North Greenville seeks to honor history, blaze trail with new mascot

The oldest college in the foothills of Greenville County is honoring its historic roots while pointing to the future with the announcement of a new athletics mascot.

North Greenville University revealed the mascot — Trailblazers — to a packed campus dining hall during a late-night student breakfast Monday evening. The event, designed to offer a festive atmosphere for the start of final examination week, included the surprise announcement, as well as a video introduction of the mascot graphics.

Depicted by a red fox, the mascot change will be effective June 15. The name was selected as a nod to the foothills heritage of the institution, while acknowledging the university’s mission of equipping graduates to be “transformational leaders for church and society.” Tigerville, the site of the traditional campus, is near the historic Tugaloo Trail and the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

“Our university was founded by trailblazers who wanted to create educational opportunities for local youth. For 132 years, we have sought to serve students as they journey toward fulfilling God’s calling for their lives,” said NGU President Gene C. Fant Jr. “Many of our graduates have gone on to blaze paths of excellence in ministry, education, business, the arts, and other fields. As the Trailblazers, we are both embracing our history and pointing to tomorrow. This distinctive mascot is historical, contemporary, and aspirational for our athletic teams, and the entire NGU community.”

The announcement of the new mascot is the culmination of a process that spanned several years. A task force led by athletics and comprised of members from across campus, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, NGU board and administration assessed the institution’s current and former mascots, and a unanimous recommendation was made to engage a consultant to assist with the identification and development of a new mascot.

Rickabaugh Graphics, a nationally recognized firm that has developed branding artwork for NCAA, NFL, and NBA teams, was selected. Founded in 1986, the company has a collegiate client list highlighted by Ohio State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Texas, Indiana University, North Carolina State University, and Baylor University. The company worked with a cross-campus NGU team to develop the Trailblazers logo and brand identity graphics.

“‘Trailblazers’ is a fitting name for our student-athletes, as well as the broader NGU community,” said NGU Executive Vice President Rich Grimm, who facilitated the NGU team’s work with Rickabaugh Graphics. “Trailblazers are innovators, leaders, pioneers, and adventurers. Like our students and student-athletes, they negotiate a path forward through the unknown and establish a trail for others to follow.”

The committee selected the red fox, which is native to the area, according to Grimm, “because the animal displays qualities that also embody a Trailblazer. The red fox is clever, resourceful, wise, fast, tenacious and brave, and it adapts to its ever-changing environment while continually expanding its territory.”

Rickabaugh Graphics’ explanation of the logo design notes that it includes “rich symbolism that is very appropriate for NGU. The overall shield shape represents both the strength and unity on campus. The top crest of the shield is a nod to the local geography of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And finally, the red fox is focused on the North Star which has long been a guiding light for explorers. This light symbolizes both ‘reaching for the stars’ and ‘setting one’s sights high,’ and of course underscores the fact that NGU has long been referred to as ‘a light on the hill.’”

“From an athletics perspective, I believe our student-athletes and alumni will quickly embrace our new mascot,” said Jan McDonald, NGU’s director of athletics. “The Trailblazers reflect our area, and having a red fox as our mascot will represent NGU and our geographic area well. This is an exciting moment for the university. The committee and Rickabaugh Graphics did an outstanding job in this major undertaking. We truly are blazing trails of success as we equip our student-athletes for lives of leadership and service.”

“I am excited about the direction that North Greenville is going,” said 2023 student-athlete alumnus Lance Calcutt, who will complete a master’s degree in organizational leadership from the university this spring. “A Trailblazer is a true embodiment of our university, representing our ability to be frontrunners in our future careers, church, and society. My time at NGU has given me a deep love for my alma mater, and I am proud to now call myself a Trailblazer. Even as my time here comes to an end, I am so excited for what the future holds at North Greenville University.”

North Greenville has been represented by five distinct mascots in its history, and has embraced the “Crusaders” since 2001. The earliest recorded mascot was the “Moonshiners,’’ which was used in a 1924 Greenville News article about the school’s football team. In 1950, North Greenville Junior College students voted to employ the “Black Widow Spiders” as the mascot, yielding the long-standing black and red school colors. Three years later, the mascot was changed to the “Mountaineers” or “Mounties,” which was employed for 48 years. From 1958-69, the college’s women’s basketball team was called the “Lassies.”

Lamont Sullivan, NGU senior associate vice president for alumni engagement and athletics development, who wore the “Mounties” name as a member of North Greenville’s football team in the 1990s, said the Trailblazers name will create a positive new legacy.

“This iconic term perfectly aligns with our school’s values and mission, and I cannot wait to see our students and alumni continue to blaze new trails in their lives and careers,” said Sullivan. “We are excited about new students and friends joining our NGU Trailblazers community and being part of our legacy of excellence.”

Following the mascot announcement, students received NGU Trailblazer T-shirts and other branded items marking the moment. University officials said apparel and other gear with the new mascot name and logo is being developed and will be available this summer through the NGU Campus Store and other outlets.

The late night announcement, including the video, was shared with NGU alumni in a social media post that coincided with the on-campus mascot reveal.

–Marty O’Gwynn is vice president of advancement and university engagement for North Greenville University.