Westminster’s 100-year mascot metamorphosis
By Johanna Snow (MSC ’14)
In the fall of 2015, something exciting happened: Westminster’s beloved mascot, Griff
the Griffin, got a makeover. The new-and-improved Griff sports a more muscular physique
and large purple wings. But this is not the first—or most dramatic—metamorphosis Westminster’s
mascot has undergone over the years.
In the early days of the institution, the college’s mascot was the Parson, which paid homage to the school’s connection to the Presbyterian Church. The name began with the early development of football and baseball teams around 1916, but it became official around the time of the dedication of Payne Gym in 1929.
The Parson remained part of Westminster’s fabric through the 1980s: the school newspaper was called The Parson until 1968, when the name was changed to The Forum. And in the 1970s, the Parson was known to make appearances at various campus events—sometimes he could even be seen riding a pony.
In the 1980s, the college suspended its athletics program because of financial concerns, and the Parson, while not officially abandoned as a mascot, was nearly forgotten. The lack of an athletic program did not dampen school spirit, however, and the student body was eager to fill the void left by the Parson’s absence. The students’ demands for a mascot led to the ASWC’s creation of Westmonster: a large, somewhat goofy fellow with purple fur, googly eyes, and one big tooth. Like the Parson, he made appearances at various college events, and, at one point, he famously spent the whole week sitting at the desk of the former dean of students, Gary Fitzer, while he was on vacation.
In the 1990s, the college began to reintroduce an athletic program one sport at a time. By the mid-1990s, the need for a new mascot became evident. Many people in the greater community did not know what a parson was, and the college had long since broken its connection with the Presbyterian Church. In 1999, after gathering input from the campus community, the Griffin became the official mascot.
The Griffin—a fierce mythological creature with the power of both a lion and an eagle—was chosen to strike fear in the minds of Westminster’s athletic opponents. With Griff’s new look, this is truer today than ever: Griff now stands more than seven feet tall.
Griff’s new look is not the only impressive change he has gone through in the last year. His alter-ego, the first student to take the job on full-time, is dedicated to developing Griff’s brand and personality. “It’s really important for a mascot to have a consistent brand because—if it’s used right—it’s the face of the college. I want Griff to really stick out and fans to have the same experience every time they meet him,” he says.
Through the consistent work of his alter-ego, Griff has developed a clear persona. He is a prankster—and a bit mischievous—but his heart is pure Westminster gold.
What is a Griffin?
- Head, wings, and talons of an eagle
- Body, tail, and hind legs of a lion
Symbolism and Attributes
- King of all creatures: the lion is the king of the beasts, and the eagle is the king of birds
- Guardians of treasures and priceless possessions
- Fiercely loyal: they mate for life and die when their mate dies
History and Origins
Most commonly found in the art and lore of ancient Greece, also present in ancient Persian and Egyptian art as far back as 3000 BC
Might have been based on dinosaur fossils found in ancient gold mines: the most likely candidate is the Protoceratops, a four-legged dinosaur with a large head and beak-like snout
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.