If you’re moving to Wichita, Kansas, there’s something very important you’ll need to know: What is WuShock?
Thanks to the success of the Wichita State University men’s basketball team over the last few years, WuShock has gained national attention. Unfortunately, not everyone loves the mascot as much as WSU students, alumni and supporters do. In fact, a lot of people don’t even know what he is. So, here’s a brief WuShock history lesson for you.
When Wichita State University, then known as Fairmount College, first formed a football team in 1904, many of the players earned tuition money by harvesting wheat. When wheat is harvested, it’s tied together into a bundle called a shock. The shocks are then put through a process called threshing, which separates the edible wheat kernels from the chaff.
The school’s football manager, R.J. Kirk, used the name “Wheat Shockers” for the football team on a poster advertising an upcoming game. The school’s pep club members were called Wheaties, and the football team played on a wheat field, so the name stuck. The school never officially adopted the name, but the term Wheatshockers was commonly used for years, until it was eventually shortened to “Shockers”, which is what Wichita State is known by today.
For nearly 50 years, Wichita State University didn’t have a mascot – its symbol was just a shock of wheat. In 1948, Kappa Pi honorary art fraternity held a competition to create a mascot for the school, which was known as Wichita University at the time. There was no theme for the contest, and the only direction was to design a mascot that would symbolizes the school’s spirit.
Junior Wilbur Elsea, a former Marine who served in WWII, created a mascot that he felt was tough, no-nonsense, and serious. His was the winning design, which the university adopted as its mascot. The only thing left was to name the mascot, so another contest was held, in October of 1948. Freshman Jack Kersting came up with the winning entry: WuShock. The name was derived from the school’s initials (W.U.) and a shortened version of the previous nickname “Wheatshockers.”
For six years, WuShock lived only on paper. Then, in 1954, WU cheerleader Dave Johnson created a prototype for a WuShock costume, using some help from his mom and $20 worth of supplies. In today’s dollars, that equals about $175 – small change compared to the $8,000 price tag of the current WuShock suit.
Since then, there have been several tweaks to the WuShock costume, but only five versions were considered “official”. The first professionally-made suit was not made until the 1970s. In the 80s, WuShock wore a grass skirt. The 1998 version was intended to make “Wu”, as he is affectionately known, look more buff and intimidating. The most recent WuShock “look” was introduced in 2006, with a less top-heavy design and a face that more closely resembles the university’s logo.
With all the variations in his appearance, WuShock has been called ugly, terrifying, and weird. In fact, a quick online search on WuShock yields a plethora of both images and insults. People have called him a french fry and a highlighter. And, during the 2015 NCAA college basketball tournament, Jimmy Fallon referred to Wu as a “Muppet Gordon Ramsay”. Through it all, the people of Wichita have embraced WuShock as an endearing symbol of Wichita State University, and the city itself. Hopefully, so will you.