Owners of Alaska Dog Works, Robert and Michele Forto are proud alums of the University of Alaska Anchorage and both love a good historical story. One that comes up all the time around town is what is a seawolf?
What on earth is a Seawolf?
The question is a head scratcher riddled with intrigue.
“Outside of UAA, I’ve never hear of it. Most (of) the time I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is it anyway?'” Leinalani Silvira, accounting major, said.
Sara Juday, editor at UAA’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Engagement and Academic Support, wrote the book, “From Sourdoughs to Seawolves,” which includes the history of the university’s mascot and logo. The book, meant to preserve the history of UAA, was a collaboration between UAA Archives and Special Collections, the Consortium Library and the Seawolf Athletic department.
Juday said that UAA’s original logo was the “Sourdoughs. In 1977 basketball coach Bob Rachal changed the school logo to the “Seawolves.”
“He said people were making fun of the ‘Sourdoughs’ because all they could think about was bread,” Juday said of Rachal’s decision.
Juday said Rachal wanted something powerful and rooted in Alaska culture. He found this in the myth of “Gonakadet,” also known as “Wasgo the Sea Wolf” in Tlingit and other Alaska Native cultures. The mythical creature was strong, generous and humble.
There are several versions of the “Gonakadet” legend, one of which Juday shared.
The story starts with a lazy young man who is constantly taunted by his mother-in-law as someone who cannot provide for his family. One night he secretly traps the creature Wasgo. He strips it of its coat, dons the fur and is granted the supernatural powers of the creatures.
The young man navigates the icy sea and catches salmon, seals and killer whale for food storage. He anonymously places the animals in front of his mother-in-law’s house. The mother-in-law steals the credit, falsely claiming she is a shaman, which is a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds. She tells the village she has summoned the animals from the sea with her powers.
The young man becomes trapped within the heavy fur of the seawolf and collapses on the shore. The mother-in-law discovers the unusual seawolf one morning. She looks into his eyes and recognizes her son-in-law. After realizing his talents had brought great prosperity to her people, she dies of shame.
Juday said she feels it is important for today’s Seawolves to understand the traditional aspect behind the mascot and why Rachal chose it to represent UAA.
“It provides a depth of understanding of where we’ve been and where we are going,” Juday said.
Juday said Rachal’s legacy spans beyond the Seawolf logo. The ambitious coach spawned the idea of the Great Alaska Shootout and set up contracts with the first participating teams.
Among several others, Juday cites Tim McDiffett, interim athletic director of the UAA Athletics department, as a knowledgeable source.
The current Seawolf logo is the third rendition, which was designed by local graphic designer, Clark Mishler in 1985.
McDiffett said he was on a logo committee appointed by Chancellor David Outcalt in 1985 that appointed Mishler as the logo designer.
The very first version of the Seawolf logo from 1977 sported a classic wood-carved look with detailed traditional patterns. This was replaced in 1980 with a half wolf, half water logo, described by Juday as the “melting dog.”
McDiffett said it is not uncommon for students to know little about their logo and mascot. He said Juday’s book lays out the information clearly for readers.
“It’s important for students to know the history of their school mascot. It’s part of our history, and it’s unique,” McDiffett said. “It represents our pride and distinction.”