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Spartan Sports Almanac | MSU Athletics Hall of Fame | The Nickname | Green & White | Sparty | Sparty Mascot
Spartan Marching Band | History of the MSU Fight Song | MSU's Fight Song Lyrics | Alma Mater - MSU Shadows Lyrics


The Mascot


In 1926, Michigan State's first southern baseball training tour provided the setting for the birth of the "Spartans" nickname.

It all came about when a Lansing sportswriter imposed the silent treatment on a contest-winning nickname and substituted his own choice, the name that has lasted through the years.

In 1925, Michigan State College replaced the name Michigan Agricultural College. The college sponsored a contest to select a nickname to replace "Aggies" and picked "The Michigan Staters."

George S. Alderton, then sports editor of the Lansing State Journal, decided the name was too cumbersome for newspaper writing and vowed to find a better one. Alderton contacted Jim Hasselman of Information Services to see if entries still remained from the contest. When informed that they still existed, Alderton ran across the entry name of "Spartans" and then decided that was the choice. Unfortunately, Alderton forgot to write down who submitted that particular entry, so that part of the story remains a mystery.

Rewriting game accounts supplied by Perry Fremont, a catcher on the squad, Alderton first used the name sparingly and then ventured into the headlines with it. (Incidentally, after two days of spelling the name incorrectly with an "o", Mr. Alderton changed it to Spartan on a tip from a close friend.) Dale Stafford, a sports writer for the Lansing Capitol News, a rival of the State Journal, picked up the name for his paper after a couple of days. Alderton called Stafford and suggested that he might want to join the Spartan parade and he did.

As Mr. Alderton explains: "No student, alumnus or college official had called up the editor to complain about our audacity in giving the old school a new name, so we ventured into headlines with it. Happily for the experiment, the name took. It began appearing in other newspapers and when the student publication used it, that clinched it."

Green & White

Details are sketchy as to when Michigan State athletic teams officially began using the school colors green and white. But records of the Athletic Association of the then Michigan Agricultural College show that on April 11, 1899, the organization took steps toward adoption of a green monogram, "to be worn only by athletes who subsequently take part in intercollegiate events."

It is generally thought the colors came into wide use with the arrival in 1903 of Chester L. Brewer as the school's first full-time director of athletics. Brewer also coached the Spartan football, basketball, baseball and track teams, the only varsity units in existence at the time.


"The Spartan" statue, designed and produced by MSU assistant art professor Leonard D. Jungwirth, has a permanent home inside the atrium of the Spartan Stadium tower. The 9-foot-7 ceramic figure weighs approximately 6,600 pounds, including its base. In 2005, the sculpture was relocated to protect it from the elements.

"The Spartan" was dedicated on June 9, 1945, at the intersection of Red Cedar Road, Kalamazoo Street and Chestnut Road. Popularly known as "Sparty," the statue remains one of the favorite photo subjects of campus visitors.

In 2005, an exact replica of the original terra cotta sculpture - now cast in bronze - took up residency on the plaza located at the north end of Demonstration Hall Field. The molds for the bronze statue were made from the original sculpture. The new statue was cast in bronze at the Artworks Foundry in Berkeley, Calif.

As part of MSU's sesquicentennial celebration, the bronze "Sparty" was dedicated on Oct. 8, 2005. Donors contributed approximately $500,000 to pay for all work related to the new sculpture, including the plaza.


Michigan State's beloved Sparty has won three national championships in the last four years at the Universal Cheer Association's mascot competition at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

In January 2004, Sparty became the first Big Ten mascot to claim the national title, and in 2005, he defended his national championship, beating Goldy Gopher and Bucky Badger in the finals. After finishing third in the 2006 competition, Sparty reclaimed the national championship in 2007.

Made of hi-tech materials, including a vinyl chest plate and fiberglass molds like the ones used for making Muppets, the seven-foot costume weighs in at 40 pounds, allowing enough flexibility for playful gestures and animation. Sparty is a far cry from the many papier-mache heads that have popped up since the 1950's, mostly from fraternity efforts. The first official one apparently debuted in 1955 courtesy of Theta Xi.

Other versions were introduced from time to time. In 1984, Sigma Phi Epsilon introduced the first "gruff" head--sporting the unshaven look that still adorns many sweatshirts and jackets.

By contrast, the current Sparty costume is a state-of-the-art, full-bodied uniform that costs $12,000.

Today students - their identities kept private - take turns being Sparty. Because of the costume size, Sparty aspirants must be between 5-10 and 6-2 in height. Candidates who fit the physical needs are chosen after a hands-on process that includes tryouts and interviews.

The Sparty Mascot Program is run and funded by the MSU Alumni Association. For more information, visit


The Spartan Marching Band

The 300-member Spartan Marching Band, which enters its 148th season in 2018, is one of the oldest and most respected university marching bands in the country. The Director of the Spartan Marching Band is David Thornton, who is in his second season leading the group.

The Spartan Marching Band was founded in 1870 as a 10-member student group. All of the original members were Civil War veterans.

The Spartan Marching Band was a military unit connected with the college ROTC for most of its existence. Until 1952, the band members wore military khaki uniforms. When Michigan State began playing Big Ten football in 1953, the band received its first green and white uniforms. Most of the strict military uniform codes are still adhered to today with squad leaders holding route inspections before every performance.

No flutes or clarinets are used in the Spartan Marching Band, as these instruments are difficult to hear in the large Big Ten stadiums. Instead, tiny E-flat cornets play the high "woodwind-like" parts.

The Spartan Marching Band has entertained five U.S. Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt (1907), Herbert Hoover (1930), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1936), Lyndon Johnson (1965) and Bill Clinton (1996 and 2001).

The Spartan Marching Band has performed at 19 bowl games, including five Rose Bowls (1954, 1956, 1966, 1988, 2014). In addition, the band has made appearances at the 1964 New York World's Fair, '84 New Orleans World's Fair, '84 World Series in Detroit and '93 Coca- Cola Bowl in Tokyo, Japan.

The Spartan Marching Band was the 1988 recipient of the Louis Sudler Trophy for collegiate marching bands, administered by the John Philip Sousa Foundation.


Yellmaster Francis Irving Lankey, a civil engineering major at Michigan Agricultural College, composed the school's Fight Song in the spring of 1915. His friend Arthur L. Sayles, also a MAC student, wrote most of the words to the Fight Song. The football team's back-to-back road wins over national powers Michigan and Wisconsin in 1913 inspired Lankey to compose the MAC Fight Song because he felt those two schools had great fight songs. "Lank", as his friends called him, was a very popular and talented piano player.

Following graduation, he worked for the highway department and later became an instructor for the Army Air Corps. In a volunteer air demonstration in 1919, he crashed while attempting to land. Months after his untimely death, a girlfriend published his song. Members of the football team sold 770 copies of the song for 50 cents at the 1919 Homecoming pep assembly. When it sold out in less than 30 minutes, everyone knew the Fight Song was a winner. In 1920, the Military Band played the MAC Fight Song at home football games. With slight variations to the original words, like changing Aggie to Spartan and MAC to MSU, it has been played ever since.

Song Lyrics

On the banks of the Red Cedar,
There's a school that's known to all;
Its specialty is winning,
And those Spartans play good ball;
Spartan teams are never beaten,
All through the game they fight;
Fight for the only colors,
Green and White.
Go right through for MSU,
Watch the points keep growing.
Spartan teams are bound to win,
They're fighting with a vim.
Rah! Rah! Rah!
See their team is weakening,
We're going to win this game.
Fight! Fight! Rah! Team, Fight!
Victory for MSU.

Shadow Lyrics

MSU, we love thy shadows
When twilight silence falls,
Flushing deep and softly paling
O'er ivy covered halls;
Beneath the pines we'll gather
To give our faith so true,
Sing our love for Alma Mater
And thy praises MSU.
When from these scenes we wander
And twilight shadows fade,
Our memory still will linger
Where light and shadows played;
In the evening oft we'll gather
And pledge our faith anew,
Sing our love for Alma Mater
And thy praises MSU.

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