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How Southern Illinois got the nickname Salukis

NCAA.com has previously taken college sports fans down the rabbit hole behind how some of the country’s most beloved college mascots came to be. While Yale’s living, breathing bulldog mascot Handsome Dan wasn’t the first real-life bulldog the school had, Handsome Dan I started a lineage that now stretches to Handsome Dan XVIII.

As unlikely as it sounds, Youngstown State is nicknamed the Penguins because of a remark an opposing basketball coach reportedly made five years before there was a student poll to decide the school’s mascot. All because of an unheated locker room and the lack of warmups caused Youngstown State’s basketball team to wave their arms like penguins.

The stories behind the mascots at Alabama, Arizona, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all compelling, too.

Here’s the true story of how Southern Illinois adopted the nickname “Salukis.”

What is a Saluki?

A Saluki is “an Egyptian-bred dog which is the oldest of all domesticated dogs,” reported the Southern Illinoisan after the dog was proposed as the university’s mascot in 1951. “The salukis are carved on Egyptian tombs of 4,000 years ago and mummified bodies have been found in graves. The dogs were first taken out of Egypt in 329 B.C. when Alexander the Great invaded India and Palestine. The saluki-type dogs are the probable ancestors of the greyhound, the Russian and Irish wolfhounds and the Scottish deerhound.”

According to the Southern Illinoisan, the Egyptians kept salukis in the country until 1895, when an Englishman named Colonel Bramley “saved the life of a sheik in a fight with the Turks and was rewarded with a pair of the dogs.”

The American Kennel Club officially recognized the saluki in 1927, according to the newspaper, which estimated there were no more than 500 salukis in the country in 1951.

Salukis have earned the distinction of being the fastest dog in the world after being clocked at faster than 42 miles per hour, according to the 1996 Guinness Book of Records. NCAA.com spoke with Dede Ittner, the daughter of former Southern Illinois cross country and track and field coach Leland “Doc” Lingle, a 1978 Saluki Hall of Fame inductee who was among the group of people credited with proposing “Salukis” as the school’s nickname.

“There was this one day that dad decided he’d take the dog out and they took him to the foot of the hill here in town that dad used for his cross country [practices],” Ittner told NCAA.com, “and dad just started the car. The dog ran along beside him, there was no problem, but dad timed him and they were moseying along at 40 to 50 miles per hour. That’s what salukis do.”

They’re credited with being great hunting dogs. “They have been used to hunt everything from fowl to mountain lion and gazelle,” reported the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, on March 28, 1951.

“They don’t ever kill the prey,” Ittner said. “They chase the prey into exhaustion and they still do that in Egypt and the other countries that have salukis.”

“With heavily padded feet able to absorb the impact on its body, the Saluki has remarkable stamina when running,” according to the university’s website.

Even when the university’s athletic teams were in the process of adopting “Salukis,” the student newspaper acknowledged that many students on campus may not be familiar with the dog breed.

“Your first reaction is going to be a negative one until you learn something about salukis,” wrote Merle Jones, the sports editor of the Southern Illinoisan, on March 6, 1951. “On the one hand it sounds rather odd, but on the other hand it does whet the imagination. The Southern Salukis instead of the Southern Maroons.”

Newspaper reports suggest the university’s faculty and alumni approved the nickname in April.

“Lt. Col. John P. Fellows, Wing chaplain, Scott Air Force base, will be the principal speaker when Southern Illinois university’s first flag is dedicated Friday,” reported the Southern Illinoisan on April 26, 1951. “Designers of the new flag are Prof. Burnett Shryock, head of the department of art, and Sanderson Knaus, art director. Center piece of the flag design is a pyramid, representing education, research and service. Superimposed on the pyramid is a Saluki, famed Egyptian hunting dog, newly-adopted S.I.U. symbol.”

Was Southern Illinois ever called anything else?

Athletic teams at Southern Illinois used to be called the “Maroons,” which was a “nondescript name had carried over from the first year the university formally sponsored teams in 1913-14,” according to the school’s website.

Ittner said her father, “Doc” Lingle, integrated his cross country and track and field teams at Southern Illinois in 1927, and he helped do the same with the school’s football team. Ittner said “Doc” Lingle used to read the Information Please Almanac “every year he could read it” during the two weeks that students had off, and Ittner had purchased a copy of the almanac for her father as a Christmas gift in 1949 or 1950. That’s how Lingle learned that “Maroons” was also used as a racial slur, among other meanings.

“I remember when dad said, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got to get rid of the name Maroons,'” Ittner said.

That began the process of Southern Illinois adopting the nickname “Salukis.”

Where did the nickname ‘Salukis’ come from?

According to the school, Southern Illinois students wanted a “more imaginative mascot” than Maroons in the late 1940s, so there was a student vote for the school’s mascot in March 1951.

“For years and years there has been spurious agitation to change the Southern nickname to something besides Maroons,” wrote the sports editor of the Southern Illinoisan. “The objection to Maroons has been that it is a color rather than something animate or inanimate which could stand as a mascot or symbol.”

“Salukis” received 536 votes from a student body that numbered roughly 2,000 students, according to the school. “Rebels” received 144 votes, while “Flyers,” “Knights,” “Marauders” and “Maroons” were also on the ballot.

That may not be the complete truth as to how the university adopted its current mascot, according to newspaper stories published at the time. Newspaper reports suggest there were multiple votes on the school’s mascot — one on March 5, 1951 and another on March 19, 1951.

Because even after the first vote, “there has been such widespread disagreement on a new nickname that none has been selected,” wrote the Southern Illinoisan’s sports editor. “Students recently voted on such names as Knights, Egyptians, Marauders, Rebels and the like without reaching a decision.”

However, foul play could’ve potentially impacted at least one of the votes. “Sometime back we reported a contest at Southern Illinois U. to change the school nickname in which the ballot box was stolen,” reported The Dispatch of Moline, Illinois.

The Southern Illinoisan reported that it was members of the athletic department and some of the school’s athletes who proposed “Salukis” as a nickname option after the initial vote took place.

“The name was proposed yesterday afternoon by ‘Abe’ Martin, ‘Doc’ Lingle, Lynn Holder, Bill Waller and Cecil Franklin to assembled lettermen and a few faculty representatives,” the Southern Illinoisan reported. “The athletes were enthusiastic enough that they liked the idea. If the athletes themselves consent to being called ‘Salukis,’ the name must have something.”

“Martin said the athletic department was not trying to dictate the new name,” the Southern Illioisan reported. “He said the staff was merely presenting the name to test student, faculty and alumni reaction. The reaction will be reflected in a student vote March 19, when Salukis will be offered as a nickname.”

Even after the second vote, the nickname still needed  approval from the university’s faculty and alumni, according to newspaper reports. One newspaper, the Herald and Review of Decatur, Illinois, editorialized the decision, publishing, “Fortunately, the proposed nickname must have the approval of the Southern faculty and Southern alumni.”

The Pantagraph of Bloomington, Illinois, reported that “Saluki” was proposed because “Southern [Illinois] is located in the section of Illinois known as ‘Egypt.'”

“People all over the Midwest have heard of Egypt and have come to regard our section by that name,” the Southern Illinoisan quoted Doc Lingle, one of the presenters, as saying. “So we feel that a nickname connoting something Egyptian and something sporting might be in order. After considerable research, we have deducted that the saluki is the best bet for a name having these features. The saluki has great speed, is intelligent and carries great prestige as the forerunner of sporting dogs.”

Lingle’s daughter, Dede Ittner, told NCAA.com that like a Biblical story about a famine in Egypt, a similar event happened in southern Illinois.

“It was a severe winter in the 1830s and the crops didn’t grow in the Midwest,” Ittner said. “There was snow in June around Springfield, Illinois, and so they came south and got the sweet corn so they could plant their crops the next year.”

So, not only did the geography of the area fit with parts of Egypt, but a notable weather event reportedly happened in the history of both regions.

A real-life saluki named “Sis” was used during campaign efforts, according to the Southern Illinoisan, and Ittner said the school’s first-ever real-life saluki mascot was named King Tut, in homage of the Egyptian king. Tut made a memorable, if not embarrassing, first impression with Ittner.

“Tut came home with my mother and father,” Ittner said. “They went up and got him after he was born and went through the period with his mother and they went up and got him and brought him home in their car and they were told they get carsick. They still do. My first reaction was when mom and dad pulled in the driveway, and my mother said, ‘Go get the wash pail.’ We had a big, galvanized steel thing that you washed clothes in, and this shivering — of course he was tiny, he was not a big dog —  dog got out and just looked awful and he has been sick all over himself in the car.”

When was ‘Salukis’ first used in print?

Using the newspapers.com database, the oldest reference NCAA.com could find to “salukis” being used in reference to Southern Illiinois University’s mascot was on March 6, 1951, in a copy of the Southern Illinoisan after the nickname was first proposed.

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