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It's Not Easy Being Green (and Gold)
Sometimes schools switch mascots to get something more fierce (the University of Rochester took a pudgy bee wearing wingtips and turned it into a skinny, angry yellow jacket) or mobile (Wichita State's shock of wheat couldn't get around easily enough). The University of Maryland Eastern Shore debuted its new 9-foot-tall hawk mascot to a roaring crowd this fall. Midnight Madness became Hawk Hysteria.
At Marymount University, the school created a mascot after going coed in 1986. Seton Hill University, near Pittsburgh, decided on a griffin mascot after changing to university status in 2002. It caught on immediately, even with students unclear on the mythology, who greeted him by shouting, "Hey, Chicken Man!"
Some schools, such as Hollins University in Roanoke, have never had a mascot. And in 1989, students voted that they don't want one -- ever.
George Mason has had a slew of mascots over the years, most of them versions of a patriot. School officials had been talking about whether to yank Gunston, who was beloved by children but not by older fans, and then the basketball team went on its wildly unexpected run to the Final Four two years ago, sparking a surge of affection for the team and its mascot.
"It's something to rally around, to joke about," said sophomore Erin Gough, who thought of the funeral for a class project on social action. "It's a symbol of our community."
Kyle Munkittrick, a hard-core fan who graduated this spring and lives in Burke, wrote to the school newspaper, the Broadside, after it covered the issue, saying that Gunston "is a truly awful mascot. He is mangy, oddly shaped, probably smells" . . . but . . . oddly loveable.
His letter sparked a heated and occasionally nasty thread about Gunston on a conference message board.
" . . . do you really believe gunston is the best mason can do?" someone asked.
Another wrote: " . . . imagine if we get a no kidding, honest to goodness COOL mascot . . . you slap that sucker on hats, t-shirts, baby gear . . . hell, you name it . . . and watch the money roll in . . ."
And someone else pointed out that he watched James Madison University's Duke Dog clobber Gunston at a game -- and the Mason student section cheered.
Todd Donohue, an alumni leader who lives in Loudoun County, said by phone that there are more important things to worry about at Mason, but he has heard some alums talk about wishing there were a different mascot: something more ferocious-looking.
Some want one of the old patriots back. After all, George Washington University's mascot is, uh, George Washington.