Origins of the Cougar name

A cougar. Far more intimidating than a gopher/Haley Klassen

A cougar. Far more intimidating than a gopher/Haley Klassen

It actually could have been the Regina Gophers

Author: alex antoneshyn – contributor

While it is well known that the University of Regina has two sports team names, the Rams and the Cougars, few can explain why.

The Rams, perhaps some of the more experienced faculty members could tell you, were a community junior football team that competed without affiliation to the university in the years it was known as Regina College and the University of Saskatchewan Regina Campus. In 1999, however, the Rams left the junior level for a spot in the Canada West Conference of CIS as a university team, proving successful in their first years.

As for the Cougar team name, little is known about how this was chosen, what it was inspired by, or when it became a byname of the University of Regina. Thousands of people throughout Saskatchewan and Canada bear the Cougar logo on their chest, unaware of the history the emblem represents.

Surprisingly, the Cougars team name has been around longer than this campus has been known as the University of Regina. In fact, Cougar history dates back to the basketball season of 1944 and a man named Samuel Edgar Stewart. As a frame of reference, this was a time when events of the war dominated newspaper headlines.

Born in Halifax in 1915, Stewart played basketball while earning Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees at Dalhousie University. After studying at the University of Toronto, he began to teach Latin and Greek at Regina College in 1940. That was the first of over forty years he would spend at Regina and the first of many that he would spend involved with the school’s basketball program. When talking to current coaches and staff of the athletic program, many credited him with the Cougar nickname.

“It was in Sam Stewart’s room – 105 – at the Regina College, way back when,” said Jerry Adams, who played as a guard on the men’s basketball team of 1944 (a team roster of that year names Bob Fuller, Jim Robinson, Ken Lister, Harold Brown, Cam Hetherington, and Ray McFadden as the other players, all of whom could not be reached).

Now 88-years-old, Adams couldn’t recall which year the team decided on a name, but the meeting itself was a fond memory.

“We met in Sam’s office one day, and Sam said we should have a name for the team. First of all, I said that the Gophers would be a good name, but then Central was there [and] Central’s team was Central Gophers.”

Other contenders, according to Adams, were the Wolves and Bears.

“We were looking for animals that you can find in the prairies and “Cougars” was such a nice name…There was already a Victoria Cougars team in Victoria, but in those days there wasn’t much TV around and no one knew who they were and why they were, so it was a good name for us to pick up.”

At this time, with Brandon and Saskatoon the farthest trips made for games, it was unlikely that a Regina Cougars team would run the same circles as the Victoria Cougars.

Eventually, Stewart and his players reached a consensus and the Cougars were born. Adams remembers that the newly named team had a positive reception, with only a few ever commenting “Cougars in Saskatchewan? Oh, where do you find them?”

One of Adams’ best memories from those years is when the entire team, including Stewart, slept in a single room for a tournament in Swift Current. When asked what he learned from playing under Stewart, Adams replied, “That you aren’t that important as an individual.” Referring to a game when he sunk to the less than admirable level of sportsmanship of his opponent, Adams still remembers Stewart’s lecture: “Just because I wanted to hit that guy in Brandon, that’s not part of the game. Sam made that quite clear to me after our little talk.”

Stewart, who retired from the university in 1981 and passed away in 1983, is remembered as a strict coach who did not tolerate much fooling around in practice but made basketball an enjoyable pastime for many.

“I pass his house every once in a while where he used to live, and I still think of him when I drive by. He made quite an impression on us,” shares Adams.

Seventy years later, it is obvious that Stewart’s contributions to the university’s athletics program are greater than a team name. John Dewar describes Stewart as “the epitome of Regina basketball in the post-war years” and commends him for providing Saskatchewan the foundation to build a respectable officiating reputation in Basketball: Saskatchewan’s Story, 1891-1989.

Dr. Ernie Nicholls, who worked alongside Stewart and spent his years at the U of R as Assistant Dean and Athletic Director, among other positions, agrees that Stewart was a “great component of basketball.” Dr. Nicholls’ experience as the men’s basketball coach and involvement with the university’s intramural sports program enabled him to describe the difficulty the Cougars basketball team had earning a spot in national competition during the 1960s. In comparison to the university teams in Alberta and British Columbia, Regina’s Cougars lacked experience and funding in their first few decades and members of the WCIAU were consequently reluctant to allow Regina entrance.

Although the Cougar name originated with the men’s basketball team, its history includes male and female teams of many sports. In the early years (no exact start and end date could be found), there was a developmental team called the Cubs and the women’s teams were known as the Cougettes. From the 1983-84 season until the 1990s, the women went by Lady Cougars, and then finally just Cougars. Today, this is the name of all U of R teams, excluding the Rams.

Whether you wear the Cougar logo as a student, faculty or staff member, coach, player, alumni, or community supporter, consider the decades of history our Cougar name has seen. The feline insignia so many of us sport, low-crouching and tensed for challenge, is representative of the development and progress of this institution.

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