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Respect the Crimson Eye
Written October 31, 2019


College athletic teams require symbolic nicknames.  In many cases, these represent savage beasts meant to intimidate opponents, such as Tigers or Wolverines or Fighting Irish.

Not wishing to celebrate aggression, some schools have merely chosen colors:  the Dartmouth Big Green, the Harvard Crimson, the Syracuse Orange, the Stanford Cardinal.

My own peace-loving alma mater is Oberlin College.  When it introduced intercollegiate sports in 1886, Oberlin boasted nothing but its initial:  the letter O.

The athletes wore crimson and gold.  When they donned their varsity letters, they became known as “O” men.  We can imagine their supporters urging them on with cries of  Go, ye “O” men! 

Even today the athletic department's website is goyeo.com.

Some of Oberlin's other Internet sites use just the    as a favicon.



The 1890s

Below we see part of our 1892 football team, which beat Ohio State twice and finished undefeated.  At least we claimed an upset victory at Michigan.  The teams had agreed to play only until 4:50 PM so that Oberlin could catch the last train home.  After we took a 24-22 lead and Michigan had the ball, the referee — actually an Oberlin substitute player — announced that it was now 4:50, and our winning team hurriedly left the field.  Done is the fray and won is the day, saved by our trusty ‘O’ men!  That's what an Oberlin music student would write a few years later in “A Song of Victory.”

However, the umpire was a Michigan man, and he didn't agree that the game was over.  Arguing that the ref hadn't accounted for four minutes of injury time, the umpire handed the ball to Michigan's George Jewett, who walked into the end zone.  To this day, each school claims it won.

I've colorized Oberlin's 23-year-old coach on the left.  His name was John Heisman.

Born in nearby Cleveland, Heisman had played Ivy League football at Brown and Penn.

After coaching at Oberlin, he later went on to even greater fame.  A prestigious trophy bears his name.

The music student I mentioned, John Prindle Scott, also wrote (with words by Robert E. Brown '01) another song titled “Knights of the Golden O.”

Then here is to old Varsity,
     Our pride and boast to show!
And here's to ev'ry gallant knight
     Who wears the golden O!

Than any regimental suit
     On me you could bestow,
I'd rather wear the crimson coat
     Set off with the golden O.


The 20th Century 

Newspapers adopted “Knights of the Golden O” as the varsity's nickname.  Here's a 1913 baseball clipping from the Oberlin Review.

But sportswriters, even student sportswriters, wanted something shorter and punchier.

In the fall of 1926, the Review ran a contest.  Lucius “Lee” Shackson submitted the eventual winning entry, a clever elision of “ye 'O' men” — Yeomen.

Unfortunately, in common parlance a yeoman was only a lowly subsistence farmer.  There are some shocks of wheat on the “Learning and Labor” college seal, but this is hardly an image to strike fear into the hearts of foes like the Wolverines.

However, Shackson noted that yeoman also could denote a member of a fighting organization, such as a Navy petty officer or a Yeoman of the Guard.  There's a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta bearing the latter title.

If costumed mascots had been in vogue in 1926, a Tower Warder might have begun prowling the sidelines, brandishing his poleaxe to inspire the Yeomen (and later the Yeowomen).


My Postgraduate Years

After I received my degree in physics in 1969, there were changes on campus.  Physicist Robert W. Fuller served as Obie's president for a few years, tripling the enrollment of minorities.

Also, students welcomed the arrival of another group of minorities in Tappan Square, where the gray squirrels now included a few white ones.

These cute little red-eyed albinos became an endearing icon.

Oberlin College, or OC, officially adopted a determined-looking white squirrel in 2014 as part of its Athletic Department branding.

Then former college president Fuller was heard from again.  In 2016, at the age of 80, he published his eleventh book.  This was a children's tale about a nut collector. 

Theo “just wanted to belong.” However, when he and his gray friends played hide-and-seek, he was embarrasingly easy to find.

That is, until the first snowfall.  Then he became an eluding star.


And Now . . .

Finally, in the summer of 2019, current college president Carmen Twillie Ambar introduced a proper collegiate mascot.

The new symbol of the Yeomen and Yeowomen, over seven feet tall and wearing size 32½ Birkenstocks, is neither a farmer nor a Beefeater but a furry albino squirrel!

A true Obie, passionate about  politics and the environment, loving music and art, this bushy-tailed sciurinian is said to prefer the pronouns they/their/them.

By what name should   they be called?

There were 397 suggestions, including “Macademia,” a blend of macadamia nuts with academia. 

The question went to a nationwide vote.  The Review expressed its preference among the six finalists, and that choice turned out to be the name that was unveiled at the homecoming football game on October 5: 




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