a UCPC of its own two years ago when a group calling itself “Students for Mascot Change” sought to end the ride of the Gaucho. They consider the Olé mascot, a caricature of the rowdy cowboy that roamed the pampas of Argentina, to be racially insensitive.
Raccoons — a frequent visitor to the trash cans in the student village of Isla Vista — became their replacement of choice. They later changed it to the Spanish translation of raccoon: “mapache.”
Nicknames in today’s sports world often get abbreviated, like ‘Chos for Gauchos. They realized that the shortened version of raccoons would not only be politically incorrect, it would be politically suicidal.
But abbreviate “Mapaches” and you’ve got “Apaches,” so wouldn’t we be right back where we started?
The students still pursued the change with a petition that argued, “The Mapache is a noble animal and fits well with the other animal mascots at other UC’s … Plus, raccoons are as cool as hell and they’re all over I.V.”
They got 2,500 signatures for the change, and so apparently didn’t ask just the students that actually attend the basketball games.
But their ancestors would advise them to think twice about picking a mascot with messy tendencies. When then-UCSB football coach Theodore “Spud” Harder proposed ash-canning the nickname of Roadrunners, the students were more than happy to oblige.
Their campus, which in 1936 was located on a hillside overlooking downtown Santa Barbara, was overrun with those cuckoo birds. A more accurate name would’ve been poo-poo birds.
Harder’s wife once told a News-Press reporter that he didn’t like the name Roadrunner for a different reason:
“Spud thought, ‘Oh, no, you don’t want those football players to carry that name,’” Faith Harder told him. “Roadrunners have spindly little legs.”
Willie Wilton, Harder’s assistant coach at the time and later the head basketball coach, said the campus coeds stuffed the ballot box for “El Gaucho.”
“It was a movie starring Douglas Fairbanks,” he explained during an interview a half-century later, “and he was the big heartthrob at the time.”
A recent survey asked students and alumni if they wanted to replace that heartthrob with a furry, masked animal. The change was desired by 61.6% of the students but only 16.7% of the alumni. Douglas Fairbanks fans die hard.
The proposal soon found its way into the trashcan. But who knows who or what will rummage it out in the future?
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.