Going to the Dogs? Alumni to Vote on Mascots from Sunny Boy to the Nike Husky
While controversies over college mascots still rage in the 21st century—Illinois’ Chief Illiniwek and Mississippi’s Colonel Reb are two notorious examples—the University of Washington was fortunate to have its mascot debate 82 years ago, when the Sun Dodgers gave way to the Huskies. To celebrate eight decades of this Husky tradition, the UW Alumni Association is holding a worldwide vote this month for alumni to choose their favorite University of Washington mascot or insignia.
Until 1919, UW athletics did not have a mascot. The symbol for the team was the block “W.” But as other teams adopted mascots across the nation, and as newspaper sports sections expanded coverage and started running cartoons, student leaders realized that Washington needed an eye-catching icon.
At the same time, other students had just launched the UW’s first humor magazine. They were looking for something whimsical and considered “Squid” and “Blue Moon” before settling on the title “Sun Dodger.” According to a 1921 article in the original Columns, a student from Montana suggested the name, since in his home state it meant a “wild, maverick, unbroken horse.” But the article also noted that students from the East Coast used it as a slang term for “night owl.” And, the article noted, another reason was because the name is “a farce on Pacific Coast weather.”
The humor writers also wanted a distinctive character as a symbol for their new magazine. The came up with the idea of compact collegiate figure called “Sunny,” and commissioned one of their staff artists, Maurice Holcomb, ’21, to produce a cartoon figure. He sketched a smiling freshman wearing a huge bowtie and carrying an umbrella.
Thus “Sunny”—later also known as “Sunny Boy”—was born in the September 1919 issue of Sun Dodger magazine. It was also the start of the football season and that same month a San Francisco sports reporter called the UW team “the Sun Dodgers.” The next week the Seattle Post-Intelligencer used the words on its pages and, despite the protests of the magazine’s staff, the name stuck. As the seasons progressed, students commissioned a wooden statue of Sunny Boy that they would carry to the games.
But three years later, Washington had already become tired of Sun Dodger. ASUW President Robert MacFarlane, ’22, and UWAA President Matthew Hill, ’16, appointed students, alumni, faculty and local business leaders to a mascot-naming committee. “Nobody really knew what a Sun Dodger was,” complained the author of a 1923 Columns article. It could be interpreted as a slam on Western Washington weather, “which was not desirable,” and the name was awkward in newspaper headlines.
The committee considered several replacements, including Indians, Eagles and Vikings, but settled on Huskies. An article in the Washington Alumnus noted that the Husky is “a symbol of willingness, courage, endurance, strength and fight.” The school could use a live dog as an on-field mascot, it was easy to draw for a cartoon, and it “suggests the idea that Washington is the most northern American university on the Pacific Coast.”
But the idea was not universally accepted. According to Columns, there was a five-month debate over the choice, with the Daily editorializing against the Husky at one point. The Alumnus commented that “this is an old, moss-covered bone of contention, and alumni, in all probability, will fail to become as excited as they used to be.”
Gradually the idea won over the doubters. A turning point came at the game where the sports department announced its new mascot. When the UW basketball team defeated WSC (now WSU), one breathless sports reporter wrote, “A powerful Husky launched himself at the throat of a defenseless Cougar.” Ever since, “the name has been making friends,” said a Columns article a few weeks later.
Washington’s athletic mark—the block “W”—has changed very little over the years, but the image of the Husky mascot has undergone many makeovers. Sometimes the Husky has a grim, determined demeanor, other times the dog is actually smiling.
Perhaps the most dramatic transformation came in 2001, when graphic artists at Nike donated their services and created a stylized Husky in profile. A press release at the time described the look as “a more modernistic Husky, with strong, bold features that represent character, tenacity and courage.”
With the start of the 2005–06 school year and the fall sports season, UW Alumni Association Executive Director John Buller, ’69, ’71, says it is a good time to have alumni vote for their favorite mascot or UW mark. Until the advent of the World Wide Web, it would have been difficult to conduct a poll, he notes. Now, with just a few clicks, a UW alumnus anywhere in the world can vote instantaneously.
Voting is open during the month of September. To cast your ballot, visit Uwalum.com;. The results of the online vote will be reported in the December issue of Columns.