A complete history of the IC bombers
By Dylan Clark
Come to Ithaca and you’ll find a gorgeous natural landscape with an active ultraliberal community and citizens who aren’t afraid to brandish their pacifist beliefs. On the South Hill lies Ithaca College, a school that inherits the city’s progressive image, as seen in its recognized advancements in campus sustainability. Its sports teams, all affectionately known as the Bombers, have won… wait a second, Bombers? How did a far-left school in an even further-left town end up with a martially geared name like Bombers?
Mike Lindbert, associate director of inercollegiate sports, explained the official story: The name was coined in the early ‘40s by Harold Jansen, a popular sports reporter for the Ithaca Journal, in an article about a heroic comeback during an IC basketball game.
“We were down several points with a few minutes to go, and the team decided they were just gonna have to start throwing up some long shots, and they were making them,” he said. “We ended up winning that game, and the reporter started talking about the Ithaca College Bombers.” And so Bomber Nation was born.
But that’s not the only theory abound. The Bronx Bombers, the New York Yankees, and Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, both champions of their respective sports during the ‘40s, have also been theorized to have inspired the name.
The Ithaca College archives also suggest the country’s growing Air Force at the time was a possible influence. World War II was happening during that time, so it’s logical that a war-related name would come into favor during a conflict that most of the country fully supported. Lindberg, however, disagreed with this hypothesis.
Regardless of how we got the name, it is noteworthy that we had a name before we were the Bombers. Prior to adopting the controversial name, our sports teams were called the Cayugas after a local American Indian population of the same name (which is why the name would never fly today—in 2005, the NCAA implemented a rule that forbade schools from using ethnic-based nicknames and mascots). The Ithaca College archives state that in 1937, a poll was conducted to choose a name for the school’s team, and an “overwhelming majority” of students chose Cayugas. Then, before a decade had passed, Bomber fever had struck, and our campus has been infected ever since.
No one knows for sure what triggered such an abrupt nominal change. Lindberg guessed that the name Cayugas “just didn’t catch.” He explained that there needs to be meaning for a nickname to be accepted.
So what does it mean to be a Bomber, then? According to Lindberg, “It’s about dedication, it’s about service to a greater good, it’s about community, it’s about being a team, it’s about the sacrifices and commitments that you make, and having the courage to do the things you need to do in order to stand up for what’s right.”
Sounds like a military recruiter’s pitch for joining the service, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sports and war do share some inherent values. Look at the football field during Cortaca, and tell me it doesn’t remind you of a warzone.
That’s part of the reason Bombers is a fitting name for a sports team. Plus, it has all the qualities a good team name needs: Intimidation, fear-inducing imagery and controversy. When a Utica Pioneer looks at agame schedule and sees that his or her next opponent is the Ithaca College Bombers, he’s gonna be shaking in his cleats. If instead the name was the Love Doves, the Blazing Monks or the Civilly Disobedient Delinquents, he’d probably be on the floor laughing instead.
But the intimidation factor isn’t the only reason having a name pertaining to war can be a good thing. Consider a college-seeking high school student browsing Ithaca College’s website. They will come across the name “Bombers” and might immediately think of the dedication, service and sacrifice that members of the armed forces hold in high esteem. This student already knows what being a Bomber is all about.
On the other hand, the name’s militant nuance might instead bring to the student’s mind offensive images of lost lives, broken families and the countless other anguishes that war leaves in its destructive wake. Here lies the origin of the name’s controversy, but this way of thinking is unreasonable. Would that student condemn Snoopy’s memorable WWI fighter pilot character for the same reason they reject the name “Bombers?” I sincerely hope not.
Even in the context of war, it is extremely flattering to be named after the men and women who put their lives on the line in order to ensure that I can exercise my basic rights. There are parts of the world where you can be abducted from your house in the middle of the night for doing so much as vocalizing disagreements with your government, and thanks to the men and women of the armed services, the United States isn’t one of them.
But beyond any issues with any implications the name might carry, we’ve been the Bombers for decades now, so the name is strongly tied to the school’s identity. My dad can’t go anywhere in his Ithaca College sweatshirt without random passers-by yelling “Go Bombers!” If you look at the Ithaca College Mascot Search blog, you will find a plethora of comments from alumni infuriated over the fact that IC is looking for a new mascot. It takes little imagination to envision the massive controversey that would ensue if the administration decided to actually change the team’s name.
It’s highly unlikely that the name will ever be changed regardless of whatever opposition exists. “The school stands by it,” Lindberg said.
Even during the school’s recent mascot search, a name change was never a part of the question. “When we started the initiative of bringing in the mascot, first thing that was said was ‘we’re the Bombers.’ This is who we are: Now we need to find a way of bringing in more of the campus community to embrace what we understand the Bombers to be.”
If you’ve got beef with the name because you don’t like its militaristic connotations, you have two choices: Either lighten up and embrace the Bomber spirit or get used to it, because the name’s roots are simply too deep to consider changing it.
Dylan Clark is a freshman psychology major who is rooting for the Ithaca College Love Doves. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.