Monday, March 4, 2013

The Birth of the Spartans

One year after the era of co-education was ushered in with the enrollment of male undergraduates in 1964, Frank Pleasants was hired to coordinate competitive athletics for male students at UNCG. Campus administrators saw a robust athletic program as a significant way of encouraging male enrollment.

UNCG men's basketball head coach Jim Swiggett
In 1966, Jim Swiggett, a highly successful coach at a nearby high school, was hired as UNCG’s first men’s basketball coach. His inaugural squad was developed from the existing student body, with open tryouts for players across campus. In October 1967, after the first two days of team practice, Swiggett reported 14 men participating in workouts. He stated, “We have some boys who have played some basketball, and some who haven’t,” adding he had “15 uniforms, and if these boys who are out want to play, we’ll carry them.”

Also in October 1967 after discussions with athletes and other students, UNCG athletic teams officially adopted the “Spartans” as their mascot. Pleasants noted they “were looking for a name which had a masculine ring, and one also which had associated with it a tradition of courage.” Additionally, they avoided duplicating names of other teams in the region, specifically veering away from “animal names,” like the Wolfpack, Catamounts, or Tigers, for that reason. Strong consideration was given to the “Generals” and the “Brigadiers” in an effort to honor Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene. But Pleasants noted that Greensboro’s professional hockey team at the time was named the Generals, and argued that the Brigadiers “sounded a little too jazzy.”

Brian Emerson
With a roster and mascot in place, the first Spartans squad prepared for their opening game on November 20, 1967 against the College of Charleston. Days before the game, Swiggett noted, “The spirit on the team is excellent, and we’re really looking forward to beginning intercollegiate play. But actually, I don’t really know what to expect. We want to win, but we want to look good whether we win or lose.”

While the match with Charleston was a close one, ultimately a lack of height coupled with a lack of experience resulted in a one-point loss for the Spartans (80-79). The team lost its first seven games, with five defeats by a margin four or fewer points. The Spartans earned their first win against N.C. Wesleyan at home in Coleman Gymnasium by a score of 87-65. They finished their inaugural season with a 2-11 record, and secured their spot in the history books as the first in a long tradition of UNCG Spartans.

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