The Trout that Almost Was

Two mascots throw down in 1994

by Sam Brasch, editor; illustratinos by Eleanor Anderson, editor

In the spring of 1994, when Colorado College student Andrew Brown heard that the football team planned to hold a rally against him and his fish, he answered right back with a rally of his own. For the larger part of the year, Brown, a senior at the time, had fought in favor of a change that would have transformed every Colorado College student into something new. No longer would students be just another hackneyed team of Tigers. No. They would be Colorado Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

As dissenting football players whacked store-bought fish against a chain link fence in what they called “Trout Batting Practice,” Andrew and his comrades argued in favor of a new Colorado College mascot, one that expressed the values of the college more than a Tiger ever could.  “The trout is perfect for Colorado College,” Andrew told the Colorado Springs Gazette that April. “The Cutthroat Trout is a native fish—the state legislature has already made it the state fish. It’s a protected species, and adopting it as a mascot goes along with everything this college supposedly stands for.”

Up to eighteen inches long with brown and green speckles, many thought the trout to be extinct before rangers in Rocky Mountain National Park rediscovered the species in the 1930s. Since then, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has helped the fish reclaim its ecological niche across the state. The trout still has its troubles—non-native species and habitat destruction chief amongst them—but the government has upgraded its status from “endangered” to “threatened” in the years since Colorado College considered adopting it as a mascot.

To name a fish as your mascot is one thing. To endow it with the values of a community, “with everything this college supposedly stands for,” is a testament to Brown’s great creativity. With the help of a number of his friends, Brown organized rallies and printed “CC Trout” t-shirts. He met with the Athletics Department to agree upon the name Cutthroat Trout (far more intimidating than simply “the Colorado College Trout”) and worked out an economic transition plan that included altering everything from the Tiger logo on the gym floor to the college’s official stationery. After creating a petition with over two hundred signatures, he managed to place the issue on the student government ballot. Through all of his grandiose veneration of a trout, he forced his peers to look at one another and decide whether they, as a collective student body, were an alien jungle cat or a native freshwater fish.

From the college’s beginnings, questions of collective identity went hand in hand with questions of a mascot. When President William F. Slocum arrived at Colorado College in 1888, the students of our great institution were nobodies. At Harvard the students were, and remain, The Crimson. In Boulder, the students had taken their name from the great Buffalo of the western plains. But at Colorado  College in 1888,  students had no name, no athletics to unite them, and no way to identify as a Colorado College student other than that they all went to the same dusty, windblown western college.

Slocum saw that student spirit and solidarity arose from a mascot and athletics, and wasted no time in manufacturing both. In less than a year, he appointed a College Association “with the avowed purpose of building up college interest.” Though it’s not clear whether it was Slocum or the committee that decided on the Tiger to represent Colorado College athletics, in 1889 the new football team took to the field wearing yellow and black. “Colorado College is a great institution,” Slocum told the team, “but it can never gain the recognition it deserves until it has a winning football team . . . you are Tigers, and a Tiger is the fiercest beast of the Jungle; it can whip any other beast on earth.”

Why tigers? According to school lore, President Slocum chose the beast in an effort to emulate the Princeton Tigers. Brown, quick to pick up on a narrative that could help his cause, bought the story hook, line, and sinker. “The people that founded Colorado College,” explained Brown in 1994, “had attended Princeton University and wanted to make Colorado College like Princeton, so they gave Colorado College Princeton’s mascot.” If Colorado College hates being likened to anything, it’s a snooty East Coast tiger in a polo shirt.

But neither Slocum nor any of the Board of Trustees at the time had attended Princeton University. Though it may be the case that the founders of CC looked east for their mascot, I have found no written documentation in my own research to indicate that the Princeton Tigers were the inspiration for our own.

Brown, when asked where he found the Princeton myth, appealed to foggy memory. “I think we were told that at New Student Orientation, or something,” he said. “I am not really sure.”

With the murky evidence available, Colorado College students might have to live without a tale behind the Tiger, which is in a sense far more frustrating than having to kneel down to Princeton. “Some of us believe the tiger mascot is lame because there are no tigers in Colorado and because of its conventionality,” said Tom Cronin, professor of political science and Andrew’s inspiration for his campaign. “Further, Tigers are probably the third or fourth most popular high school mascot in the nation.” Tigers might be the “fiercest beast in the jungle,” but by that same virtue they are also one of the most overused and boring. All sports teams are fierce, but college mascots usually try to say something more about their institution, or at least appeal to geography.

It was here that Brown situated his argument. “What tie does Colorado or Colorado College have to a tiger?” Brown explained to me.  “It really doesn’t make much sense.  Even the University of Colorado has an animal that at least used to roam around here.  University of Texas has the Longhorns, Dallas has Cowboys, Denver has the Broncos.  I just don’t see the connection of a Tiger to a college in Colorado.”

“Colorado College is a unique institution,” he added, “and it deserves a unique mascot.”

As true as that statement may have been, and as true as it may be now, in the eyes of many around Brown the Tigers were unique because they were so central to the school and its history. Thomas Quinlen, another student at the time, spoke out against the change in the name of preserving Colorado College’s historical legacy. “Spend some time going through the annuals and catalogs in the library,” he urged his readers. “Spend a few minutes reading your fellow students’ memories and adventures. Look those black and white faces in the eye and tell them their mascot is unoriginal and isn’t good enough for you . . . Go ahead, see if you can.”

Others wanted the trout netted because fish are just plain silly. “What images do fish conjure up? Images of cold limpness, convulsions on dry land and stupidity (would you eat wire and feathers?) are called to mind,” wrote David Hewell, another student at the time. “When I hear names like the Richmond Spiders, The UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, The Delta State Fighting Okra, I am thankful that CC does not have such a mascot.”

As the school neared voting day, the opposition began taking shots at Brown himself. Quinlen couldn’t believe that Brown—who was student government President at the time—had “begun to take this fish business seriously.” Hewell called the trout campaign a “one-man effort,” to which Brown replied that he had sold 128 T-shirts.

In the end, the tiger snuck away with a win on Election Day, earning 468 votes to the trout’s 423. The idea would still have had to clear the Board of Trustees and the president’s office, but it is hard not to play the “what if” game: Thirty-five more votes and frozen fish could be flying onto the hockey ice, an endangered species could have a huge group of committed advocates, and Prowler could instead be an ice skating fish named Bait. But such is history.

Today, thirty-seven-year-old Brown switches between being a lawyer and serving as Travis County’s Democratic Party chairman in Austin, Texas. Between graduating from Colorado College and finding his way back to Austin, he traveled through South America by bus, learned Spanish, and even sparked legal proceedings that held high-ranking military officers in Argentina responsible for war crimes.

Brown counts his flopped fish campaign as one of his most formative experiences. More than indignant alumni or people who couldn’t take the idea of being a “silly fish” seriously, Brown thinks he could have made it happen if he approached athletes sooner.

“There was a guy who wore a trout costume to a football game and was tackled by a football player. I think the football player put on the Tiger mascot costume before he tackled the guy,” Brown said, lamenting a low point in the campaign when tigers started baring their teeth and trout started flexing their gills. “I learned that it’s a lot better to have athletes with you than surrounding you.”

To those who accused Andrew of being more of a student humorist than a student leader during his campaign, he insists to this day that his efforts were in earnest. “I was twenty two years old, and I was definitely an immature person, but I really did at the time believe that [changing the mascot] was something I was doing to raise the profile of the school, better my community, and help an endangered fish.”

And for any Tigers out there who might agree, Andrew already has your back. “Go ahead, call me up. I think I still have some of the T-shirts.”

The Trout that Almost Was

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