Valparaiso is ditching the Crusaders nickname, athletics’ logos, and school mascot after several decades of criticism.
Valparaiso, a small Luthern school in northwestern Indiana widely known for its college basketball program, adopted Crusaders in 1942 (after using Uhlan, the name of Polish-Lithuanian cavalry units in the 19th and 20th centuries, since 1931) and retained the moniker despite its origins with religious wars centuries ago and most recent associations to white supremacist and extremist organizations.
"The negative connotation and violence associated with the Crusader imagery are not reflective of Valpo's mission and values, which promote a welcoming and inclusive community," interim president Colette Irwin-Knott said in a statement. "This is the decision that best reflects our values and community."
With the Crusaders out, what nickname might Valpo adopt?
They won’t revert to the Uhlan for obvious reasons, nor will they select the other two finalists from 1942, the gender-discriminatory Dunesmen or the equally violent Vandals. Presumably, other names with any whiff of violent or controversial connotations won’t be considered.
Several pieces of low-hanging fruit could be popular with alumni and locals, including the Homers. Homer Drew won 36 total games in his first five seasons as Valpo head coach from 1988-93 but never won fewer than 20 games in any of the next 10 seasons, during which he delivered the program’s first six NCAA Tournament appearances. Drew lost in the first round of five of those tournament appearances (and again in 2004) but led Valpo to the 1998 Sweet Sixteen as a 13-seed.
It’s cheeky and unique and would be highly popular with pockets of fans if the 17-program athletics department is willing to install a basketball-specific nickname. Kernels, in honor of former Valparaiso resident Orville Redenbacher, who built a popcorn factory there and inspired the town’s annual Popcorn Festival, may sit under the same weird-but-funny umbrella.
In 1948, a student suggested adding a bell to traditions at athletics events, to be rung after victories. A year later, a 28-inch bell, previously used in the downtown fire station, was donated to the school and made its first appearance on a cart at a football game in November 1949. Six years later, it was installed in front of the old Valparaiso Union, where it remained until a 2009 move outside the Athletics and Recreation Center. Bells or Bellfounders, the name of people who cast bells, could be options.
Long before Valparaiso University’ was established (as Valparaiso Male and Female College in 1859), the town of Valparaiso was founded as Portersville by land speculators. Maybe the Valparaiso Speculators or Pioneers? Or the Millers, Sawmillers, or Settlers for the several sawmills founded by settlers quickly thereafter. Or the Trappers for Joseph Bailey, a French Canadian fur trapper who opened the town’s first business.
Decades later, U.S. 30, the first paved transcontinental highway, followed the route of the Sauk Trailer through Valparaiso. It was the latest development for a city and region with a long history as a transportation hub. If the school is undeterred by the Portland Trail Blazers, might they be interested in the Trail Blazers or Blazers? Otherwise, maybe the Engineers, Conductors or Yardmasters.
What if Valpo didn’t select a new nickname? All 1,107 NCAA institutions across three divisions have a nickname. What if Valpo didn’t? What if Valpo was just … Valpo?
“The reality is most of our branding in the last four years has been purposely done with Valpo and the shield,” athletics director Mark LaBarbera told The Times of Northwest Indiana this week. “We’ve been using Valpo and the shield because that is a much stronger national brand than the Crusader. You don’t see 'Crusader' anywhere on any of the basketball uniforms.”
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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM