The St. John’s mascot known as “Johnny Thunderbird” got its name just three years ago in 2009, when more than 11,000 students voted on the school’s athletic website RedStormSports.com to decide among the six Red Storm mascot finalists. With the Thunderbird chosen during a 12-day span between April 23 and May 4 2009, the other five ideal names were: Thunderbolt, Red Storm Dog, Red Storm Bear and Thunder Horse. After the name, Thunderbird received the majority of the votes; members of the Athletics Department announced that it would officially become the University’s new mascot during a home soccer match. Imagine what it would be like today without hearing your fellow classmates scream the name Johnny during an on-campus activity.
The St. John’s Thunderbird was created by Olympus Inc., renowned nationally as the mascot costume industry’s premier designer. Olympus has manufactured a wide variety of corporate, entertainment and university mascot costumes. Highly visible mascot costumes, including Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger, The University of Wisconsin Badger and The University of Florida Gator have been designed and manufactured using the Olympus design team’s creative expertise.
The student-chosen name “Johnny” goes back to the beginning of St. John’s athletics. At the turn of the 20th century during the early years of intercollegiate competition, St. John’s teams were actually known as the “Johnnies.” However, it wasn’t until the 1920s when a reporter used the term “Redmen” after the football team took the field clad in red uniforms.
A decade later, according to several written sources and many an old tale, members of St. John’s students led by Walter Bruce (class of 1939) and Michael McNichols (class of 1931) went out and found the original Redman mascot standing in front of a cigar store.
“Chief Blackjack” made his first public appearance in his new position at the St. John’s-Catholic University football game at Ebbets Field. When the underdog Redmen went on to a 22-0 victory, there was no turning back.
“The Chief was here to stay,” Bruce wrote. “He had become a fixture at St. John’s, having been granted a lifetime lease on the St. John’s Reservation.” To the conclusion of that story, Bruce later admitted that he and others returned and paid for the pilfered mascot.
After seven decades of the nickname “Redmen” as the symbol of St. John’s Athletics, the decision to change its nickname occurred 20 years ago in 1994.
At the time, colleges nationwide were becoming more sensitive to mounting Native American concerns in reference to colleague and professional nicknames. Although the nickname “Redmen” did not have an original basis of Native American culture it did evolve into a nickname that referenced Native American symbology. St. John’s wanted to make a change that would stay true to its tradition, but also be distinctive and unique. Thus, the nickname Red Storm was born.
Next time you attend a St. John’s game where red and white, take a selfie with Johnny and show the school spirit. WE ARE ST. JOHN’S.