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Mascots are believed to bring good luck, especially to athletic teams. Just about every college claims a mascot. The University of Kansas is home of the Jayhawk, a mythical bird with a fascinating history. Its origin is rooted in the historic struggles of Kansas settlers. The term "Jayhawk" was probably coined about 1848. Accounts of its use appeared from Illinois to Texas. The name combines two birds--the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome thing known to rob other nests, and the sparrow hawk, a stealthy hunter. The message here: Don't turn your back on this bird.

During the 1850s, the Kansas Territory was filled with such Jayhawks. The area was a battleground between those wanting a state where slavery would be legal and those committed to a Free State. The factions looted, sacked, rustled cattle, stole horses, and otherwise attacked each other's settlements. For a time, ruffians on both sides were called Jayhawkers. But the name stuck to the free staters. Lawrence, where KU would be founded, was a Free State stronghold.

During the Civil War, the Jayhawk's ruffian image gave way to patriotic symbol. Kansas Governor Charles Robinson raised a regiment called the Independent Mounted Kansas Jayhawks. By war's end, Jayhawks were synonymous with the impassioned people who made Kansas a Free State. In 1886, the bird appeared in a cheer--the famous Rock Chalk chant. When KU football players first took the field in 1890, it seemed only natural to call them Jayhawkers. How do you draw a Jayhawk? For years, that question stumped fans. Henry Maloy, a cartoonist for the student newspaper, drew a memorable version of the 'hawk in 1912. He gave it shoes. Why? For kicking opponents, of course.

In 1920, a more somber bird, perched on a KU monogram, came into use. In 1923, Jimmy O'Bryon and George Hollingbery designed a duck-like 'hawk. About 1929, Forrest O. Calvin drew a grim-faced bird sporting talons that could maim. In 1941, Gene "Yogi" Williams opened the Jayhawk's eyes and beak, giving it a contentious look. It is Harold D. Sandy's 1946 design of a smiling Jayhawk that survives. The design was copyrighted in 1947.

In the 1960s, the Jayhawk went 3-D when the KU Alumni Association provided a mascot costume. Welcome, "Jay." In 1970 Amy Sue Hurst saw a Jayhawk bumper sticker depicting Big Jay and hatchlings which inspired her to create a new mascot. After talking to a co-worker who was a Big Jay and getting approval from the KU Alumni Association she created Baby Jay.

At the Homecoming football game on October 9, 1971, in front of 55,000 fans, Big Jay hauled a large egg to the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium. A few moments later Baby Jay "hatched" making her official debut and since then has served as an ambassador of KU and KUMC at events across the country ever since.

Baby Jay is a three-year-old Jayhawk. Baby is always happy and usually skipping about the campus. Baby Jay is always into everything, just like any other three-year-old. The world is Baby's playground. The primary duty of Baby Jay is to be an ambassador of KU and KUMC, roaming events giving hugs to youngsters and admiring fans. Baby Jay, being smaller than Big Jay, is often involved in entertaining children and adding comedic relief. She is present at most major university events. Baby Jay can also be seen in the community or even lobbying legislators to fund higher education.

Last modified: May 17, 2019