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When Kylee Davis arrived at Beacon College in the fall of 2020, she didn’t immediately connect with the school’s nickname and mascot.

It wasn’t that she had anything against the NaviGator, a nod to the school’s reputation as a guiding force for students with learning differences.

But she did not think it would necessarily strike fear into opposing teams.

Or, frankly, instill pride this year in the sports program, a newfound need after Beacon College’s acceptance into the United States Collegiate Athletics Association in late March.

“The NaviGator was great but it wasn’t tough enough for us athletes,” said Davis, 21, team captain and a guard on Beacon’s women’s basketball team. “We felt it didn’t show who we are at sports. It was a little too soft for an athletics program.”

So, the next time you hear Davis and her team called onto the court, they will do so under a different name: The Beacon College Blazers, one of about 70 recognized sports programs in the USCAA.

The school announced the new nickname on Aug. 21.

In September 2022, Beacon College President George Hagerty put together a task force that included students and fitness and athletic administrators.

Having a mascot “has an enormous, lasting impact on a college,” said Brent Betit, Beacon College chief operating officer, who chaired the task force. “It becomes a distinctive, unique identifier of the college, one that often recalls or engenders pride, feelings of positivity, wonderful remembrances and community spirit.”

Betit points to the University of Alabama’s “Roll Tide” chant as an example.

The task force met several times during the fall and spring.

Tony Wrice, head coach of cross country, golf and tennis, initially proposed the “Blazers” nickname.

Initially, the response was lukewarm because the immediate thought when the athletes heard “blazer” went to the term for a sports jacket, Davis said, with a laugh.

But, upon doing a little research and finding that it is also a strong breed of a workhorse, she came on board.

“When you come out and say your mascot, you want to feel proud of it,” said Davis, who has ADHD, as well as an auditory processing disorder. “You want something that the rest of the school can rally behind and be proud of, too.”

The “NaviGator” nickname and mascot ended up perhaps with a shorter shelf life than expected.

The name emerged from a contest that students voted in eight years ago.

However, once the school decided to launch its sports program, with cross country and men’s and women’s basketball as its first sports, the decision was made to update the name.

As the formal sports programs’ debuts approached, students wanted to update the school’s mascot from NaviGator.

Some didn’t like it. Others just wanted something more intimidating.

“This mascot will be taken a lot more seriously with new recruits,” said Jake Borowski, 24, a senior point guard on the men’s basketball team. “It’s something we can be proud of. I get the NaviGator but we wanted, as students, something to be fierce and something we can be prideful of to represent the students.”

The team mascot discussion certainly doesn’t happen that often in intercollegiate sports.

Most schools’ identities revolve around a mascot so much that talk of a change often gets frowned upon.

However, Beacon College’s focus upon students with learning differences means a cause they can rally around and embrace becomes just as much about sports as it was about the student body’s identity, Borowski said.

“We don’t want to be recognized as kids with learning differences, but we know that’s what the school tends to,” said Borowski, who has ADHD. “But, just like University of Central Florida has its knight, the blazer gives us an identity we can be proud of.”

When Davis arrived at Beacon College in 2020 during the COVID pandemic, there was no sports program other than a few intramural teams.

Davis worried that not having that outlet could detract from the experience for those with ADHD and other learning differences.

The effort won’t just mean more competition for Beacon College students.

“Sports helps with regulating emotions,” she said. “A lot of these students don’t have the social capabilities that most people have but having sports allows them to meet new people and make more friends.”

Ever since the formal sports program’s introductions, Davis said she has seen a lot more people talking about it and taking pride in the school’s sports programs.

“When they think about us as Blazers now, it just gives us more of that little ‘oomph,’” she said.

Davis said it was important for the administration to support a student-led effort.

That backing energized students, she said.

For Gabe Watson, director of fitness and athletics, seeing the response from the students convinced him that giving them that authority meant more to the students than he had expected.

“I started to understand how important it was to them,” Watson said. “You forget, sometimes, how invested they are in it.”