Bread, lizards and dogs: The transition to Spirit

Evolution is a concept commonly taught in science class, but evolving from human to wolf seems more science fiction than science fact. UAA’s mascot and logo, Spirit the Seawolf, experienced this journey over the course of 50 years.

The Sourdough handbook cover and the original Seawolf logo design from the Archives and Special Collections of the UAA/APU Consortium Library. Collage by Robert Gant.

The University of Alaska Anchorage started out as the Anchorage Community College. In its infancy, the college took on the Sourdough as its mascot. 

Most Alaskans know Sourdough as the Alaskan way of calling someone an experienced Alaskan wilderness explorer. Sourdoughs earned this name from the trappers and miners that brought sourdough starters with them on their expeditions as a primary source of food, according to the National Public Radio.

The Sourdoughs were anything but seasoned at the beginning. Scott Loll, the first men’s basketball coach at ACC, recalls the trials he had to go through to keep his team together in “From Sourdoughs to Seawolves” by Sara Juday.

A mug depicting the original mascot of the Anchorage Community College, the Sourdough. Photo by Joshua Burough.

“One [team member] was attending classes during the day and serving his jail time at night,” Loll said. “I had to sign him out to play when we had practices or played out of town.”

Sourdough is not a common term in the lower 48 for anything other than bread. By 1977, short-lived basketball coach Bob Rachal decided it was time for a change. The Tlingit Alaskan Native legend of Gonakadet, the sea wolf, became the new logo.

The transformation from a loaf of bread to a legendary beast did not happen overnight. Former UAA Vice Chancellor Lee Picard is cited as believing the illustration of the Seawolf to be a lizard, and he was not alone in this interpretation.

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Patty Day Frasure, a UAA mascot designer, created another attempt of portraying the Seawolf, but the amount of detail in the design once more got lost in translation. 

“We called it, to ourselves, the Flaming Dog,” Timothy McDiffett, the former associate athletic director, said in an article by The Northern Light.

The transition for Spirit was at its final stage in 1984 when UAA sought professional help. Clark Mishler Associates of Anchorage were paid $7,000 to give the Seawolf a facelift. When Spirit’s plastic surgery results were unveiled at the 1985 Athlete of the Year banquet, it became clear that the Seawolf’s facelift was a success.

The three-dimensional rendition of Spirit as a mascot for UAA was not created until 2008, however, over 20 years after Spirit’s final design was created. Spirit has been happily adjusted to living in his true form for more than a decade.

Spirit’s transition was not quick or easy, but with UAA’s support, he has become an iconic mascot for what a Seawolf truly is. Incoming freshmen will soon realize they are not Sourdoughs. Every test marks another stage in a student’s evolution. College is a daunting transition, but with the spirit of the Seawolf by the side of every freshman, students are UAA strong.