Exploring the history of Seton Hill mascots

The final three choices came down to the Griffins, the Spirit Hounds and the Highlanders. Photo courtesy of Setonian file photos.

It can be found everywhere on campus, whether it’s in the bookstore, out on the field during football games or simply carved into the bricks outside of Lowe. But before the Griffin mascot hatched at Seton Hill University, there was the Spirit, dressed as a penguin or bird, and before the penguin, there was Hermes, the stuffed tiger.

In 2002, following the change from college to university, the campus voted on new mascots to adjust to the new diversities at the school. The goal of this change was to bring the community together with a sense of pride, as well as become the official symbol of the university.

“There were a lot of changes going on,” said Bill Black, SHU archivist. “A bunch of suggestions were made, and then a committee voted.”

While the Spirit was meant to be a penguin, many students weren’t sure what kind of bird it actually was. Photo courtesy of Setonian file photos.

The choices included the Griffin, the Spirit Hound and the Highlander. The idea for the Griffin was submitted by Lindsey Davis, a SHU sophomore at the time. The Griffin became the official mascot by more than half the votes on Nov. 2 that year, announced at a men’s soccer game. Matthew McDonough was the first to don the costume.

“Considering the medieval background of the Griffin as well as the strength of the lion and courage of the eagle, we feel that this symbol will be a good representation of the institution as well as the sports teams,” said Mary Ross Cox in an interview with The Setonian in 2002. Cox was the SHU director of events and marketing coordinator in 2002 and is currently director of alumni relations.

The Spirit was named by then-Athletic Director John Fogle in the 1970s. When SHU joined the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in the 80s, a mascot needed to be chosen.

“He was on the phone with [the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics], and they said ‘what’s your mascot?’” explained Black. Fogle’s first thought was Opus the Penguin from a popular 80s comic, Bloom County. “That was all he could think of. He said, ‘oh, we’re the spirit and we have a Penguin.’ I guess we owe it to Opus and Berkeley Breathed.”

When the Spirit costume made its first appearance, many students weren’t sure exactly what it was. Others weren’t sure of the connection between the Spirit and
a penguin.

“It didn’t really look like a penguin,” said Black with a laugh.

Before all the birds, however, there was Hermes, a small stuffed tiger with green eyes who represented the Women’s Athletic Association at the school. He was named after the Greek god, Hermes, who was the god of transition and messenger to the gods. The Class of 1956 adopted the mascot originally, where he took a brief sabbatical and returned a few years later.

Hermes was the mascot for Seton Hill classes in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Setonian file photos.

An old Seton Hill bookplate depicts what looks like a griffin. Were we destined to be Griffins from the start? Photo by H.Carnahan/Setonian.

Sitting down with the Griffin

While some know the identity of the student under the mascot head, we at the Setonian wish to keep their identity anonymous as to not break the illusion.

Photo courtesy of setonhill.edu.

Q: Why did you decide volunteer to be the mascot?
A: “I was mascot for a year in high school and really enjoyed it. When I decided to come here, I decided to get involved.”

Q: What does being the Griffin mean to you?
A: “It’s about having all this spirit within me and being a figure for the school that makes people enjoy being here. It symbolizes the school and it’s like an alter ego. It’s an eagle and a lion, which are very independent animals. Just strong, and everyone wants to be them.”

Q: How much of a commitment is being the Griffin?
A: “In an average football season, I’m usually in it for about two hours per game, and then through half time, for however many games we have that semester. About ten hours during the football seasons, and another ten hours during the rest of the school year. That includes the Handshake event and a handful of other events that I’ve done throughout the two years I’ve been here.”

Q: What’s it like inside the suit?
A: “It’s hot. I don’t have peripheral vision. But other than that, it’s pretty cool because you’re a character that’s not yourself.”

Q: What’s one of your favorite memories during your career as the Griffin?
A: “One of my favorite stories happened last school year during the second or third home game. There was this little boy who walked up to me with this piece of paper. It was a drawing of the griffin. I still have the picture in my memory box.”

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