March Madness Mascots & Nicknames 101: What Are Gaels?

March Madness Mascots & Nicknames 101: What Are Gaels?
  • Tanya Ray Fox

While the “Gaels” nickname is not a popular one among United States colleges, the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will feature two teams that refer to themselves as such. And since it’s like that you’ll get them confused, we figured now would be a good time to sort out which school is which – and what exactly a Gael is anyway.

So in the interest of giving you the best possible shot at impressing your friends with obscure college nickname knowledge this weekend, here is a quick Mascots 101 class on the Gaels – and where/when you’ll see them during March Madness.

Two colleges in the United States use the Gaels nickname.

*Both will play in the 2017 NCAA Tournament

  • Iona College*
  • Saint Mary’s College of California*

What does “Gael” mean?

In the broadest sense, which is applicable in this situation, Gaels are traditionally known as the ethnic group associated with the Gaelic languages of Ireland and Scotland.

Iona College was founded by the Congregation of Christian Brothers and is named for the island off the western coast of Scotland where their Gaelic monastery was located.

Saint Mary’s came to be called the Gaels in a more roundabout way. The school itself doesn’t have distinctly Gaelic ties, so a 1992 Sports Illustrated piece by Ron Fimrite details how the school adopted the nickname. Back in 1926, the St. Mary’s football team, which consisted of many children of Irish immigrants, beat the might California team for the first time – prompting sports writer Pat Frayne of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin to dub them the Galloping Gaels. The nickname has stuck ever since.

Where to see the Gaels in this year’s tournament:

Iona is the No. 14 seed in the Midwest region and will play No. 3 Oregon in the first round of tournament on Friday 2p ET on TBS. Saint Mary’s is the No. 7 seed in the West region and will play No. 10 VCU on Thursday at 7:20p ET.

What mascot do teams nicknamed the Gaels use?

Iona’s mascot is a presumably Gaelic man named Killian. Saint Mary’s is represented by a cartoonish Irish warrior, who replaced the previous knight in shining armor that came to be known as Gael Force One.

Tanya Ray Fox

Tanya Ray Fox is a sportswriter and producer who has worked for nearly 7 years in both digital and television sports media. She has previously worked in TV production experience for Comcast SportsNet New England, NFL Network and Time Warner Cable Sports. In addition to her work for SportsGrid and appearances on the affiliated FNTSY Sports Network, she is also a contributor for USA Today's Rams Wire.