Who Named MSU Spartans? Stephen George Scofes

Mystery Solved: The Spartan Who Named Michigan State University’s Spartans: Stephen George Scofes

After the second world war, Stephen George Scofes ran a restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, called ‘The Famous Grill’, where he became friends with coaches and athletes at Michigan State University. He came up with the nickname for MSU – the Spartans. Here is the story, as told to me.

Originally, MSU was established as Michigan Agricultural College, and then Michigan State College, before becoming MSU. With its tradition in agriculture, the College originally had a common nickname – the ‘Aggies’. But as the college transitioned to a more general-purpose university and became more serious about college sports, its promoters in the athletic department and the city began searching for a more promising nickname and mascot to represent the university.

George Stephen Scofes from Quello Center on Vimeo.

George S. Alderton, the Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal, sponsored a contest to find a name to replace the Aggies. In today’s terminology, he crowd sourced a solution. It remains unclear who picked the winner of the contest, but the contest led to MSU ever so briefly being called the Michigan ‘Staters’. The name did not resonate well with many fans, including George Alderton. A local restauranteur, Stephen George Scofes, asked Alderton if he had seen his letter – his submission to the contest, which suggested the name ‘Spartans’. Alderton did not remember the letter, but thought it had promise and researched it with his colleagues.

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Stephen George Scofes and son, George Scofes, at the cash register of The Famous Grill circa 1950

Initially, in his columns, Alderton misspelled Spartans, using an ‘o’ for ‘Sportans’. Stephen Scofes corrected his spelling, and Alderton started to routinely use ‘Spartans’ in his columns. The name caught on, and the rest is history – or it should have been history but was, in fact, totally forgotten and clouded over time. Much later, neither Alderton or anyone else could remember the name of the person who came up with the Spartan name, which we now know was Stephen Scofes.*

Stephen’s son, George Stephen Scofes, himself of a serious age – 89 – today, told me the story of his father coming up with the Spartan name. This came up when I was driving him and our mutual friend, who introduced us, Dimitri Stathopoulos, to an MSU basketball game. Stephen came to the United States from an area near the town of Sparta, Greece. His son George, was born in the USA, but lived in Sparta from the age of two until the end of the second world war, when he moved back to the US at the age of seventeen. His friend Dimitri was also from Sparta. So the Spartan name did not pop out of thin air or the classics, but from real life.

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Dimitri Stathopoulos (left) and George Stephen Scofes

Because Mr. Scofes had a restaurant, The Famous Grill, George’s father knew all the coaches and many of the athletes and sports writers that covered MSU. One of the great coaches, Biggie Munn, liked to bring his players in his restaurant, The Famous Grill and sit in The Big Ten Room. Munn became athletic director at MSU from 1953-71 and invited Stephen Scofes to award the annual ‘sportsmanship’ trophy to the football team.

The Scofes family remain closely attached to MSU, such as through the basketball trophy under the Scofes name, for example. And later, in the 1990s, when Nick Saban was the football coach at MSU, the coach argued that there were many awards for sportsmanship, so why not give an award to an academic who helps the players academically. Since then, Stephen’s son, George, and George’s son Stephen Scofes (that’s the traditional way Greek families recognize their family heritage) give an award to an MSU academic who helps the players, titled ‘The George Stephen Scofes Outstanding Faculty Award’ at MSU. There were twelve recipients in 2017.

For decades, the person who came up with the name that is central to MSU’s identity was forgotten in the folklore of the university. But the mystery is solved: He was Stephen George Scofes, arguably, the first Spartan.

Coda

Months after this blog, Judy Putnam of the Lansing State Journal covered the story of the Spartan name, with the title, “How Sparty Got His Name’.** She came to the same conclusion as I did, but added a number of interesting aspects to the story. Wonderful to have this story covered in the local paper.

Notes

*A published narrative of the naming of the Spartans is provided in Constantine S. Demos and Steven S. Demos, M.D. ((2008), The Tradition Continues: Spartan Football. East Lansing: Michigan State University Football Players Association, pages 56-57. Their version differs in important ways from my narrative, such as only alluding to the friendship of the Scofes brothers and Alderton, but with no acknowledgement of Stephen Scofes’ role. You will have to reach your own conclusion about who named the Spartans, but I find my interview with George Scofes, his son, to be most credible.

**Judy Putnam, ‘How Sparty Got His Name‘, Lansing State Journal, May 6, 2018, 13A, 15A.

The Famous Grill Lansing
The Famous Grill: Where the ‘Spartan’ Name was Cooked Up

Simplify and Then Exaggerate, Big League

I was taken back years ago when the editor of a major news magazine told me that she told her editors to ‘simplify and then exaggerate’. That was the secret formula for writing a good news story.

th-1To me it is increasingly clear that all the news media have moved in this direction, and to keep in line with political rhetoric, they have also added a huge level of hyperbole to the formula. Fox and CNN are driving this trend, particularly with their panels. We have almost become the nation of hyperbole.

The bad news is that more and more news is so exaggerated that it is simply wrong, misinformation. The worse news is that, in due course, no one will take political rhetoric or news media seriously. It will just be viewed as entertainment.

The best journalists and politicians work harder to avoid this formula, and clarify the complexities surrounding so many issues. Call out over simplistic hyperbole for what it is. Hyperbole is part of President Trump’s style, but it is not simply the President’s rhetoric as this level of exaggeration came before him (the Tea Party) and goes beyond the President today, such as with the media and resistance to Trump, with its followers being proud to be compared to the Tea Party of yesteryear.

 

 

 

 

ICA Award Nominations for Communication and Technology Division (CAT)

Please take some time to consider this last call for nominations to the Communication and Technology (CAT) Awards Committee for three different awards. CAT is a division of the International Communication Association (ICA):

First, we request nominations for the Frederick Williams Prize for Contributions to the Study of Communication Technology. Send nominations by 2 March 2015. http://www.icahdq.org/about_ica/awards/frederickwilliams.asp

Secondly, please nominate dissertations to be considered for the Herbert S. Dordick Prize. http://www.icahdq.org/about_ica/awards/dordick.asp We will receive nominations sent by 2 March 2015.

Finally, the CAT Awards Committee has been asked to recommend members of CAT to be considered for nomination as ICA Fellows. There is nothing to prevent members nominating individuals on their own, but if you’d like the CAT Awards Committee to consider nominating individuals, please send us your nominations. See: http://www.icahdq.org/about_ica/fellows.asp

Thank you for your help. Send any nominations for any of these awards to Quello@msu.edu and indicate the ICA Award in the subject heading.

Regards,

Bill Dutton, Quello Center, MSU

Chair of CAT Awards Committee

Members include:

Monica Bulger, Data & Society Research Institute, New York City, and Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, UK

Leah Lievrouw, Department of Information Studies, UCLA

Joseph Walther, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, NTU, Singapore

Ran Wei, School of Journalism & Mass Communications, University of South Carolina

Simeon Yates, Institute of Cultural Capital, University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University, UK

 

The William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award of the American Sociological Association

Wonderful to have received the 2014 William F. Ogburn Career Achievement Award from the American Sociological Association, given by CITASA (ASA’s section on Communication and Information Technology): http://www.asanet.org/sections/citasa_recipients_History.cfm Given my move to Michigan, I was unable to attend but I sent these words of appreciation:

Dear Colleagues of CITASA,

I would like to convey my appreciation to the selection committee and CITASA for honoring me with this career achievement award. It is a privilege to be in the company of those who have received this recognition in past years, and to have such a wonderful link with William F. Ogburn and the ASA. I am delighted to be part of the community of scholars you are building.

It amazes me that even in the space of my own career, the sociological study of the Internet and related communication and information technologies has moved from the margins of sociology to become one of its most exciting fields of innovative research. At Oxford, and I am sure this will be the case at MSU, my colleagues are increasingly looking to sociology for some of the most promising researchers focused on society and the Internet.

My thanks to CITASA for helping to raise the stature of social research on communication technology, and for this wonderful recognition from the American Sociological Association.

Bill Dutton