Indiana University Fort Wayne is on the hunt for a mascot to help build engagement, campus spirit and camaraderie among students, alumni and the community. Following years of success, the campus is ready to choose a mascot that encompasses the school’s history and can be a source of identity for students.
Following the split of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, known as IPFW, in 2018, IU Fort Wayne has established itself as the area’s premier research and health science college, surpassing its enrollment goals over the last two years. In addition, IU Fort Wayne was just voted by Reader’s Choice Award as the Best College in 2020.
IUPUI’s triumvirate of mascots – Jinx, Jawz and Jazzy – embodies the core strengths of the campus’s diverse student body, alumni and employees. Over the past two decades, they have been instrumental in helping raise the perception, reputation and identity of IUPUI.
“The jaguar is a great mascot for us,” said Bev Knight, who as director of sponsorships oversees IUPUI’s mascot program. “It’s a fast and strong animal that represents the rapid growth and strength of our campus very well.”
But how did we get here?
Previously known as the Metros, the campus athletics program was in need of a rebrand during the 1998 transition to Division I athletics. It had no official logo, mascot or centralized branding.
Ed Holdaway, who was recruited to play baseball in fall 1997 for the Metros and is now the longest-tenured staff member in the IUPUI athletics department, described the jerseys and colors as “looking like McDonald’s.” The current assistant athletics director of communications recalled the baseball team getting made fun of on the road because their IUPUI hats were an easy comparison to the style and color palette of the U.S.S.R.
In 1998, the student body had three options to select from – Indy Hawks, River Hawks or Jaguars. Looking back at the “minor league baseball-ish” choices, Holdaway is thankful the right mascot name was chosen.
“Those others wouldn’t have aged well,” Holdaway said laughing.
Others have agreed as well, including Jennifer Smith, the owner of Indianapolis’ Avant Garb, a company that specializes in making mascot suits across the country and who is responsible for creating the Jinx, Jawz and Jazzy costumes. Smith, who customizes and handcrafts every aspect of the suit with fine detail, from the shoelaces to the eyebrows, recognizes the value of mascots to a brand – likely more than most.
“Your team and school are what your mascot is, and the jaguar is powerful,” the self-described Queen of Fuzz and president of the National Mascot Association said.
Introduced in December 1998 at a men’s basketball game, Jinx ushered in a new era of school spirit through his playful, warm personality and friendly smile.
Plenty of spots and new Jaguars merchandise were visible throughout campus as the excitement of an evolving university injected the sprawling campus with newfound enthusiasm and pride.
“It was intoxicating,” said Jake Manaloor, student body president from 1998 to 2000. “Students, staff and faculty liked that they had something to rally around, and they liked the new concept, logo and look of it. It was fresh.”
Jinx gained his identify after IUPUI’s student newspaper, The Sagamore, held a naming contest in the fall of 1998. A student committee of Sagamore staff and student government representatives chose Jinx from more than 80 submissions. Junior Tricia Schmidt is credited with the submission and earned $300 for winning the contest.
The concept behind the name was to put a “jinx” on the other team in sporting contests and allow for him to be a teasing, taunting-type mascot. Manaloor, who was on the naming committee and heavily involved in conversations with the school’s marketing and communications office, said that student government was concepting a variety of ways to make a splash with the introduction of the Jaguars nickname.
With a prominent city neighbor to the south just across White River, one of the ideas pushed for by student government was to adopt a jaguar for the Indianapolis Zoo. While some schools feature live animals as mascots, the idea was more about increasing community engagement and helping bring awareness for IUPUI.
“Obviously, bringing a live jaguar to the gymnasium wouldn’t have been the best idea since sliced bread,” Manaloor said with a laugh. “But we talked about trying to get that partnership with the Zoo.”
While one of the unwritten rules of mascots is to take a vow of secrecy for one’s identity, Manaloor admits to having the designation of being the first Jinx.
The costume’s bulky head required Manaloor to see out of Jinx’s mouth, and he described it as hot and difficult to get around in. Well, not that difficult.
A joking comment fueled by Manaloor’s youthful hubris turned into reality as he ran the 1999 Indianapolis Mini Marathon in the full costume.
The 13.1-mile journey was filled with high-fives, hugs and failed attempts at hydration. Unable to remove the bulky head, Manaloor had to get creative for cooling off and tried to drink water through the helmet. By the end of the three-hour-plus run/walk, he and the suit were drenched in sweat.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said, smiling.
Nowadays, Jinx isn’t running marathons or seen around campus much. While he hasn’t bought a condo and headed to Florida for the winters, Jinx is in retirement. With Jawz and Jazzy around now, it’s truly a special occasion if Jinx makes an appearance, like around IUPUI’s 50-year anniversary celebration in 2019.
But Jinx’s place in IUPUI lore is secure. He laid the foundation for the community to embrace the Jaguar name change and helped usher in a new era of the campus’s expansion. His legacy fostered a proud spirit of IUPUI among its students, staff, faculty, alumni and fans.
“To have that presence and be able to send it out to campus, community and athletic events, I think it was a really big step,” Holdaway said. “People were genuinely excited to see Jinx at events. That layer of brand recognition and brand awareness didn’t exist prior to 1998.”
“As IU Fort Wayne continues to grow and establish itself within the Fort Wayne community, we are now looking to identify a mascot that not only provides an identity for our staff and students, but also unites us with the greater Fort Wayne community,” said IU Fort Wayne’s Jake Huffman, assistant director of student engagement, success and retention.
The mascot search is open to all Fort Wayne residents. To participate, visit iufw.edu/mascot and submit your recommendation by Tuesday, Dec. 15. You will be prompted to fill out your contact information, your connection to IU Fort Wayne, your mascot idea and a brief summary as to why the school should select your recommendation.
Following the submission deadline, the mascot committee will review the submissions, and the top ideas will be voted on in the new calendar year.
Information on the mascot search will be updated regularly on IU Fort Wayne’s social media pages.