When, and why, did South High become “The Colonels”?

There has been some controversy (rightly) about the mascot of South High School.

The article linked to above indicates that the mascot was created by Al Banx. Since so many “traditions” are relatively new, I wanted to see if I could pinpoint when the mascot was created and when it was more widely adopted by the school.

A friend had asked me, “Surely Robert Goddard was not a Colonel” – and, of course, Goddard was not a Colonel. I did an extensive search of Telegram and Gazette records, and the first time I find a South High School team referred to as the “Colonels” is in 1939.

In Worcester, we are blessed to have both an excellent local history section in the public library and an excellent librarian in Joy Hennig. I figured that the best way to find the origins of a mascot would be in the school’s yearbook, and Joy kindly pulled nearly three decades’ worth of yearbooks for me to review.

The first time the Colonel appears in a South High yearbook is in 1939, from an Al Banx cartoon that originally appeared in the Evening Gazette. The Colonel has double six-shooters, recently fired, in a cemetery called “South’s Seven Straight Baseball Cemetery.” He’s sitting over the grave for 1939, and, as far as I can tell, he’s a Southern Colonel because, well, it’s South High.

The 1940 yearbook has another Banx cartoon; it’s unclear if this is courtesy of the paper. It’s also unclear what exactly is going on. (Classical High is represented by some betoga’ed character; Commerce is represented by their team mascot, Mercury; and North High, showing that mascots can be changed in this city, is represented by an Eskimo.)

I wanted to show what the football team page looks like in 1940; the team does not refer to itself as the Colonels, but as the Red and White. Perhaps at this point, the baseball team alone is known as the Colonels; perhaps it is still more of an informal nickname.

As we move to 1941, the main sports page does not feature a colonel:

However, in 1942, the Colonel makes another cartoon appearance at the prom:

And the basketball team is referring to itself as the Colonels:

In 1943, the Colonel makes his first appearance in the Sports section header:

The football team, however, still does not appear to refer to itself as the Colonels; they are “Crimson and White.”

The 1944 football team seems to have finally adopted the Colonel:

In 1945 the Colonel first appears on the cover of the yearbook; what follows are a few yearbook covers from then to the late ’40s:

I’d love to know (from someone with a better sense of history than I have) if Al Banx was commissioned to create a mascot, or if this is something he did of his own volition.

The T&G column “How to decide what’s in a name” by Mike Richard (September 30, 2012), seems to imply the latter. (Link accessible with your library card)

Longtime Worcester Telegram cartoonist Al Banx created original panels for the newspaper for more than 40 years, with his work featured regularly on the sports pages. He had a particular fondness for Worcester’s high school and college athletic teams and was responsible for attaching several creative nicknames to area high schools.

Banx named the Millbury teams the Woolies since the town was a site for a number of mills, including spinning mills used to produce woolen clothing.

The Auburn Dandies was a mascot created by Banx of a snappy-dressed gentleman with top hat and tails. 

So – if you have more Al Banx background than I do, I’d love to hear from you!