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PC Katie Hardy

What is a Retriever? A look back at the history of UMBC’s mascot

The definition of a mascot is an animal, person or thing adopted by a group as its representative symbol and supposed to bring good luck. Mascots vary from school to school, from bears, tigers and wildcats to birds and even turtles. Many of them represent something of significance to the area where the team or school is located.

The official mascot of UMBC is the Chesapeake Bay retriever. Students elected the Chesapeake Bay retriever as the official mascot in the fall of 1966, only weeks into the university’s first official semester. A contest was held in the first issue of the school newspaper, known at the time as “UMBC News” and student Tom Berlin won the contest, nominating the retriever.

An article published in “UMBC Magazine” in September 2015 chronicled the origins of the mascot, bringing up the contest as well the variety of other mascot entries. Ideas such as a unicorn, an angel, a muskrat and a crab were considered. Thank goodness the university didn’t think that the “UMBC Muskrats” had a good ring to it.

There have been different versions of the retriever mascot. The original mascot was a live retriever named Campus Sam, brought in shortly after mascot selection, donated in the spring of 1967. The dog was named after another contest failed to give another name for the dog. UMBC has used other live mascots over the years.

Additionally, a 500 pound retriever statue named True Grit can be found between the Retriever Activities Center and the Administration Building. UMBC Alum Paulette Raye sculpted the statue. True Grit sends off UMBC graduates while wearing a cap with a diploma in its mouth. Students have been known to rub the nose of the statue over the years for good luck on their exams.

A costumed mascot goes by the name of True Grit, as well. The costumed True Grit can be found roaming the sidelines of various UMBC athletic events. The costumed retriever was introduced in the late 1990s, initially known as Fever the Retriever.

The selection of the retriever is one that has deep state ties, particularly the Chesapeake Bay breed. The Chesapeake Bay retriever is Maryland’s state dog, declared so in 1964. The dog was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878.

The purpose of a mascot is to represent characteristics that unify a group. The AKC said the characteristics of a Chesapeake Bay retriever, also known as “Chessies,” include being affectionate and bright. It is known historically for hunting waterfowl. The Chesapeake Bay retriever is known for its prowess in rough, icy water.

According to the AKC, Chesapeake Bay retrievers are high energy dogs and are known for their loyalty. The dogs also tend to have a mind of their own and look to forge their own path.