A Tale of Two Mascots: How Gunston Became the Patriot

Mason's former mascot Gunston has now been regulated to a position as an ambassador to the community. He stars in his own Go Green with Gunston campaign that teaches elementary school children lessons about conservation and sustainability. (Broadside Photo Archives)
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UPDATED 5:46 p.m.

From Mason's 2006 Cinderella story Final Four Run to being named the Nation's number one university to watch on U.S. News and World Report's list of "Up-and-Coming Schools" in August 2009, George Mason University has come into its own and transformed its image from a no-name commuter school to a nationally known university.

After criticism from media outlets across the nation, the university also made one other key change, that from the face of a furry, green monster to a green and gold Patriot.

For more than a decade, Gunston served as Mason’s beloved mascot, before receiving a makeover in the fall of 2008. Now, the old mascot serves the Fairfax community as an ambassador. As the star of the Go Green with Gunston campaign, Gunston teaches young elementary school children lessons about energy conservation, sustainability and the opportunities offered by having a world class university in the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the new face of Mason, the Patriot, a green and gold colonial-looking mascot, has taken Gunston’s place as prime cheerleader for the Mason nation. The mascot makeover began in 2006 with the creation of the blue ribbon panel to eevaluate Gunston. Christine LaPaille, vice president for university relations, said in 2006 that the purpose of the committee was to enhance the then ten-year-old mascot’s image to reflect the “dynamic spirit of our institution and the patriotic roots of the founding father for whom we are named.”

From December 2003 to April 2006, Patrick Mazur, the current assistant director of admissions, acted as Gunston.

Mazur enjoyed his time as Gunston, describing a pizza toss turned sour during one particular basketball game. With his big, furry hands, Gunston attempted to throw a pizza to Mazur’s friend in the middle of a row. The box opened in mid-air, splattering cheese over three female Mason fans. It is memories like these that keep old Gunston alive.

“When I got Gunston, he wasn’t that liked,” said Mazur.

“The basketball program wasn’t that big, it wasn’t as successful, so the mascot wasn’t the greatest thing. I decided that I wanted to get him more liked. Though mascots are supposed to be secret, I didn’t do a very good job of that.”

Mazur decided that associating his name with that of Gunston would help with the mascot’s popularity. With Mazur’s help and the rush to the Final Four, Gunston’s popularity grew among the student body. During the Final Four, Gunston received a lot of national attention that brought many questions as to how to exactly define the mascot and whether Gunston indeed represented the spirit of Mason.

When the blue ribbon panel was announced, LaPaille highlighted the success of the men’s basketball team at the Final Four as a reason for the mascot transformation.

“With the great success of our men’s basketball team this past spring, the visibility of Mason was not like anything we had ever before experienced,” LaPaille said. “It also put the spotlight on our mascot as a university tradition that needs to carry through decades, not just a few years. I am con!dent this process will result in a George Mason University mascot that will make our students, alumni and fans proud.”

Though the national spotlight on Gunston intensified the search for a new mascot, the decision and the funding was already provided for a new mascot before Mason made it into the Final Four. According to LaPaille, the university was, “looking for an athletic mascot. . .a mascot that was a mature manifestation of where the university was, where the athletics department was, something that would rally a student body that increasingly was living on campus more.” With these qualities in mind, the blue ribbon panel decided on a final design, which is now known as the Patriot.

The Patriot, Mason's newest Mascot, was debuted at the beginning of the 2008-2009 basketball season. (Broadside Photo Archives) 

The Patriot brings “more of a sense of who we are as a university given that we are the George Mason Patriots,” said Alissa Karton, assistant to the vice president of University Life and a member of the blue ribbon panel. The Patriot offers “a visual look for students, staff and alumni to connect with Mason.”

“In terms of the Patriot, I think the mascot was redesigned for the change in our university, the trajectory of our university,” said Devraj Dasgupta, student body president. “After the Final Four, our university witnessed a very rapid increase in admissions, so we wanted to work on our reputation.”

Dasgupta believes the change from Gunston to the Patriot was more reflective of university tradition.

“The Patriot is more reflective of George Mason the individual as opposed to our institution,” said Dasgupta.

“As it is, I think the university took a look back at its core values and what it stands for and its relationship with the community and thought maybe this is the best way to go. I like the Patriot, personally. I think it was the right transition from that time period to what it is now.”

Regarding the change from Gunston to the Patriot, the 2010 Mason Majesty, Lee Warner, thinks many students do not appreciate the change. “I think it was a change that was inspired by the alumni and the students had very little input over the change,” Warner said. “I don’t feel as if the student body has embraced the new mascot very well at all. I still hear people saying that they miss Gunston and really don’t understand the new mascot and liked how things were when we had Gunston around.”

Despite the Mason Majesty’s opinion that most students do not appreciate the change from Gunston to the Patriot, the student body president disagrees.

“It’s safe to say, based off of student reaction at games and other events within the university that they have opened up, per se, to the Patriot, but in terms of Gunston, we’ll always remember that furry creature,” said Dasgupta. “He was awesome.”

 

 

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The above piece was published in Mason Nation: Four Years After Final Four, a magazine released this April documenting and analyzing the university's development since the Patriots' historic run in 2006, aiming to shed light on what's connected to the Cinderella story--and additionally, what's not.

Led by senior history major and Student Media veteran Rachael Dickson, the magazine's other topics include changes in men's basketball to effects on other athletics, and from player profiles of the Final Four team to the rise of the Chesapeake residential neighborhood. Gunston and the pep band also receive shout-outs.

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