A brief history of the La Salle University Explorer
With the basketball season now underway, it comes time to pause and take a look at one of the finer members of the La Salle community.
A team member? No. A coach? Not quite. This particular character is a constant supporter and advocate of La Salle sports, and will continue to be a shining symbol of Lasallian spirit for years to come. There is only one person who meets this noble description: our very own Explorer himself.
“I woke up one day and my head was a lot bigger than I ever imagined. I had a blue jacket coat on, and my shoes were plush. I felt like Saint John Baptist de La Salle made the right decision when he plucked me out of the masses from La Salle University. He chose well. My spirit was grand, as well as my attitude and overall athleticism,” the mascot said, when asked how he became the Explorer.
It’s not easy being the Explorer day in and out.
“You have to be happy, spirited and fun. You can never stop smiling; that’s a distinctive point.”
La Salle was not always the home of the Explorers. In fact, up until 1932 La Salle was not affiliated with any specific mascot. According to Brother Grabeustein, two events in the fall of 1931 influenced La Salle’s identity to transform itself into the La Salle Explorers. A contest was created by the university for a student to come up with a nickname for the school. An unknown student submitted the name “Explorers” into the contest, and it was received warmly. The other event that pushed the name “Explorers” occurred in late September, in a Baltimore publication about a recent football game involving La Salle in Annapolis in which the writer referred to La Salle as the “Explorers.”
With this new namesake, the university began its evolution of the mascot we love today. Though Ken Hager was the first La Salle Mascot in 1956, Thomas A. Beckett was the first mascot costumed as an Explorer. Beckett’s father had a cavalier costume because of his affiliation with Cavalier Cigarettes, and in ’56/’57 he began to wear the costume to athletic events.
1960 brought a drastic change to the Explorer outlook. In the midst of the global space race, the mascot of exploration at La Salle was premiered by Bill Collins in 1962 as a fully costumed astronaut,a symbol of the American pride at the time. For over ten years the mascot was depicted as a “Space Age Explorer,” and was even featured with a picture of Tom Gola in Sports Illustrated.
“I look a lot better [than other mascots]. The fact that I’m not an astronaut is quite pleasing. I also like my smile. I’m happy that La Salle gave me braces,” the mascot said.
In 1982 the Explorer reverted back to his cavalier past with a brand new costume. Brother Joe Grabenstein from the La Salle Archives refers to the giant, cartoonish head of this mascot as “Disney-esque.”
In late 1997, the university decided to retire the Explorer. In an elaborate retirement ceremony involving a red carpet, a cake and several of the other Big Five mascots, the college said goodbye to the French Cavalier version of the Explorer forever. Or so they thought.
A committee took up the challenge of finding a new mascot for the school. After four months of deliberation a new mascot was designed, and the fifth La Salle Explorer was born. This mascot was of a gray superhero build, with exaggerated arm muscles and a masked face. This mascot became the face of La Salle until 2002, and was actually cited in an article in the Philadelphia Daily News entitled “Here’s Philly’s best (and worst),” as Philly’s worst mascot.In October 2002 the Cavalier Explorer returned, grinning triumphantly and ready to take back the La Salle spirit.
The Explorer, who maintains that he’s currently working on a book, feels that being the mascot is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.
“I choose it, and I love it. But it mostly involves me sleeping alone in my closet. I occasionally wake up for basketball games and charity events.”
While he would only hint at the rumors of an upcoming facelift (“I am being rewarded with new clothing” was all he could say), he marveled at the enthusiasm of the La Salle student body.
“The enthusiasm is actually what causes me to wake up every day and walk out of my closet.”
Well, there you have it. The next time you are at a basketball game, keep an eye out for our Explorer and give him a wave, or a email@example.com
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