By Andrea Pyka
Dubbed the UC Santa Cruz mascot in the mid-1980s, the banana slug has been a longstanding representative for sports teams, clubs, and the overall student population who feel that the banana slug accurately embodies UCSC’s unique community.Marc Ratner, a 1987 UCSC alumnus, helped create the original drawings of the banana slug logo.
"The banana slug perfectly captures the spirit of the school," Ratner said. "In a world of bobcats and cougars, there’s only one banana slug."
Some, however, are worried that the expansion of the UC Santa Cruz campus could detract from the school’s unique reputation-and, in turn, how the mascot is viewed.
"I think that [expanding] the campus will change the unique nature of UCSC and will make it a lot more like every other school in the country," said Ryan Coonerty, Santa Cruz City Councilmember and UCSC lecturer.
Through the expansion, Coonerty feels that the inspiration behind the slug will undergo a dramatic change.
"The slug is meant to culturally set Santa Cruz apart from other schools," Coonerty said. "A mascot connotes certain beliefs about the college that usually revolves around sports teams and the banana slug is very different from that."
Mike Rotkin, also a UCSC lecturer and City Councilmember, feels that the expansion would make UC Santa Cruz indistinguishable from any other large university.
"The people that are running the place think it would be a good thing if we were more like Berkeley," Rotkin said. "Those people think it’s ridiculous that we have a banana slug as a mascot; they are wrong on both accounts."
Rotkin feels that the quirky banana slug that symbolizes the struggle to maintain the unique nature of UCSC.
"We are still far better than most places," Rotkin said. "The banana slug is about cooperation rather than fierce competition: faster is not always better than slower, and bigger is not better than smaller."
At the university’s inception, the notion of even having a school mascot was preposterous.
It was not until the university began competing against other schools in rugby, soccer, and eventually basketball and a number of other varsity and club sports, that the need for an athletic mascot became apparent. A number of sports teams adopted the slug as a fitting name to such a unique school, but in 1981, the year UCSC joined the NCAA as a varsity Division III sports program, then-chancellor Robert Sinsheimer named the team the Sea Lions.
In 1985, the Student Union Assembly (SUA) was created at UCSC. It was through SUA that students put the question of the mascot to vote. The banana slug won by an overwhelming 80 percent, and thereafter became the official mascot.
At the time when students were rooting for the banana slug over the sea lion, students Pete Blackshaw, Marc Ratner and Bob Byington worked together to create distinctive banana slug images that reflected the academic rather than athletic aspect of the school. Some of the drawings include the popular Zen Slug, the Fighting Banana Slug, Santa Cruz Athletics, Sleepy Slug, and the Fiat Slug.
Although the Chancellor was concerned that the sports teams would not be happy about having a banana slug as their mascot, the trio focused on creating something that represented the academic aspect of the university community.
Serving as one of the first Student Union Assembly Chairs, Blackshaw said the change in mascot was a defining moment for SUA and the campus.
Blackshaw, who graduated in 1988, recalls the early years at UCSC when the slug was the informal mascot.
"Contrary to the Chancellor’s assumption, the iconoclastic slug became a galvanizing force for campus pride and spirit," Blackshaw said via e-mail. "In our mind, the mascot embodied both our self-humor and unique campus identity."
In 1992, the slug was named the nation’s top mascot by the National Directory of College Athletics. In the same year, Sports Illustrated named the Banana Slug the nation’s best college nickname.
Tom Ralston, a 1973 UCSC Alumni believes the mascot-which did not exist when he was a student-is a true representative of the school and is one of the craziest mascots on the planet.
Ralston, who is president of Tom Ralston Concrete in Santa Cruz, said that when traveling all around the United States, he has heard people comment about the unusual mascot.
"Santa Cruz is noted for being really different," Ralston said. We’ve have had gay mayors and pot-smoking mayors. People in Santa Cruz come out with really bizarre ideas."
Rachel Lloyd, currently a third-year UCSC student, believes that the expansion of the campus will neither benefit nor deteriorate the spirit of the banana slug mascot.
"Students aren’t going to allow us to become another Berkeley," Lloyd said. "Expanding our campus will not give us more school spirit." Lloyd feels that the absence of a football team at UCSC plays a key role in the lack of school spirit.
"We aren’t a very sports-oriented school to begin with," Lloyd said. "Some schools always have the superstars of the sports teams, but that isn’t the case at UCSC."
Chloe Raftery, a third-year student, agrees that because UCSC is devoid of a football team, there isn’t as much school spirit.
"Compared to other schools we don’t have as much school spirit. We do sports for fun and to stay in shape," Raftery said.
While Raftery misses the spirit aspect of a football team at UC Santa Cruz, she believes even with the expansion of UCSC, the school spirit at Santa Cruz will never be that of other schools.
"Each school has its own unique aspects," Raftery said. "We are the tree huggers, not the tackle football school."
Bob McCampbell, director of the Baytree Bookstore, said that while the banana slug helps bring out the unique qualities of UCSC, it also stands out amongst the crowd of ferocious university sports team mascots.
McCampbell said the mascot is a byproduct and that sports teams should be looked at for their athletic merit.
"You look at the sports for the quality of the teams, rather than the mascot," said McCampbell.
Blackshaw, who played on the tennis team at UCSC, said sports teams may at first be looked at differently, but nevertheless stands by the slug.
"How can anyone miss the slug-it’s distinct, memorable, and a powerful engine of word-of-mouth," Blackshaw said. "But in the end, a sport team’s track record is the ultimate shaper of reputation."
Felicia Rice, a 1978 alumna, thinks the banana slug reflects a culture of passivism and non-violence.
"We don’t need to be overly aggressive and have an aggressive mascot, like the mountain lion or bobcat," Rice said.
While the banana slug has impacted the UCSC sports teams, it also left a mark-or a trail of slime-in popular culture all over the world.Banana slugs have made their way into Hollywood, including a guest appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s cult favorite Pulp Fiction, in which John Travolta proudly sports a UCSC T-shirt.
Although Tarantino is not a UCSC alumnus, he frequently visited the campus when his girlfriend at the time was a student. He specifically requested that the student-designed Fiat Slug shirt be incorporated into his film.
McCampbell relishes in the fact that the banana slug has been featured in a film.
"It helps spread the good reputation of UCSC and it gets people talking about it," McCampbell said. "It puts Santa Cruz on the map."
The banana slug may have had its share of support in the past, but current UCSC sports teams are also sharing in that fame.
Kevin "Skippy" Givens, head of UCSC Intramurals and Club Sports said the banana slug is more of a playful mascot than those of other schools.
"Sports at Santa Cruz have always been looked at from a different perspective than at other schools," Givens said. "Santa Cruz tends to look at it from more of a creative angle."
Givens hasn’t encountered anyone who hasn’t thought the banana slug is a great mascot.
"Our sports teams are proud of the fact that they are the banana slugs," Givens said.
Linda Spradley, the athletic director at UCSC, said she gets positive feedback about the banana slug mascot.
"We don’t associate the term ‘slug’ as a slow meandering type of creature, it is very indicative of what we are like," said Spradley.
Finn Telles, a second-year student and a member of the ultimate Frisbee team, notes that opposing teams either think the banana slug mascot is great or think it’s a bit odd. Nonetheless, Telles is proud to be a banana slug.
"I think the banana slug mascot is cool because it’s unconventional," Telles said. "It’s fun to beat the teams who make fun of us for being the banana slugs."
Tessa Verhoef, a first-year student at UC Berkeley, said that many Berkeley students do not consider Santa Cruz a big sports threat and tend to make fun of the UCSC banana slugs.
"I do think I view the sports at Santa Cruz slightly differently due to their mascot not having the same ‘masculine’ qualities as something like the ‘Golden Bear,’" said Verhoef. "The banana slug on the other hand is seen as ‘cute’ and not as a threat."
Dave Wark, a fourth-year student at UCSC who plays for the club baseball team (fittingly called the ‘Sluggers’), believes that the mascot is merely an aesthetic and does not necessarily have to do with the quality of the team.
"The different teams are generally there to play rather than for the mascot," Wark said. "The banana slug mascot doesn’t actually appear on our uniforms, but we still feel that it is our mascot. The mascot makes our team unique and we show that with class and dignity."