If it weren’t for a sneaky sports editor named George Alderton, Michigan State fans would be heading to Stater Stadium on crisp fall weekends to cheer on the Stater football team. Wearing Stater sweatshirts, they would fill the stands and pull Stater blankets around their wind-whipped shoulders. Maybe they would applaud a school mascot named Statey as he flexed his muscles and danced along to the Stater fight song.
For helping prevent this craziness, I think we can agree that Alderton deserves a big “thank you."
The story behind MSU’s almost-nickname begins in 1925, when Michigan Agricultural College changed its name to Michigan State College (MSC). By the mid-1920s, the school was offering degrees in areas other than agriculture, so along with its new name, school officials wanted a new nickname, something that would replace its current moniker, the Aggies. The Lansing State Journal, the local newspaper, held a contest to solicit ideas. Out of several entries, a winner emerged. This name, school officials hoped, would embody the school’s dynamic spirit and propel MSC from its agricultural roots into a world that valued strength and achievement.
That name was….the Staters.
That’s right, the school’s sports teams and students would be known as the Michigan Staters.
Alderton, the State Journal’s sports editor, had the same reaction to “the Staters” that you’re probably having right now. He figured the contest must have elicited at least a few names that were more exciting (and headline-friendly) than the word “state” with an “r” on the end, so he asked to see the losing entries. Among them, he found a slip of paper bearing the term “Spartans.” Alderton thought the name was a big improvement, and started using it instead of “Staters” in State Journal sports stories. Eventually, Dale Stafford, the sports reporter from Lansing Capital News, a rival newspaper, started referring to MSC athletes as “Spartans” in his stories, as did reporters from the college’s student publication. The name continued to spread, and from that point on, Michigan State’s student body and athletes have been known as the Spartans.
For more information:
Unfortunately, the new nickname led to this thing, but that's the subject for an entirely different post.