Stories swirl around about Mascots
What exactly is a Bomber?
By Abigail Funk - Staff Writer

December 07, 2000

It’s a great day to be a Bomber!” This phrase is often used by coaches to get a team pumped up for a game, end an e-mail or offer encouragement when ever-wonderful rain and sleet is seen on the hill during practice.

“It’s really unique,” freshman Jeff Edelstein said. “There’s no other team with that name in the country.” Edelstein’s statement is true. Ithaca athletes are constantly asked what the name means, where it came from, and who came up with it.

But Ithaca’s athletes cannot receive a straight answer to questions behind the “Bomber” mystery. The history, behind the name dates back to the 1930s, and an interesting story follows concerning the origin of the unique name.

Between 1926-1931, the School of Physical Education began to grow in what was then called the Ithaca Conservatory and Affiliated Schools. Intercollegiate athletics for men began in this era, with the predominant sports being baseball, basketball and football.

The men’s teams were referred to by several titles. They included the original “Blue Team”, the “Blues” and the current nickname of “Blue and Gold.” Also in this list were the “Collegians” and the “Seneca Streeters.” The latter refers to the Seneca Street gym — a former movie theater used as a gym where the Bombers practiced.

On Oct. 16, 1936, The Ithacan printed a call for a name for the college athletic teams. It was run again on Oct. 30 and Nov. 13, with a vote scheduled for Jan. 8, 1937. Some of the nominees included the “Blue Blazers,” “Cayugas,” “Eagles,” “Gladiators” and “Ramblers.”

The Ithacan reported that the name “Cayugas” was overwhelmingly chosen for a new moniker. The 1937 yearbook, the Cayugan, printed the following: “Henceforward, all athletic teams representing Ithaca College shall be denoted by the historical Indian name derived from this section of the country — the ‘Cayugas.’”

How did Ithaca receive the name “Bombers”? No one knows for sure. There are several theories. One is that the name came from 1930s world heavyweight champion boxer Joe Louis, known as “The Brown Bomber.” Another is that our “Bomber” mascot came from the World War II era, as the country was building its air force.

Another theory comes from downtown Ithaca. According to an article by April Madras in the 1996 Cayugan, the men’s basketball team used to practice in a gym located at the corner of Aurora and Buffalo St. where a Mobil station now sits. The court was unusually short, and the team became popular for throwing half-court “bombs.”

Bridget Bower, of the archives and special collections department at Ithaca, said the nickname could have come from sportswriters in town. The first known “Bombers” reference was in the Dec. 17, 1938 issue of the Rochester Times-Union in a men’s basketball article. It read, “The Bombers will then swing into the north country for a game with Clarkson.” It was also seen Jan. 25, 1939 in the Syracuse Post-Standard.

The Ithacan did not print the nickname until Oct. 27, 1935, and the Ithaca Journal did not use the name until Dec. 1944. Some say sports writer Harold Jansen coined the name by using it repeatedly in his stories. Jansen’s public biographical material notes that he worked aspublicity director of Ithaca College in Dec. 1935 and the Ithaca Journal in Oct. 1939.

Talk of changing the war-oriented name. Around the American centennial, the name sparked controversy. A number of faculty seemed perturbed by the idea that the name “Bombers” had a war-like connotation, but the college could never reach an agreement for change.

“I would be happy if we found something more appropriate,” former History Professor Paul McBride said. As the issue came into debate, McBride offered the suggestion that Ithaca be called the “Centurians,” in honor of the turning of the century.

Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Kristen Ford does not see a change in the near future. She said it has been about four years since she has heard concerns about the name. “It represents our history and our tradition. That is very important,” Ford said. “I’m, at this point, not interested in ... the changing of the name.”

So, the tradition ensues at Ithaca as the unique name sticks. For now, “It’s a great day to be a Bomber!”