Tom Ross: A story behind mascots |

Tom Ross: A story behind mascots

Tom Ross

— The Akron Zippers went down in defeat in the NCAA men's basketball tournament Friday afternoon, losing, 69-56, to No. 2 seed Notre Dame in the Southwest Region. Shame on you if you had Akron advancing in your bracket.

Some of you are saying, "Wait just a second, Ross, the college hoops team from the University of Akron is known as the Zips."

Congratulations — you are at least partially correct. And no, the nickname has nothing to do with a postal zip code.

The truth is that the nickname of Akron's athletic teams, and by extension that of all members of its student body and its thousands of alums, originally was the Zippers.

The school's Web page says the Zippers were named after a popular rubber shoe made by BF Goodrich that was fitted with an innovative closure called a zipper.

Incredibly, the name was arrived at by a campuswide contest. Some of the also-rans were the Golden Blue Devils, Tip Toppers and Rubbernecks. Come to think of it, the Zippers isn't such a bad nickname after all. But the moniker wasn't destined to stick.

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As legend has it, when the zipper replaced the button-fly in a certain brand of dungarees in about 1950, athletics director Red Cochrane deemed the Zippers inappropriate as a nickname for college students and shortened it to Zips.

Since 1953, the official mascot of the Zips has been Zippy the Kangaroo. I have not been able to confirm if Zippy's pouch opens with a zipper or if kangaroos are native to Ohio.

Another of the more unusual nicknames in the NCAA tournament this year is that of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Not the Bulldogs part — no one calls them by that name. Everyone knows them as the Zags.

Gonzaga University, a Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash., was named after an Italian saint, Aloysius Gonzaga.

No disrespect, but it's a lot easier to sell T-shirts that say "Go Zags!" than it is to sell logo-wear bearing the over-exposed pug face of a bulldog.

The Old Dominion University Monarchs also suffered a close defeat in the first round of the tournament, a 60-58 loss to Butler University, which always produces the most overused newspaper headline: The Butler did it!

I don't know why, but ODU strikes me as an acronym for deodorant, but Old Dominion University is a very fine institution of higher learning in Norfolk, Va., with a long tradition and a name that goes back to the original colonies.

There's a reason the sports teams at ODU are called the Monarchs. Old Dominion is taken from a nickname given to the colony of Virginia by King Charles II, of England. It was his way of saying "jolly good show" to the Virginians for remaining loyal to the crown during the English Civil War that raged from 1642 to 1651, long before James Naismith nailed a pair of peach baskets up in the gymnasium at Springfield College in Massachusetts in the winter of 1891-92.

The Springfield Pride play Division III basketball today, and they take special pride in being the birthplace of the sport.

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