text by Gary Warner
The selection of a mascot for the University of North Florida started innocently enough. Although UNF opened its doors for students in 1972, the need for an "official mascot" was unnecessary because UNF did not compete in intercollegiate athletics.
Dorreen Daly, editor of the UNF alumni newsletter in the UNF Office of Public Relations in 1978, admits she may have supplied the impetus for a series of events which ultimately led to UNF selection of an "official mascot," Ms. Daly was searching for art work to accompany a story about how, after just six years, UNF had more alumni in the Jacksonville-Duval County area than Florida State University or Jacksonville University.
In October 1978, UNF trailed only the University of Florida in the number of alumni in the Jacksonville-Duval County area. Each university was represented by a cartoon character of its official mascot—the 'gator for UF, the Seminole for FSU and the dolphin for JU.
Recalling that a "tongue-in-cheek" letter-to-the-editor campaign between Dr. Bill Caldwell, chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and Dr. Ray Bowman, a member of the faculty in the Department of Natural Sciences, had graced the pages of the student newspaper only several months before, she decided to represent UNF as an armadillo.
Caldwell had championed the cause of the armadillo [under the pseudonym Olli Damra] and Bowman [e.e. tanam] had championed the cause of the manatee. Both had selected "low profile" mascot candidates in a lighthearted spoof of President Thomas Carpenter. As UNF's first president, Dr. Carpenter often met controversy with a deliberately understated approach.
"I knew it would start a controversy, but we hadn't any controversy in a long time, and I decided to go ahead," says Ms. Daly, still betraying a devilish glee in her eye more than a decade after-the-fact.
Soon, UNF was embroiled in a full-blown controversy. Thus, in late 1978 and early 1979 UNF was propelled into the "battle of the creatures," as it became known. Even though the major contenders were the armadillo and the manatee, lesser challengers—sharks, mariners, tadpoles, coots, pinecones and flashers—vied for attention. By April 1979, the news media of Jacksonville (obviously desperate for news!) had joined the controversy. The local newspaper carried:
• an editorial commending UNF on its adoption of the armadillo as its "official" mascot,
• stories on its sports pages mentioning UNF's newfound "mascot," and
• an article on UNF's "fight song."
"Reaction to the armadillo was immediate and emphatic!" recalls Henry A. Newman, then UNF director of public relations and author of the fight song. "I never realized there were so many manatee devotees."
As an addendum to its spring 1979 election ballot, the UNF Student Government Association conducted a referendum for selection of an official mascot. By this time, the seagull [sic] had become a contender, along with the manatee and the armadillo.
"I cringed at the thought of a seagull being our mascot," recalls Bowman. "Just think of how many seagulls fly over garbage dumps and landfills. They're filthy birds."
After conducting some preliminary research and talking to colleagues, Bowman decided the osprey would make a better mascot than any of the others proposed and conducted a one-man campaign for the osprey as UNF's official mascot.
Bowman spent his own money to print fliers and placards touting the virtues of the osprey. As a write-in vote, the osprey garnered 47 percent of the vote over the sea gull, the armadillo, the manatee and a host of challengers. And, in a follow-up election, the osprey won in a landslide vote
Thus, the osprey was "hatched" as UNF's official mascot.
Adapted from "An Osprey from the Ashes," by Gary Warner, originally published in the April, 1991 issue of UNF Alumni ACCENT. Posted with permission of the author.
Other UNF mascot stories:
Jacksonville Journal, Thursday, December 7, 1978, p 1.
Jacksonville Journal, Monday, December 11, 1978, p. 22
Spinnaker, January 29, 1979, p. 4.
Spinnaker, March 12, 1979, p. 6.
UNF Highline, April, 1979, p. 1.
Jacksonville Journal, Wednesday, May 2, 1979, p. 8.
Jacksonville Journal, Friday, May 4, 1979, p. 8.
Spinnaker, May 7, 1979, p 2.