Aug 012014
 

We are the Chargers who wear blue and white. It’s the first line in the UAH fight song.

But why? The origins of UAH’s athletic identity are not widely known.

To learn how The University of Alabama in Huntsville got its colors and team nickname, you have to go back to 1969, the year UAH became an independent institution instead of an extension of The University of Alabama. The university’s first intercollegiate athletic team, eight-man crew, had already been established by Dennis Kamrad in 1968, and now students were looking to form a basketball team.

Dr. Bernie Loposer, who became UAH’s Director of Student Affairs in 1969, was asked to be the basketball team’s coach. Loposer scheduled competition against junior colleges and other teams such as Athens College, Shorter College, St. Bernard College, Oakland City University, and the 101st Dvision in Fort Campbell, Ky. There was no budget outside of a little support from Kamrad, who was also the director of the student union, to obtain uniforms. All other expenses (such as travel and meals) were paid for by the players themselves.

With Kamrad growing the crew team into a competitive program, Loposer putting together the basketball team, and Dr. Ostap Stromecky starting the soccer club, it was apparent that there was enough student support for an official athletic program at UAH. That meant choosing a nickname and team colors.

The (Uhlan) Chargers

UAH Uhlan Chargers

The earliest known logo for what was the UAH Uhlan Chargers. (courtesy UAH Athletics)

Students conducted contests to decide the school colors and the nickname. There were many suggestions considered, but one immediately stood out: The Uhlans.

Uhlans were cavalry originating from Poland in the 18th Century. The riders were armed with lances or sabres.

The name, submitted by a popular, liberal history professor, was different and non-traditional, and it resonated with the students at a time when different and non-traditional was embraced (it was the late 1960s, after all). Plus, it had the letters U, A, and H in it.

But was it too different?

“Almost immediately, I was struck by the possibility that the Uhlan name was so different that it was bound to invite invidious comments and potential ridicule and heckling from those campuses who were more traditional and conservative than our own student body,” Loposer said. “Therefore, I persuaded the proponents of the name to amend the mascot to be called the Uhlan Chargers, using the reasoning that the Uhlans were cavalry warriors on horseback.

“I also pointed out that we were in the Tennessee Valley (TVA) where electricity was produced, which meant that a team called the Chargers would honor our region.”

The addition of “Chargers” was pivotal, as “Uhlans” could have been problematic. While the Uhlans originated in Poland, the term was used for calvary units throughout eastern Europe, including Germany during both World Wars. This was why Valparaiso University changed its nickname from the Uhlans to the Crusaders in 1942, during World War II.

However, Loposer says such connotations were neither considered nor mentioned. “My long-range thinking was that the liberal bent of students would eventually run its course and that an ambiance of normalcy would eventually return, and with it a more traditional name, i.e., the Chargers, would end up being the name for the teams when they took the floor. Fortunately, it turned out as I hoped it would be.”

Intentional or not, it didn’t take long for “Uhlan” to fade into history.

Blue and white

The reasoning behind the colors was simple: Get away from The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

The students again wanted UAH to stand apart from establishment. They didn’t want to do what UCLA had done, which was adopt the colors (blue and gold) and similar nickname (Bruins vs. Bears) of its parent (University of California, Berkeley).

“As for the colors, the only reaction I recall was that the students wanted to be a far as possible from the crimson and white used by UAT,” Loposer said. “That’s when the suggestion of blue and white became the odds-on favorite and was eventually selected.”

A separate contest was held by administrators of the student union to select cheerleaders, who made their own uniforms and footed the bills for travel when they accompanied the team at away games.

By 1973, UAH had established an official athletic department with athletic teams at the varsity level, led by the sports of crew, men’s basketball, and men’s soccer. Today, there are 14 teams who call themselves the UAH Chargers who wear blue and white.

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Author’s note: A special thanks to Dr. Bernie Loposer for providing insight into the origins of UAH athletics. UAH Charger records and history have been fascinating to me from the time I worked in the UAH sports information office as a student.  All I knew, however, was that we were once the “Uhlan Chargers,” and we didn’t have any documentation prior to 1973. Loposer did say that “some of the facts I have cited may get challenged.” If you want to challenge (or even better, add more detail to the story), please send me a message at m@uahhockey.com.