From the day I decided to enroll at Connecticut College until now, the start of my senior year, I have been continuously asked the same question. Every member of my extended family, all of my family’s friends and almost every new person I meet asks, “Why did you choose to go to school in Connecticut?”
I usually respond by saying that the East Coast is a great place for lacrosse, the sport I’ve been playing my whole life. People often give me a strange look, as they have usually never heard anything about the athletics here at Connecticut College.
The monotonous conversation continues until it inevitably reaches the question of our school mascot. Once the word “camel” comes out of my mouth, I brace myself for the ensuing reaction, which ranges from surprise or confusion, to flat out laughter.
Then comes, “Why the camel?”
If you too have been stumped with to how to respond to this question, here’s the real tale behind the camel…
The story begins way back in 1969, the year that Connecticut College became a co-ed institution. As men arrived on campus, so too did the sports culture. That first year, the new men of the College attempted to organize a basketball team.
According to an article in CC Magazine, Mike Shinault, the head of the college’s print shop and mailroom, was the lone volunteer for the job of head coach. Shinault had experience coaching several basketball teams while in the Navy, so he enthusiastically took the opportunity to lead the new men’s team at Conn.
Although the team had found its head coach, they still faced the problem of deciding on a mascot. Shinault appointed himself head of the search committee, putting his creativity and sense of humor to use.
During his years in the Navy, Shinault had spent time in the Middle East, and recalled one particular animal that exhibited the qualities he foresaw in his team: endurance, determination and strength.
And thus the camel came to be the established mascot of Connecticut College.
In a sports world filled with ordinary and tired mascots like the Eagles and Bears, the innovative and somewhat hilarious camel made its mark.
Throughout the years, the camel mascot has received a fair amount of criticism. Some students have thought the camel too unaggressive and ugly to be a mascot. Recalling what the camel is known for, however, confirms the fact it is an appropriate mascot for a college team.
While Shinault holds no regret in his decision, he does admit that the appearance of the camel served as a source of entertainment. He reported to CC Magazine, “We had a lot of fans in those days. We were so funny that people would come just to see what we were gonna do.”
Sophomore tour guide Ben Stepansky tells the story of our mascot while bringing prospective students through the back hallway of Cro, which is lined with camel displays.
“I usually get asked how I personally feel about it, and occasionally get asked if I’m embarrassed by it,” said Stepansky. “But I always reassure prospective students and their parents that everyone here loves the camel. At least we’re not the Purple Cows or the Jumbos like Williams and Tufts.”
With a mascot like the spitting camel, Connecticut College teams exhibit themselves as a worthy opponent against the other “unique” mascots in the NESCAC. There is no doubt in my mind that in a mascot battle between the Amherst Lord Jeffs and the Connecticut College Camels, the Camel would prevail.
The camel also gains a de facto win against the remaining “safe” mascots of Bates, Wesleyan and Middlebury. Be thankful that we are not the Bobcat, Cardinal or Panther!
For those of you, however, who are still unwilling to be Camel Proud, I may have some good news for you. According to Athletic Director, Fran Shields, “the College is undertaking an effort to standardize our Camel and give it a ‘look’ that is more ‘determined, competitive and distinctive’.”
While a facelift may help to offset some criticism of the camel, there are so many awesome aspects of our mascot already, why not have Camel Pride?