Wednesday, May 18, 2005

MILWAUKEE — Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade was stumped, along with thousands of other outraged Marquette fans, students and alumni, when the university declared it was ditching the Golden Eagles moniker and forever burying the old Warriors nickname in favor of “Gold.”

What kind of name was that? And what kind of mascot could represent an inert metal?

There’s never been a gold rush in Milwaukee, unless you count the color of the suds that flow from the city’s breweries.

Gold? Instead of digging it, the public panned it.

Critics said it was a symbol of greed that conflicted with the school’s Jesuit principles. They called it uninspired, unnecessary, unacceptable.

It made the school a national laughingstock.

Wade, who led Marquette to the 2003 Final Four, called the campus to get an explanation. He wasn’t satisfied to hear the decision was handed down out of the blue by a 38-member board of trustees that got together to reconsider the school’s decision to drop Warriors in the early 1990s.

“I’ll always be known as a Golden Eagle,” Wade insisted. “And the people before me, they’ll always be known as the Warriors. And the new class coming in, unfortunately, they’re always going to be known as ‘the Gold.’ ”

Not anymore.

The nickname lasted barely a week before the school made a stunning about-face.

After getting hammered by more than 4,000 e-mails and countless phone calls, on the airwaves and across the Internet, the red-faced trustees met in emergency session and reversed field.

While still insisting that Warriors was out, in part because of the name’s connection to the cartoonish Willie Wampum mascot of the 1960s, the board decided to put the issue into the hands of students, faculty, staff and some 100,000 alumni worldwide via Internet voting next week.

The list of 10 names is being finalized, but four former school nicknames — “Golden Eagles,” “Golden Avalanche,” “Hilltoppers” and “Blue and Gold” — will be among the choices. Write-in votes will be allowed, but “Warriors” votes will be discarded.

The top two finishers will be put up for another vote in mid-June and the winning moniker — the school’s fourth nickname in 11 years — will be announced by July 1, when the school joins the reconfigured Big East Conference.

The outcry over the university’s nickname started a year ago at graduation when two trustees offered the school $1 million each to go back to Warriors, which it dropped in favor of Golden Eagles because the name and logo offended some American Indian groups.

Among those advocating a return to Warriors — a nickname used by 27 universities across the country, including Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee — was university President Robert A. Wild.

In conversations with American Indian tribes and bands over the last year, however, Wild realized it was impossible to divorce the nickname from its ugly past.

“We’re dealing with a human dignity issue, and that’s real basic stuff for a Catholic and Jesuit university,” Wild said.

He believes much of the firestorm over the Gold nickname grew out of anger from those who supported a return to Warriors. Many alumni across the country still think of themselves as Warriors — 92 percent of them, according to an online survey conducted by the university.

At a rally after Gold was announced as the new nickname, one student held a sign that read: “Exodus 15:3: ‘The Lord is a warrior.’ ”

When trustees realized that Warriors wasn’t going to make a comeback, they decided to ditch Golden Eagles, too.

“It seemed like a bright idea at the time,” Wild said. “When we saw where we were headed with Warriors, we said, ‘Look at what Syracuse has done. They went from Orangemen to Orange. Hey, one of our oldest traditions really has been our school colors, blue and gold.’ We had the Golden Eagles. We had the Golden Avalanche when we had a football team. We tried to tap into that.”

It turned out to be fool’s gold.

Wild said he didn’t think alumni would withhold donations to the university and he insisted the school won’t have golden egg on its face for long.

“This is a blip on the radar screen,” he suggested. “The board of trustees had the good sense to say, ‘All right, clearly the alumni were affected. Let’s move on.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”

AP sports writer Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this article.

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