It isn’t a secret that Western takes pride in its academic and athletic reputation. It also isn’t hard to miss JW, the mascot, during football games and recreational events on campus with photos flooding the Web.
But before being the Mustangs, we were the Colts, and soon after, the Mustangettes.
Bob Barney, a retired professor of kinesiology, invested his time in learning about the history of our mascot. He believes the term “Mustang” first appeared in The Advertiser, a local newspaper, in October 1926.
According to Barney, the article's intentions were unclear, but it’s believed the term was chosen to portray Western’s “youthful, wild and spirited demeanor — just what young athletic action should reflect.”
The Advertiser referred to Western’s intermediate competitive team as the Mustangs and the junior competitive team as the Colts. During this time, Western’s women’s teams were also referred to as the Mustangettes to have a more feminine effect, but that was short-lived. Bob believes after that the Mustang was here to stay.
However, in March 1935, almost 10 years later, The Gazette proposed changing the football team’s name to "the Purples” instead of the Mustangs. The students sided against the "Purple” proposal and appealed it to show how little they liked the name.
“A campus-wide referendum followed in which returned ballots reflected a 20:1 ratio in favour of Mustangs,” said Barney.
This was when the Mustang name truly left its mark on students.
Conversations about the mascot began several decades later in 1985 to enhance school spirit. At that time, mascots were ubiquitous in the United States, but less prevalent in Canada.
With the help of Jamie Bone, assistant head football coach at the time, Western became one of Canada's leading schools to adopt the idea of a uniformed mascot making a presence during games and events. Craig Cohen, vice-president promotions for the University Students' Council at the time, David Lee Tracey, head coach of the cheerleading team, Bone and many other supporters believed it was the best way to connect the University with younger children during games, all while increasing student turnout.
The name "JW" was chosen to honour JW Stadium, named after a prominent family in London who had donated money to build the facility back in 1929.
Prior to JW, however, Bone aided in many other attempts to increase student turnout and audience engagement.
“We did a promotion where we were going to have the largest band ever in Canada," he said. "We bought thousands and thousands of kazoos ... you know, you hum and it makes a buzzing sound. We handed them out at football games and they did the national anthem. It was amazing. You should have heard 10,000 people holding kazoos doing the national anthem.”
But nothing worked as well as JW did. The mascot carried out the University name in a positive way not only throughout London, but the nation. The first time Bone travelled in 1985-86 across the country to play against other teams, JW made a big impact amongst the audience members.
“They all want to give him a hug," he said. "Whenever someone sees that mascot, they know immediately who it is — 'Hey, that’s Western's mascot.' "
Darwin Semotiuk, former football head coach and chairman of the intercollegiate athletic program, recalls Bone being extremely instrumental in coming up with promotional ideas of supporting school spirit, JW being one of the greatest successes.
Semotiuk believes JW was a huge success due to the high reputation of Western’s athletic program at that time, being the leading edge in the nation. Today, Western lives up to the standards JW maintains. Western’s performance has always topped charts and continues to claim top titles in the country.
JW is not only a fixture in the intercollege athletic program; it’s a fixture associated with the University itself as well. Although he’s had several renditions in the past in an attempt at making him look fiercer, the mascot is now back to the way he looked in the early 2000s, which was less threatening and more appealing.
“We defined a lot of the direction which has currently kept pace with what we started,” Semotiuk said. “[Our mascot] is a pretty good representation of what Western is all about. It’s a little bit funky, it’s a little bit cute — not too formal. It’s meant to be a lot of fun."