Editorial: What is a Vulcan

A short history of the Vulcans of UH Hilo

Staff Writer Trixie Croad

Photos Karlee Oyama

Just as students at UCLA are known as the Bruins, those at Oregon State are the Ducks, and Penn State students are the Lions, we at UH Hilo are known as the Vulcans. Most of us know this much, and are happy to cheer for the Vulcans at sports events or wear the logo on our chests, but how many of us really know what this means and where it came from?

In what was a very casual inquiry and by no means a representative pool, I began asking students about this and was surprised to find that many had never given it a second thought. There were an alarming number of people who thought a Vulcan was a bird of some kind, a few guessed it had some reference to volcanoes. Most had no ideas at all.

I thought it might be time to clear things up and tell the story of how we came to be the Vulcans of UH Hilo.The only student resource I could find for my investigation was the Vulcan Athletics Student Handbook, given out to all the student athletes at the beginning of each year. I also managed to track down past Athletic Director, basketball coach, and “Vulcans founding father” Ramon Goya to give me some more in depth information on how the Vulcans came to be.

vulcan symbol on a basketball court

When the University of Hawai`i at Hilo was first established in 1947, our nickname represented our relationship to UH Manoa. We were dubbed the “Little Rainbows”, sharing their colors of green and white. Around 1965, once the athletic department at UH Hilo was up and running, the staff and community set out to create a name that reflected UH Hilo in its own right, independent from the Rainbow Warriors. One figure who played an integral part in this process was then basketball coach Ramon Goya. Goya says he sat down with the athletic director at the time, Herb Hamai, and also involved some of the students to start throwing around ideas. “We thought, what is the most unique thing about this island? It’s the volcano,” Goya says of the initial brainstorming.

Volcanoes became the main focus in the search for a name. When thinking of the volcanoes in Hawai`i, Pele is probably the first name that comes to mind, and while Pele is indeed an important figure on the Big Island, she is also a sacred god to the native Hawaiians and it was felt by Goya and the committee at the time that to commercialize this would be disrespectful to Hawaiian culture.

Instead, the committee explored other ways to express a volcano theme and eventually settled on the Roman god of fire and volcanoes; Vulcan. UH Hilo officially adopted this nickname in 1966. The Vulcan Athletics Student Handbook states “He [Vulcan] was the son of Jupiter and Juno and he was an important member of the pantheon of the Romans. He fashioned Jupiter’s magical thunderbolts and Cupid’s arrows. His forge was thought to be the source of volcanic activity.”

Vulcans written onto a basketball

The second part of this transformation was to choose the school colors. Goya explains that originally, the decided on red, white, and blue, with emphasis on the red (being the color of lava). The the blue could have represented the ocean, an important part of island life, although when Goya spoke of this decision, he said that the color scheme was what they felt was the most aesthetically pleasing, and was modelled after the New York Knickerbockers.

Next on the agenda was the Vulcan logo. The original logo is not what we see in the bookstore today, but if you pay attention, you can still see it in some places on campus. It is portrayed on the plaque outside the hall of fame room in the athletics department. This logo consisted of a plain “V” with a graphic of a volcano in its background and a mele lei wreath around the edge. The “V” and the volcano have obvious connotations, and Goya explained to me that the thought behind the mele wreath was to represent to the olive wreaths historically given to champions in the olympics, but with a Hawaiian twist.

This was changed, along with the red, white, and blue color scheme in 2009. It was felt that the logo needed updating in order to better market the Vulcan brand. UH Hilo graphics department employees Susan Yugawa and Darin Igawa were in charge of the design. Yugawa explained the design to Malamalama, the discontinued magazine for the whole UH system, in 2009.

“We tried our best to create images that were representative of our island home,” Yugawa says. “The volcano and our voyaging heritage became consistent themes that we incorporated into the main Vulcan ‘fire and sail’ image.”

This “fire and sail” image is the “V” we see around campus today. The left side of the “V” is inflated to represent a sail, and the fire flaming from the top of the “V” represents the volcano. Yugawa and Igawa also created the “H” logo that is often seen on the uniforms of our athletics teams and was intended to represent UH Hilo away from home, while the “V” for Vulcan was to represent our teams at home on the Big Island.

So while the Vulcan, name along with its evolving logo and color scheme, has been representing UH Hilo since the 1960s, it does not appear that there has ever been an official Vulcan mascot. When I asked Ramon Goya about this, he said they decided to focus on the logo to represent the Vulcans and didn’t feel the need to create a Vulcan mascot, nor did he have any idea what that should look like. In most cases, a mascot that represents the nickname of a school is an animal or some other identifiable object, but Vulcan is a little less tangible than that and the idea of a volcano pumping the crowd up somehow doesn't seem practical or marketing friendly. When talking to current athletic director Pat Guillen, he also felt there was no real need for a Vulcan mascot.

“We promote the Vulcans brand by being involved in the community and reaching out to our keiki. This is the best form of outreach and one that we will continue,” he says. Perhaps the closest we have come to having a Vulcan mascot is when the New Student Program implemented an unofficial mascot of sorts named “Big Eye Lance” in order to boost school spirit. Big Eye Lance would attend events around campus, sporting a red morph suit and a giant eyeball for a head. His name was a play on “Big Island”, and while he wore Vulcan colors, made no reference to the Vulcan identity of the school. New Student Programs have since discontinued Big Eye Lance as an entity of their program, and we are once again totally mascot-less here at UH Hilo. Guillen says that athletics had little to do with Big Eye Lance and while he would advocate for its return or something similar, it is not a focus at this time.

Hopefully after reading this, the next time you throw on your Vulcans sweatshirt or yell “Go Vulcans!” at a volleyball game, you can do so with a little more understanding, and be a little more proud to be a Vulcan of UH Hilo.