The University of Kansas, in Lawrence, dates to 1866 and enjoys a long, storied history. In addition to being the largest university in Kansas, its basketball program is a perennial contender. Fans have savored nearly three solid decades of postseason play.
The university’s sports teams are known as the Jayhawks, but its mascots’ have seen the Civil War and beyond. Let’s look at Kansas athletics and how its mascots got their names.
Kansas Hoops Go Way, Way Back
Kansas’s basketball dynasty can be tracked back well over a century, when the inventor of basketball, James Naismith, was hired as KU’s first basketball coach in 1898. Since then, the Jayhawks have been crowned the regular-season conference champs many times, and are currently on a 12-season streak as champs in the Big 12 under coach Bill Self. Their recent success isn’t new to them, however, as they were regular season champs on an almost-regular basis when they were part of the Big 6, 7, and 8. They’ve also brought home the NCAA championship three times (1952, 1988, 2008).
Current members in the Big 12 (in addition to KU) are Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, UT Austin, Texas Christian, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. One of KU’s biggest rivalries over the years has been with Missouri, particularly in football – but they compete closely in all sports. This is a tradition that dates to the late 19th century. Since the Kansas City metropolitan area was situated between the two schools, the rivalry could even be seen within families. That link was broken, though, when MU went to the SEC in 2012. These days, same-state showdowns bring some heat when KU and K-State meet on the field or on the court.
Rock Chalk Jayhawk
— Big Jay (@KUBigJay) November 26, 2016
KU was founded shortly after the end of the Civil War, and its mascot dates back even further. Kansas was a Free State during the time leading up to the conflict, and the territory experienced struggles between people who wanted Kansas to remain free (called free staters) and those who wished slavery was legal. People who caused general mayhem on either side were referred to as Jayhawkers, but the term stuck to the free staters and gradually became a symbol of patriotism.
Lawrence was a Free State stronghold, and the Jayhawk started to make its way into school chants in 1886 when it was first used as part of the now-famous Rock Chalk chant.
The Jayhawk is a mythical bird – a combination of the blue jay and sparrow hawk – and was first illustrated in the student newspaper in 1912. The present-day mascot was created by Harold Sandy 30-plus years later.
The costumed mascot cheered for KU alone for many years, but that changed in 1971. During homecoming, Big Jay, as he was later called, carted a huge egg to the 50-yard line. The egg “hatched,” and Baby Jay was born. Big Jay and Baby Jay take on cheering duties in tandem these days, with Baby Jay sporting a one-half symbol on her jersey.
If you’re headed out to Allen Fieldhouse or Memorial Stadium to watch your ’Hawks take on another season, be sure to get your favorite KU Jayhawks gear from Fanatics.com.