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Vaqueros Won, but the Broncs Are Still Fighting

Last week, "the Vaqueros" was selected as the new mascot for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. It has since proved controversial, and university and UT System leaders have responded to the criticism.

Guy Bailey, president of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Updated, Nov. 14: 

Despite objections from some South Texas residents, University of Texas System leaders are standing by the selection of the Vaqueros as the mascot of the new University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

In a joint statement on Friday, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, and Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Pedro Reyes said, "We understand that that there has been pushback to the decision and that is something we anticipated. Athletic nicknames are highly personal to many, including students and alumni, and we fully respect the fact that this is an emotional issue. However, we strongly believe it is important for UTRGV to have its own identity."

The vaquero and vaquera, they argued, "represent the tenacity, perseverance, intelligence and ambition of all who settled the Old West."

And as for UTRGV President Guy Bailey, who made the final recommendation for the mascot, they said he "is doing an exemplary job and he has our unequivocal support."

Original Story, Nov. 10: The Broncs have been busted by the Vaqueros, and a fair number of South Texas college students are none too happy about it.

Last week, Vaqueros was officially chosen as the mascot name for the nascent University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, set to open next year.  

The new university will merge the University of Texas-Pan American and the University of Texas at Brownsville. For some members of the UTPA community, Vaqueros is disturbingly unlike Broncs, which has been their school's nickname for decades.

Protests have broken out, and on Monday, UTRGV President Guy Bailey tried to quell the discord.

The new nickname, Spanish for "cowboy," was chosen because it "embodies toughness, tenacity, intelligence and perseverance," Bailey said in a statement. He did not indicate any plans to change it.

"I wanted something that was authentic to the Rio Grande Valley and that represented the spirit of South Texas," he said. "But also, I wanted to preserve a link to the Bronc — a beloved, decades-old icon of UTPA — and pay tribute to that legacy. As many people who have personally reached out to me to voice their support have said, what else would a Vaquero or Vaquera ride?"

Bailey said the new university must have "a fresh identity."

"I understand that change is challenging," he said. "And that letting go of something one holds dear is difficult. As a university, we will never forget our roots."

Even before regents signed off on Bailey's choice last week, UTPA students had been pressing to retain the Broncs. Alex Del Barrio, an alumnus of UTPA, has collected thousands of pro-Bronc signatures.  

"The fury has gotten a little wider, because not only are those that were unhappy about losing the Broncs name unhappy, but the people around the Valley — and especially the Hispanic community — are upset because of the name that was chosen and the way it was chosen," he said.

Vaqueros was not on a list of potential mascots floated by the university earlier this year — and when it was included in a survey of potential non-Bronc options, the name lost out to the most popular choice, "none of the above." 

Del Barrio said Vaqueros naysayers might be open to names other than Bronc, "so long as they are chosen the right way." 

He noted that the athletics program at UTRGV is largely being built around the UTPA program. Bailey announced last week that UTPA's athletics director, Chris King, will take over as athletics director for the new institution.

"Why do we not deserve to continue with our mascot name if everything else about our athletic history is being used for this new university?" Del Barrio said.

Disclosure: Paul Foster is a major donor to The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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