Nothing about the athletic program at Webster University seems to set it apart from other Division III schools. Webster struggles to recruit athletes, who can't receive athletic scholarships. Webster teams fight for regional recognition with Division I schools that receive considerably more media coverage. And, there isn't a huge fan base traditional to Division I schools.
But take one look at the mascot, the Gorlok, and then the distinguishing characteristic shines through.
The Gorlok has drawn the attention of Time magazine and numerous radio and newspaper stories. U.S. News & World Report even ranked the Gorlok among the top 10 weirdest mascots in 1999. The Gorlok has been characterized as somewhat Gremlin-like, or close to a Griffin, or even kind of like a Billiken. But it is its own animal.
The definition of the Gorlok has been developed over the years. The Gorlok "embodies the highest standards of speed, agility and stamina in an atmosphere of fairness and good conduct," according to the official description.
But just what is it? That's the most-asked question surrounding Webster athletics, department secretary Sue McClintock, said. The Gorlok is a hybrid mix, having the paws of a speeding cheetah, the horns of a fierce buffalo and the face of a dependable St. Bernard.
The Gorlok has been linked with the athletic program almost since its inception. In the winter of 1983-1984, then Assistant Director of Admissions Niel DeVasto submitted the proposal to start an athletic program. After it was accepted, he was charged with laying the foundation. The school had a small presence in sports -- club teams competed with Maryville University and Fontbonne College --but Webster University didn't have a mascot and barely had school colors.
"We started the program from literally nothing in the spring of '84," DeVasto said. "One thing we didn't have was a mascot. (People starting the department) thought we had school colors of gold and white, but we needed a dark color so we added blue to that."
Summer had started by the time the quest for a mascot began. The search brought together administration members, including then-Webster University President Leigh Gerdine and Vice President for Academic Affairs Neil George, as well as people representing different areas of the university.
Traditional, common domain names were suggested, but with each one brought the obligatory argument against using a name another school or, in many cases, multiple schools, already had. Because of Webster's fine arts achievements, the Jazz was suggested. The Griffin, already used down the road at Fontbonne, was also suggested, and because Fontbonne's athletic program was new at the time, there wasn't much concern over using that name at Webster.
"They (Fontbonne) had just started men's sports a couple of years before and were kind of limited," DeVasto said. "I think that's why people weren't that concerned that there was a college four miles away with the same name. They thought, 'People will think of us, not them.'"
But someone, half-jokingly, suggested the Gorlok. The intersection of Gore and Lockwood, in the heart of the Old Webster Business District, is just about a mile away from Webster University. Located on the northwest corner of that intersection is the old Gorlock building.
"Some people kind of thought it was cutesy, and Neil George in particular latched onto that. It wasn't some staple that a hundred other schools had. We took a vote and, son-of-a-gun, Gorlok won," DeVasto said.
The Gorlok beat out Griffin, but at that point it was just a name. The group decided to hold a contest, asking students to submit an image of what they thought a Gorlok was. Everything from Meatloaf album cover art to dragons were submitted.
"One person, to go along with the uniqueness -- I won't say weirdness of this whole process -- submitted a picture," DeVasto said. "It was obviously of a male, dressed in this furry outfit. He had horns on his head, a cigar hanging out of his mouth, and one of those old-fashioned bug spray canisters in his hand.
"They started taking a liking to this picture, and I was just thinking, 'Here we started this thing and we're going to have this weirdness about it.' What they liked about it was that it wasn't really anything," DeVasto said.
The person who designed the drawing, actually modeled after DeVasto, didn't submit his name with the entry and would not come forward to claim his prize. A few years later DeVasto found out through the men's club baseball team that student Larry Underwood was the creator of the Gorlok.
"In a good-natured way, he was poking fun at me," DeVasto said. "I usually kept a handle-bar mustache. I'm a little on the stout side. He didn't want people to know he was spoofing me."
The drawing was refined, and two standard images were designed. The main image for several years was the Gorlok in a running position. It was later replaced with the current image, which DeVasto dubbed "the letter-sweater." That image dropped the bug-spray can and deleted the mustache, in an effort to de-gender it.
"It's a great mascot. I don't think the local community has caught on to it like it should," DeVasto said.
Nor have athletic competitors.
Bridget Stewart, assistant volleyball coach, said that when the team travels, that's all the opposition asks about -- the Gorlok! DeVasto said that at away games, there have been signs telling Webster to "get a real mascot," and a circle with the word "Gorlok" with a slash through it.
"Just about everywhere I go, at games, my hometown of Hilo, Hawaii, the most common question is: 'What's a Gorlok?' It certainly gets us some attention, and that's good," said Head Men's Basketball Coach Dave Kaneshiro.