With Thursday being observed as International Owl Awareness Day worldwide, the Mississippi University for Women is joining the occasion to celebrate its mascot — Ody Owl — which turns 40 years old this fall. Mayor Keith Gaskin has, concurrently, proclaimed Thursday as “Ody Owl Day” in the city of Columbus.
But that raises the question: How much do you really know about The W’s athletics namesake?
To fully appreciate the current manifestation of Ody Owl, one should first look at the early attempts at finding a mascot for The W. With a history of athletics competition dating back to the early 1900s, the then-Mississippi College for Women did not have any type of athletics representation until the 1950-51 season. It was the campus newspaper that initiated a contest to surface a mascot. The original vote was for a cocker spaniel in an athletics sweater, but that quickly fell by the wayside after considering the potential razzing ramifications of a dog representing an all-girls school. Some hasty meetings produced an alternate mascot: a deer called “Missy,” which would stay in place for the next two decades.
Ironically, after the 1971 MSCW basketball team won its national championship, it reignited debate as to the mascot of The W. The general consensus was that the doe-eyed Missy — with its yellow ribbon around the neck — was somehow “inappropriate for a mascot representing successful teams,” as noted in Legacy of the Blues.
Quite honestly, no one was fawning over Missy Deer.
Around 1980, momentum arose to have a popular cartoon character of the time — Garfield the Cat — become the MSCW mascot. But copyright ownership caused the Garfield syndicate to deny The W’s request for mascot use.
Once Garfield was nixed, a committee of faculty, students, and alumni — chaired by then-Director of Marketing Paul Olsen — was tasked with coming up with an appropriate mascot. And to find it, the committee simply had to look upwards…literally.
After bandying about several ideas, someone noted the terra-cotta owl figure which has rested at the zenith of Orr Chapel, high above the campus, since 1885. The owl proved to be ideal as a nod to The W’s history of excellence in education, as well as a classic symbol of knowledge and wisdom.
With the physical representation decided on, all that remained was for a name to be assigned. Several clever ideas were mulled over in meetings. Eventually, the committee talked about somehow paying homage to Emma Ody Pohl, head of the College’s Physical Education Department for 47 years. The marriage between a mascot, symbolic of wisdom, and a campus legend, known for her strict adherence to the virtues of physical education, was a perfect fit. And thus “Ody Owl” was born and unanimously approved as The W’s new mascot in 1982.
Over the next year, feverish work was done to create the inaugural mascot’s costume. The project ended up being done by two separate entities. The body was crafted by Carol Beale, a secretary at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, while the head was made by Lee High School art teacher McArthur Dawkins. Despite the school colors being designated as navy and Columbia blue at the time, the first mascot was a golden Ody (perhaps as a reminder of the jilted efforts to have the similarly colored Garfield as the mascot). Ody made its official debut on campus in the fall of 1983.
As far as lineage, Ody is a great horned owl — Bubo virginianus — identifiable by the tufts on the head (resembling horns). Ody is neither male nor female. Ody is, well, just Ody and eagerly supports The W’s athletics program, which also introduced men’s sports to campus in 2017, when intercollegiate competition was resumed following a 14-year hiatus.
Having an owl as its mascot puts Mississippi University for Women’s athletics program among just a handful of other four-year colleges and universities that have done likewise. The W’s athletic “rel-owl-tives” include Rice, Temple, Florida Atlantic, Kennesaw State, Southern Connecticut State, Bryn Mawr, Keene State, Maine–Presque Isle, Westfield State, Oregon Tech, William Woods, and Warren Wilson.
On The W campus, Ody has become a fixture for its aviary antics at athletics and general campus events, alike. Whether it’s whipping fans into a frenzy at games, providing some comic relief to the stressors of college life, or welcoming new students, Ody Owl is in its 40th year of representing The W and bringing smiles all around.
So now, when someone asks you about International Owl Awareness Day — and specifically the Mississippi University for Women’s mascot — you can confidently tell them you are, indeed, up to speed.
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