In 1968, basketball coach Carole Smith ’65 selected a nickname for her team. Little did she know that name would become the official school mascot.
By Jennifer Meers Jones ’08
When you drive around campus, evidence of the Crusader mascot is everywhere, from the road sign marking Crusader Way to the Cru Athletics emblems adorning the sports complexes to the Crusader statue outside Mayborn Campus Center.
For Dr. Carole Smith ’65, all of this takes on a special meaning, because she was the one who chose the name “Crusaders.”
As a student, Smith played nearly every sport offered at the college, from basketball to badminton to table tennis.
“In those days our athletic department was divided into intramural and extramural sports,” she said. “Intramural sports were played within your own school. The dormitories had teams, and often the Big and Little Sister classes were combined for teams. The extramural teams played other schools, including Temple Junior College, Hill Junior College, and Baylor.”
The extramural teams were identified by the school name but did not play under a nickname, have a mascot, or even play in the school colors.
“We had red tops and we furnished our own black shorts. Purple and gold were our school colors, but our uniforms were red because we didn’t have the budget for anything else.”
After graduating, Smith went on to earn her master’s degree from Texas Women’s University, then returned to Mary Hardin-Baylor as a physical education instructor and basketball coach. It was during this time that she was instrumental in establishing the Texas Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (TCIAW), which organized women’s athletic teams across Texas for intercollegiate competition. This commission was a historic move away from extramural sports and into intercollegiate athletics as we know it today. This move, Smith said, is what inspired the name Crusaders.
“We needed—I hate to say a mascot because we didn’t really have someone dressed as a Crusader—but we needed an identifying name,” she said. “We weren’t just Basketballers or Volleyballers, we weren’t the extramural track team, we were the Crusaders. I decided to pick Crusaders because we had been crusaders in establishing athletics for intercollegiate women and getting away from this intramural/extramural thing. We really were crusaders, from that standpoint.”
The athletes first played under the name Crusaders during the 1968-1969 season. Smith said the new name established a greater sense of team pride, inspiring game day rituals such as cheering “Charge!” as they broke out of huddles during competitions.
Despite the enthusiastic reception from student athletes, the majority of the student body didn’t immediately identify themselves as Crusaders, according to Vicki Higgason McKay ’71.
“The new mascot was unveiled with almost no fanfare; in fact, I barely remember it,” McKay said. “To put things in perspective, I was the editor of The Bells at the time, and I don’t even remember doing a story about it.”
The Board of Trustees voted to accept Crusaders as the official school mascot in May 1975. From those humble beginnings, the Crusader took its place on the Mary Hardin-Baylor campus, giving fans a mascot to cheer for at athletic events and eventually giving all students a term with which to identify themselves.
“It is pretty incredible to see how the Crusader mascot started and where it is today,” Smith said. “The Crusader has really taken on a life of its own.”