The Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry's men's basketball team pictured with dragons on their uniforms in the 1929 Lexerd yearbook. Photo courtesy University Archives.
This article is part of the DrexelNow “Faces of Drexel” series honoring Drexel’s history as part of the Universitywide celebration of the 125th anniversary of Drexel’s founding in 1891.
“Drexel Dragons” — it’s alliterative, spirited and much more intimidating than “Drexel Engineers.”
Because, believe it or not, that’s what Drexel University’s athletics teams were called close to 90 years ago. Yes, really.
Did the Drexel Engineers strike fear in the hearts of college athletes across the country? Yes, but probably not because of the name. Drexel engineers don’t have claws and can’t breathe fire, after all. The Drexel Engineers name also wasn’t very representative of all of the student-athletes on the teams, which is why it was changed in 1928.
“Due to the fact that both the Engineering and Business Administration Schools are being represented on the various athletic teams of Drexel, it has been decided to call or nickname these teams, ‘The Dragons,’” reported The Triangle, then a two-year-old independent student newspaper, in an April 16, 1928 article on the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry’s football team.
A page from The Triangle's Jan. 27, 1928 issue featuring an article, second from left, referring to the "Drexel Engineers." Courtesy University Archives.
That brief quote was the first mention of the Dragons in Drexel history. Before that, Drexel athletics teams went by “the Drexelites” and “the Blue and Gold,” which was also a recent change — a few years prior, Drexel’s Athletic Association adopted blue and gold for the institute’s team colors (before that, the official colors of Drexel were actually orange and silver). Both of those names continued to be used for decades afterward, with the Drexelites eventually being dropped.
But how did Drexel go from the Engineers to the Dragons? Who hatched the idea of choosing a mystical beast like a dragon, and why? That answer is clouded in smoke — and has been lost to Drexel history.
Whatever the reason for the name, Drexel leapt into promoting its teams and students as dragons — or dragonettes, in the women’s case (that term died out in the 1980s). The 1929 Lexerd yearbook features a picture of the men’s basketball team with dragons proudly flying on their uniforms. That year, the students created the first mascot, simply called the Dragon, that made its debut at a pep rally; it needed repairs after marching down Chestnut Street with the crowd and being used in the game, but the mascot was used the next year, and has been ever since.
It wasn’t until 1997, however, that the Drexel Dragon got a name.
You probably know it: Mario the Magnificent. The story behind that dragon, thankfully, is very well known.
Mario got its name from Mario V. Mascioli ’45, who didn’t miss a Drexel men’s basketball game for more than 20 years. Inducted into the Drexel 100 in 1994, Mascioli served his alma mater for almost 35 years as chairman and governor emeritus on the board of governors of the Drexel Alumni Association and a member of Drexel’s board of trustees. He passed away in 2005 at age 83.
President Constantine Papdakis, left, with Mario the Magnificent and his namesake, Mario V. Mascioli ’45, in 1997. Photo courtesy University Archives.
In addition to the cheerful dragon mascot that can be found at athletic events and campus celebrations, a different Mario the Magnificent stands tall on the corner of 33rd and Market streets — this one is a 14-foot-long, 10-foot-tall dragon sculpture weighing 4,100 pounds and standing on a 17-ton granite base. Unveiled in 2002, this Mario the Magnificent is one of the most well-known aspects of Drexel’s University City Campus, and a frequent participant in pictures and selfies taken by students and families.
Who knows, though — if Drexel’s original athletics team name had stuck, maybe the statue would have been of an engineer instead.