Towson who? The Towson what? Towson, where?
Don’t worry, you’re not the only one asking that question.
Over the course of this year’s West Virginia University football season, the Gazette-Mail is taking a look at each of the Mountaineers’ opponents.
Last week saw the Mountaineers facing the storied Crimson Tide of Alabama. But this Saturday’s opponent — Maryland’s Towson Tigers — is a bit less well-known to WVU fans.
Consider this your primer.
TOWSON WASN’T ALWAYS TOWSON
Although the school is technically a year older than WVU, “Towson University” has only existed for 26 years.
The school was founded in 1866 as the State Normal School.
The Maryland General Assembly created the institution following the Civil War to train teachers for the state’s burgeoning public school system.
Things started small.
The school opened with just three faculty members and 11 students, with classes taking place in some rented rooms in downtown Baltimore.
That’s right, Towson wasn’t even in Towson at the time.
The institution grew significantly over the next decade, however. By 1876, the State Normal School had 10 faculty members and 206 students.
The school moved into a brand-new building to accommodate its growing enrollment, but also began a campaign to establish its own campus.
In 1912 the General Assembly passed a $600,000 bond issue, which allowed the State Normal School to purchase 80 acres of land in Towson and begin construction of its first classroom buildings.
The school began offering bachelor’s degrees in 1935 as Maryland increased requirements for its public school teachers. The change prompted the school to change its name to State Teachers College at Towson.
Towson began offering additional degrees in the arts and sciences in the 1960s, and in 1976 adopted yet another new name to reflect the change. It was now called “Towson State University.”
It would drop the “State” from its name 12 years later to become Towson University.
FOOTBALL IS KINDA NEW
Since the school started as a teacher’s college — and most teachers were women, and few womens’ sports programs existed in the 1860s — organized sports didn’t begin at Towson until the 1920s.
In 1921, the school started a men’s basketball and soccer team. Women’s sports began in 1947, when the school formed a women’s basketball team.
Football didn’t arrive until 1969, however.
The team started out as a Division III program. In 1976, the Tigers made their first trip to the playoffs and fought all the way to the championship game, where they lost to St. Johns of Minnesota by a single, game-ending field goal.
Towson climbed to the NCAA’s Division II in 1979 and, in their first season, found themselves in the division playoffs.
The team would make two more Division II playoff appearances before Towson joined Division I-AA in 1987.
It would be 24 years before the Tigers got another shot at the postseason, but in 2011 Towson again reached the playoffs.
That made the team the first football program in NCAA history to play postseason games in all three divisions.
Tigers abound in college sports.
There are 28 NCAA teams that use the jungle beast as their mascot, including former WVU opponents LSU, Auburn and Clemson.
But although Towson’s mascot lacks originality, it is still better than the school’s original mascot.
Back in the early days of Towson sports, local reporters dubbed its teams “The Teachers.”
The name surely struck fear in the hearts of opposing teams.
As the school grew, sportswriters afforded Towson players more prestigious titles. The teams were called “The Professors” for a time and later “The Schoolmasters.”
Towson, meanwhile, adopted slightly more intimidating official mascots. Teams were known as the Indians for a while. By the 1950s, they were the Towson Golden Knights.
Then, in the early 1960s, a local sports reporter noted Towson’s soccer team played “like tigers.”
The soccer team liked the idea and adopted the tiger as their mascot. The rest of the school’s teams soon followed suit.
Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.