A member of the Class of 1896, Stuart Hotchkiss, informed the Taft Papyrus in 1940—on the occasion of the school’s 50th Anniversary—how the school acquired its colors.
“It seems,” summarized the newspaper, “that of the first 10 students at Taft, nine were headed to Yale and one was going to Harvard. They chose Yale blue and, out of deference to the Harvard student, chose red for the other color.”
Both colors were employed almost equally until the 1970s, when, in absence of a mascot, school teams began to be referred to as Big Red.
Why a Rhino?
How the rhino became Taft’s mascot is a story of a popular movement, and it never would have happened were it not for two unusual circumstances. In the late 1980s, there was a Taft student who ended up with the nickname “Rhino” because of the way he ran while playing soccer. Headmaster Willy MacMullen ’78 coached the soccer team then, and recalls that this student was funny, spirited and well loved.
Around the same time, student monitors did a poll to come up with a new mascot. Other private schools were choosing mascots then, and Tafties wanted one of their own. They were, as Willy says, “looking for the Big Red what?” And though no one saw the poll as particularly serious, students took interest.
One of the many ideas, some almost too gruesome to name (the Big Red Bloodworms, for instance), was the Big Red Rhino. After the student poll, the results were announced in an assembly and the winning mascot name would be chosen by applause. When the “Big Red Rhinos” was named the audience went wild with cheering, chanting and clapping. In fact, the students came up with the mascot name as somewhat of a joke.
“It wasn’t an instant hit,” Assistant Headmaster Rusty Davis points out. Some time after the student poll, rhinos began appearing all over campus—on T-shirts and posters. “Part of the reason it caught on,” says Davis, “was that no team is known as the Rhinos. They might be the Tigers, the Bulldogs, but not the Rhinos.”
“The fact that it began as a joke and became ingrained spoke to how perfect it was,” Willy notes. “It became the Taft Rhino not by some conscious design,” Willy added, “but by stories and rituals passed down. It became part of the cultural fabric of the school and took on a life of its own.” The rhino choice actually spoke of strength, power and humor, although it’s likely none of that was factored in when the students adopted it.
By 1990, at the Centennial symposium in January, the rhino suit made its debut, a sign that it had been officially adopted. Soon after the Rhino was everywhere—on hats, T-shirts, books, stationery, yearbooks and suited up at sports events. Looks as if it’s here to stay.