Share story

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Years after it traded Colonel Reb for a bear, the University of Mississippi could again change its sidelines sports mascot.

Student government President Dion Kevin III announced Monday that students will vote next week on changing from a black bear to a “landshark” in a campuswide election.

University spokesman Ryan Whittington said the vote would be advisory and would not bind Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter. Whittington didn’t answer whether the university administration has a preferred outcome.

“This referendum is a student-led initiative being conducted through an Associated Student Body process,” Whittington wrote in an email. “While we will not speculate on the outcome of their process, we value the important role that students play as an active voice in the life of our campus community. We are always interested in the viewpoints of our students.”

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The nickname for the school’s athletic teams remains the Rebels, but Ole Miss retired Colonel Reb from the sidelines in 2003 and has ditched other Old South symbols, including Confederate battle flags and the anthem “Dixie.”

The bear was chosen from three options in a 2010 student vote, with landshark the runner-up and Hoddy Toddy third. Hoddy Toddy is a mythical creature drawn up to represent Ole Miss’ signature cheer. The landshark is based on a “fins up” hand motion started by then-linebacker Tony Fein in an upset of the Florida football team in 2008.

“The landshark as we know it today has its origins in football, but has since expanded to symbolize Ole Miss’s fight spirit and athletic prowess,” Kevin said in a statement, saying students could “leave a legacy of unity and excitement” by supporting the change.

Fein, a Washington state native and U.S. Army veteran, died after an accidental drug overdose in 2009.

Though Colonel Reb lost his official sanction more than a decade ago, his visage is not hard to find in Oxford, and some supporters still want him back.

“We agree that the black bear is an embarrassment and a failure,” Colonel Reb Foundation Student Chairman Wess Helton said in a statement. “But using another closed process and a fake election to force their previously failed choice on students won’t solve anything. The Colonel Reb Foundation calls for the ASB Senate to give us our true mascot choice in this election — Colonel Reb — or add ‘none of the above’ as an option for Ole Miss students.”

Two attempts to force a statewide constitutional referendum on enshrining Colonel Reb have failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.

A small Vermont institution, Landmark College, already uses the landshark as a mascot. It’s also the name of a brand of beer brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Whittington said the university was unable to comment on whether a change by Ole Miss would infringe on others’ trademarks.