History of the Wildcat
When Baker’s football team made history in 1890 by winning the first intercollegiate sporting event in Kansas, the name didn’t reflect the team’s ferocity.
“The Methodists,” as Baker athletic teams were known in the early days, demonstrated tenacity and acumen in defeating the University of Kansas 22-9. In response to the overwhelming promise of the earliest football team, newsmen and spectators alike couldn’t stop talking about how the Baker boys played like “wild cats,” said former Baker University Archivist Brenda Day, recounting the legend behind Baker’s current-day mascot.
Four years after Baker defeated the University of Kansas, Baker’s Board of Trustees brought the game of football into question. A debate about whether to continue the game focused on several points. The first was academic.
Birth of the Wildcat
“Apparently, there was a lot of anxiety on the part of church that the emphasis on sports was interfering with the academic mission of the University,” said Harold Kolling, former University historian.
The second was a question of well-being.
“In those days, football was not played with the protective gear there is today, so that led to a lot of injuries,” Kolling said.
In an effort to stop the distraction and the danger of football, leaders of the University and of the Methodist Episcopal Church worked to ban the new sport. They had the support of women of that day who were concerned about the well-being of the players. In 1894, the Baker Trustees voted to banish football.
Despite the ban, Baker student interest in the sport was great, and football was popular at area institutions. It took some coercing on the part of students and several prominent faculty members to bring the sport back to Baldwin. William Alfred Quayle, who had left his post as University president more than a decade earlier and was on his way to the episcopacy of the Methodist Episcopal Church, spoke in favor of a reinstatement. Students petitioned to the Board of Trustees, and in 1908, success once again was found in picking up the pigskin.
The football team gained ground as a mainstay at Baker, and students of the University made it their initiative to give a name to their promising squad.
Drawn from history, the winning 1915 team was ordained the “Wild cats” by the Baker Orange, but it wasn’t until another publication took the name that the mascot became a bastion of Baker pride.
Justifying the Name
In 1921, the University yearbook officially adopted the name The Wildcat, with the editor explaining in the foreword the justification:
“The K.U. Jayhawk, the Princeton Tiger, and the other animals of the college menagerie must . . . realize that now Baker has a “pet” just as many other schools have,” explained James S. Chubb, 1921 Wildcat editor. “It is the hope of the makers of this book that Bakerites will yield this adopted kitten the place he deserves; not merely that of our athletic figurehead but as the sign of every student enterprise.”
While the wildcat is a firmly imbedded icon of athletic success, its look has changed with the times. At the football home-opener Sept. 8, 2007, in honor of the University’s sesquicentennial, a new Wildcat mascot was unveiled along with a unique name: WOWzer. The new costume was made possible by a donation from Baker friend and benefactor Jan Schroeder. Reina Murphy, a freshman from the Kansas City area, won the University’s name the Wildcat contest.
“I like school spirit a lot,” she said. “I always joke that if I was coordinated enough and was a good dancer, I’d be a cheerleader. Having named the Wildcat, makes me feel like I’m a part of that.”