“How did the YSU Penguins get to be penguins? Why not something like cardinals or bears?”
One of our patrons called to ask about the origin of Youngstown State University’s mascot. While Ohio does get cold, the penguin still seems like a strange choice. We checked the YSU sports website and found a whole page about their mascot, including two stories of how it came to be.
Both stories are set on January 30, 1933, the night of a men’s basketball game at West Liberty State, West Virginia. YSU didn’t have any kind of mascot yet, though they were sometimes referred to as the Locals. Students on the men’s varsity basketball team had been tossing around mascot ideas with their friends all season, but hadn’t settled on any that they liked.
According to one story, as the team was driving to West Virginia through snow so deep that they sometimes needed to get out of their cars to push them out of snowdrifts, someone, perhaps inspired by the weather, suggested the penguin. Everyone in the car with them loved the idea, as did the rest of the team, and the penguin was accepted as a mascot by the end of the season without ever having to put it to a vote.
The other story, which has more of a ring of legend to it, tells that a spectator at the Youngstown vs. West Liberty game saw the men on the court stomping their feet and flapping their arms. They thought that the team looked like penguins, and the nickname stuck. While the first story is more likely, this one is also charming.
For more information on Youngstown history, Frederick Blue’s Mahoning Memories and Sherry Lee Linkon’s Steeltown USA are both available for borrowing. The College Basketball Book, published by Sports Illustrated, can be ordered through CLEVNET, and anyone interested in penguins can check out Tui De Roy’s Penguins: The Ultimate Guide.