School spirit can be shown in many ways. Students can attend sporting events, homecoming activities, wear school colors or clothing with the school emblem, sing along with the fight song or plaster stickers all over your dorm or vehicle.
All of the above often have one thing in common: the school mascot usually isn’t far away. Whether wearing university clothing, watching a game or sporting stickers, a university’s mascot is typically plastered somewhere or walking around. It is a brand that tells everyone where you go to school and who you support on the playing field without a shadow of a doubt.
Mascots come in all shapes and sizes, from a living, breathing bulldog in a crown to a giant animal suit of something make believe. They are as varied and unique as the schools they represent and often have interesting histories to match.
UAA wasn’t always represented by our iconic Spirit the Seawolf, for instance. Once, back in the 1970’s, we were the Sourdoughs. That’s right, the Sourdoughs. Our mascot was a goldpanner.
While being the Sourdoughs had a bit of history and meaning behind it, switching to the Seawolves brought UAA back to Alaska’s native roots.
The Tlingit word for seawolf is Gonaqadet. According to “Origin of the Gonaqadet” in Illustrated Tlingit Legends by Tresham Greg, the seawolf is a mythical creature that brings good luck to those who see it. It lived in a hidden lake with a secret outlet into the ocean.
The legend goes that a Tlingit man found it, trapped it and killed it. He then donned its skin so that he could hunt in the ocean and bring food back to his village when no one else had luck fishing.
According to Timothy McDiffet, the associate athletic director, the first incarnation of the Seawolf mascot in 1977 was meant to resemble a totem. This version incorporated more than just the school colors, and included red and light blue as well. Its design was also very intricate.
The next incarnation, first seen in 1980, was a more wolfish version of the creature bursting out of the water. The Seawolf itself was yellow, and the “water” was green. Unfortunately, many athletes and athletic workers felt the mascot didn’t quite resemble what it was meant to.
“We called it, to ourselves, the Flaming Dog,” McDiffet said.
In 1985, the Seawolf finally took on the form used today. The totem style used in the first Seawolf incarnation was utilized once more, but greatly simplified. The colors accurately reflected UAA’s school colors as well.
If the longevity of this mascot design is any indication of its popularity, UAA should hopefully be seeing Spirit the Seawolf for many years and many games to come.