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Why do they call it that? University of Tampa and the UT Spartans history

12:42 PM, Aug 31, 2011   |    comments
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The Tampa Bay Hotel is shown in this postcard from before the creation of the University of Tampa.

It's back to school this week for one of Florida's most respected and beautiful universities. But, get this, the University of Tampa got its start in the chemistry lab of a high school.

Why do they call it the University of Tampa?

It seems in the 1930's, Tampa's smartest kids would graduate high school and -- hit the road.

"And they never came back to fuel future generations of business people," says university archivist Art Bagley. He calls the exodus of smart students a Bay area brain drain.

Frederic Spaulding, principal at Hillsborough High School, swore he would stop it.

It's convenient that Hillsborough High's tall towers and Gothic windows make it look like a college. Spaulding founded Tampa Junior College -- and located it right there, in the high school.

It really was like 13th grade. But not for long.

"Spaulding saw that the junior college was going great guns and could actually morph into a four-year institution," Bagley said.

But the school needed a new home.

Wanted:
A place with lots of rooms,
An owner willing to give it away,
And some beds, already in place, for the dorms

It just so happens, the City of Tampa had the perfect fixer-upper: the recently shut down and abandoned Tampa Bay Hotel.

"It was dusty and moldy and stinky," Bagley said. "But, in the main, this building was intact in 1933 when the decision was to set up camp here."

It was Tampa's first university, so it took the name the University of Tampa.

For about the first 30 years of the university, freshmen had to wear colorful beanies -- called rat caps -- all of the time.

The new students had to take them off to salute anyone older who passed by.

The caps were made up of the colors of the University of Tampa, which came from the two main high schools that fed the university. Red and black represented Hillsborough High and black and gold stood for Plant High.

Freshmen also had to learn all of the cheers for their sports team, the Spartans.

Why do they call them the Spartans?

"Our main opponent, we figured, was gonna be from across the bay, in St. Petersburg, and they were the St. Pete Junior College Trojans," Bagley said.

That rematch of the ancient Trojan War didn't last.

UT and what's now St. Petersburg College don't play each other much anymore.

And that intended rival, St. Pete College, switched its team name from Trojans to Titans a decade ago.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

The University of Tampa's football team has been undefeated since 1974. That's when the school ended its football program.

School leaders said the football team was costing UT too much money, putting the entire university's future at risk.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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