By Alex Conover
I’m sure you know all about the Cardinals, Big Red, and the “SMU CREW” — but have you ever heard of the “Redmen,” or the “Hilltop Hoopers”? What about the “Skempmen,” or the “Maroons”? Believe it or not, all of these odd mascots have been used to refer to past Saint Mary’s University athletic teams.
I dug in the archives last week with Dr. William Crozier, a retired history professor here at SMU. We found some great old pictures, complete with the usual mid-thigh (if that) shorts and uniforms that looked like they were made of wool. One thing that really stood out to me, however, were all the old names.
“We were the Redmen for a number of years,” said Dr. Crozier. “Also, sometimes they called our basketball team the ‘Hilltop Hoopers.’ I’m guessing that referred to Terrace Heights.”
I soon learned that “Redmen” hadn’t always refered to American Indians. Saint Mary’s College’s colors were originally maroon and white, and so they called themselves the “Maroons.” When the basketball team would play their games, the announcers would yell things like, “There go the red men!” It eventually condensed in 1935, and later evolved into an Indian chief as a mascot.
The Redmen nickname lasted several decades, until the late ’80s. A Twin Cities-based American Indian rights group contacted Saint Mary’s about changing its mascot, which they felt reinforced stereotypes. The Cardinal, an animal caricature, was re-adopted in 1988 (it was briefly used in the ’20s).
“We felt it was time to make a change,” said Bob Conover, vice president of communication and marketing (the director of public information at the time). “I talked it over with Tim Burchill, then-vice president for institutional advancement, and we decided to comply with the request. The women’s teams were already called the Cardinals, so we just made it apply to everyone.”
Saint Mary’s decision soon became part of a national controversy. Publications such as the Wall Street Journal carried stories on the switch, which left behind years of tradition. “We were the second college in the country to change mascots like this, the first being Stanford University,” said Conover. “Although there was a little grumbling by current male athletes, for the most part the transition was well-received.”
Since the change, Saint Mary’s has gone through a few different cardinals. The first logo was drawn by Brother Roderick Robertson, a graphic design professor. The mid-’90s
ushered in “Woody,” a cartoonish character used for several years. With a new millennium came a new logo, however, and in the fall of 2001, SMU unveiled its current cardinal, a more competitive, aggressive-looking bird.
Looking back in the archives with Dr. Crozier, it was evident that the Redmen brought a lot of success and glory to Saint Mary’s athletics. The mascot changes correlated with the changing cultural landscape, yet each hold a piece of Saint Mary’s rich history and athletic tradition. While reflecting on all the old nicknames can be nostalgic for some, our past can help us better appreciate our present. And right now, I couldn’t be prouder to be a Cardinal.