At the sound of its first note from GW’s Pep Band students jump to their feet at basketball games. They belt out the lyrics and pump their fists. The singing echoes through the Smith Center. Big and Little George make their way to the bleachers and dance with fans donned in buff and blue.
After the game another song plays – a calmer, less well-known one. Cheerleaders form a circle in the middle of the court and sing along while fans stream out onto G Street. The tunes are GW’s fight song and alma mater. Along with the mascots and school colors, they help define the Colonial tradition.
Many of GW’s spirit-raising icons date back to the University’s inception, but over the years they have changed, along with the addition of official and unofficial mascots. And these spirit-raising fixtures are more popular than ever, according to University Archivist David Anderson.
Almost all students interviewed for this story said they recognize George as GW’s mascot and can sing along with the fight song. Sophomore Dave Civetti said he enjoys the tune, which he learned at Colonial Inauguration the summer before his freshman year.
“The fight song is one of the first things I learned at GW,” Civetti said. “It’s one of the few signs of school spirit here on campus.”
Other students said they learned the words at basketball games, and know it even better now that it is played twice a day throughout campus on loud speakers that imitate chimes.
“I love the fight song,” sophomore Anu Ramlackha said. “I sing it every time the chimes play.”
Junior Molly Dietze said she is also a fan of the tune, but she prefers to hear it at basketball games.
“I like the fight song, but not the bells,” Dietze said. “Fight songs are for gyms.”
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg installed a public announcement system in the top of Bell Hall to play the tune of GW’s fight song and alma mater twice a day, with the illusion that bells are playing.
None of the 13 students interviewed for this story said they knew the words to alma mater. Some said they do not remember ever hearing it.
“We have an alma mater?” freshman Laura Green said.
Trachtenberg, who has worked to improve school spirit on GW’s campus, said he was not worried about the alma mater’s elusiveness among students. He said GW’s alma mater is no less popular than most university alma maters.
GW’s alma mater is played at the end of men’s and women’s basketball games, Commencement, Convocation and hooding ceremonies when doctoral candidates receive their degrees, University Marshall Jill Kasle said.
Kasle, who is GW’s chief ceremonial officer, said the fight song is also played during Commencement when degrees are awarded.
Former GW student George Roth wrote the alma mater in 1930, although the lyrics have been modified in the past 70 years. The first alma mater, which was also relatively unknown, emphasizes men and battles, with lyrics such as, “Armed in courage / ne’re from battle hiding. / Fearless – Each Loyal son.”
In the early 1970s, former music professor George Stiener was commissioned by then-University President Lloyd Elliott to modernize the lyrics.
“The words were sexist, so I was asked to change them to fit the times,” said Stiener, who stills works for GW’s Department of Music.
The fight song has also been modified. Eugene Sweeny wrote it in 1924 while he attended the University. According to GW archives, Sweeny wrote the song on a cold winter night while he sat around a fireplace at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house with fraternity members, his banjo and his fond thoughts of GW’s football team.
The demise of GW’s football team in 1967 spurred the University to request a change in the fight song although it was not changed until 1989. It was then that former student Patrick Jones rewrote the song that students still cheer today.
The tune and some lyrics remain the same as Sweeny’s original. Lines referring to football were replaced with more generic lines such as, “All our lives we’ll be proud to say we hail for GW!” instead of Sweeny’s, “See our men go `round the end fighting for G double U.”
Nicole Micchione, the director of spirit for the Student Activities Center, said she doubts the fight song or alma mater will change again any time soon.
“I can’t imagine they would change them, they have become such a part of the GW tradition,” Micchione said.
If any change did happen, Micchione said the athletic department, sprit department, Student Association and Vice President for Student Academic and Support Services Robert Chernak would probably have to approve it.
Just as students can sing along to the fight song, most of them know GW’s colors are buff and blue. Yet, no one interviewed for this story said they knew what exactly they praise when they sing “Hail to the Buff,” or why GW would choose such an obscure color to represent the school.
GW’s fascination with the color buff dates back to the University’s name change from Columbian University to GW in 1904. Columbian University’s original colors, blue and orange, were replaced to commemorate the school’s new namesake.
George Washington wore buff when he resigned as commander and chief of the Continental Army in 1783, according to the GW archives. As defined in the American Heritage Dictionary, buff is a military coat made of a soft thick, undyed leather made chiefly from the skins of buffalo oxen. It is also defined as a pale, yellowish pink.
For many years GW teams were simply known as the “Buff and Blue,” until students voted in 1928 to adopt the name “Colonials,” according to the GW Archives.
GW’s official mascot today is George, also known as “Little George.” George came to GW in 1949. Earlier GW mascots include a Great Dane adopted by fans during the early 1940s.
“One of the band members brought their Great Dane to a football game once and the cheerleaders adopted him,” Anderson said. “Blue, the dog, became an honorary mascot.”
Micchione said officially “Big George,” Little George’s balloon-like counterpart, is not a mascot, but “the biggest GW fan.” GW brought Big George to campus three years ago, Micchione said.
The hippo at the center of campus at 21st and H streets has also become one of the school’s unofficial mascots after Trachtenberg donated the “Potomac River Horse” statue in 1996.
“The hippo has become an establishment figure on campus, with the Hippodrome and the secret society of Hippos (Order of the Hippo),” Trachtenberg said. “There has even been talk of having a hippo dance with George at basketball games.”
Even though some things have changed – traditions such as the fight song and mascots continue to connect present-day Colonials with their past buff-and-blue-wearing counterparts.