From IWU Magazine, Winter 2015-16 edition

From Titans to Tommy

A mascot's fiery origins are revealed.

By KIM HILL

Lighting the torch
From the mascot's beginning, Tommy's primary responsibility at Titan football games is to light the torch.

Before there was a Tommy, there were the Titans.

According to University Archivist Meg Miner, the Titans were first mentioned in a 1927 issue of the Argus as a nickname given to the football team. It was many years later that the identity of Tommy the Titan emerged, with credit given for the invention to Lee Short, Class of 1944.

Short became director of IWU Admissions in 1952, also overseeing financial aid, public relations, the registrar’s office and alumni relations. Short and a student organization called the Titan Council realized other universities had some sort of mascot, but IWU did not. The original Tommy was conceived as a gladiator, with a costume designed by IWU theatre professor James Ascareggi ’58.

The student who performed as the original Tommy was not known for years, as his identity was supposed to be kept secret. However, Steve Reeser ’69 came forward at the prompting of a 1997 IWU Magazine article, explaining that he was a freshman drama major when an IWU admissions counselor approached him about playing the role. 

During his early years, Tommy rode out onto the field in a “chariot” pulled by two other students. The “chariot” was actually a pony cart donated by a local farmer and painted Titan green. The original gladiator costume has been lost to history, but the University Archives retains a later gladiator costume worn by Dave Moravec ’84 and dozens of other students. 

The lighting of the victory torch was another Lee Short innovation. Starting with crude material drenched in kerosene, it evolved into a bottle of propane gas within a frame that resembled the one used in the Olympics.

The first use of the new, improved torch ended with a literal bang after wind blew the gas to one side, and Tommy was “almost blown over on his ear,” Short recalled. Somehow, though, the gladiator embodying the Titan spirit remained standing tall.

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