Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Mascot History

Far from your run-of-the-mill college football mascot names, the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors mascot has a history as colorful as you would expect.

Whether it be an animal, a group of people or even sometimes a weather phenomenon that is common in its specific location, most mascots offer some sort of regional importance to the school they represent. It’s a symbol of pride for athletics and for the community surrounding it.

Few mascots embody this ideal more than the Rainbow Warriors for the University of Hawaii — albeit, sometimes controversially. Far from your run-of-the-mill mascot names, let’s take a look at how and why the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors came to be.

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Who (or What) Is the Rainbow Warriors’ Mascot?

Rainbow Warrior is a mascot that molds two cultural tokens of pride together.

The Warrior is meant to represent the great warriors in Hawaiian culture, such as King Kamehameha the Great, who is credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands over 200 years ago. Rainbows are prevalent in Hawaii and are symbols of good fortune.

Early versions of the mascot were a cartoonish character with a rainbow cape and a warrior helmet, but the mascot was changed to depict a fierce warrior featuring more traditional Polynesian elements with tattoos and war paint.

The school did have a live version of the mascot in the form of Villi the Warrior from 2000-2011. For over a decade, Villi would pump up the crowd at football games wearing war paint and traditional Polynesian wear, but the school discontinued using Villi in 2012.

Why Is the Rainbow Warrior the Mascot?

Hawaii first fielded a football team in 1909 without an official mascot, but unofficially known as the Deans. The final game of the 1923 season saw Hawaii upset Oregon State, with reporters witnessing a rainbow appearing over the stadium during the game.

From then on, reporters and fans referred to the Hawaii teams as the Rainbows or Bows as an unofficial mascot for the next 50 years. The football team officially adopted Rainbow Warriors in 1974, and a rainbow was added to the athletics department’s official logo in 1982.

The rainbow remained in the logo until 2000, when the school decided it didn’t want the logo to be associated with the LGBTQ+ community.

“That logo really put a stigma on our program at times in regards to its part of the gay community, their flags and so forth,” former Hawaii Athletics Director Hugh Yoshida said at the time.

Yoshida apologized soon after, saying, “I understand why some people might consider some of the comments to be derogatory, even if no harm was intended. We remain committed to our policies on diversity and inclusiveness.”

Teams were then allowed to pick their own nicknames, with football, volleyball, men’s golf, and tennis choosing to go by the Warriors.

The swim team and men’s basketball remained the Rainbow Warriors, while baseball switched to the Rainbows. The Women’s teams have used the Rainbow Wahines since its first year in 1972, with the sand volleyball team known as the SandBows.

The decision to change the mascots and logo was reversed in 2013, and all teams reverted to the Rainbow Warriors.

KEEP READING: Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Top 10 Returning Players in 2024

“We initially decided to adopt Warriors as the nickname of our men’s teams, since it was used by the majority of our men’s programs, including the one with the largest fan following (football),” former Hawaii AD Ben Jay said at the time of the reintroduction the Rainbow Warriors mascot. 

“This is a very subjective and emotional issue and the only clear consensus on this topic over the last 13 years has been that a decision needed to be made to unify our men’s teams under one nickname. That goal will still be accomplished as we retain the Rainbow and Warriors names, both of which are near and dear to the hearts of our fans, whom we represent.”

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