Fauxback: History of the Sawyers and how GVSU’s newest event came together

Courtesy / gvsulakers.com

Courtesy / gvsulakers.com

Kellen Voss

When looking at the GVSU athletic schedule, there are not a ton of events that get students and fans from all across Michigan to support the Grand Valley State Lakers. In the fall, there is always a traditional homecoming game, but there has never been a similar event in the winter…

… Until now. In an effort to draw out students, alumni, faculty and fans, Deputy Director of Athletics Doug Lipinski and GVSU Atheltics are holding a ‘Fauxback’ on Saturday, Feb. 23. For one day only, the Lakers will become the Sawyers, a proposed mascot for the university in 1969, and both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will sport new uniforms and warm-up shirts to match with the event. 

For a special event like this to take place, it can’t just be planned and executed in eight weeks. Lipinski and various others in the athletic department have been tossing this idea around for three years and are excited to see it finally come into fruition and promote the history of what could have been.

“We have an interesting story here at Grand Valley related to how it was developed back in the day and what a Laker is. We don’t have too much nautical stuff on campus, so it doesn’t overtly hit you on a campus as a student, unlike maybe the Spartans which is a tough guy going to battle,” Lipinski said. “Grand Rapids used to be called furniture city, the logging community in west Michigan was big, there was a mill right here on the Grand River and you have to have lumber to make furniture. This is all a way to have fun for us. We don’t have anything in the winter semester, we essentially want to make this a winter homecoming.”

Lipinski stresses that students don’t have to be fans of basketball to participate in the event, as almost every student on campus has flannel to wear and Sawyer merchandise featuring the Lumberjack-like mascot are being sold both through the Laker store and through the GVSU athletics page.

Included with the event will be an opportunity for incoming fans to enjoy a beer garden, where they will get a chance to sample craft beer from all around Michigan. The garden will open at 10 a.m. and $25 can buy a 21+ fan three drink tickets, a Sawyers Hat and a ticket to see both Laker teams in action. A festivital like this is not planned overnight either, as Lipinski explains.

“There’s some logistical stuff, but it’s not that difficult. We rent a tent, get approval from the university who have been so helpful, we’ll have security there and people checking to make sure we’re only serving drinks to those 21 and up,” Lipinski said. “It will a heated, enclosed tent and it’s limited to 200 tickets, so it’s very controllable. We have our checks and balances in place. It’s not tailgating, so it’s much easier for us from a control mechanism.”

Working with Ricabaugh Graphics out of Columbus, Ohio, Lipinski was able to help design the unique checkered jerseys for the event and would love to see students come out as a chance for them to de-stress from school and have fun for a couple hours.

“It’s a fake throwback, but it’s fun. You have to put a lot of education into it, explain what it is, why are we doing this and, once you get through that, you can build things around it.” Lipinski said. “It’s very light. Nowadays, our students are under a lot of pressure. The world has changed, mental health issues are up over the past few years. This is a de-stressor; something light and easy for students to walk across their dorm come over for a couple hours, throw a flannel on, have some fun, let’s do it because we want our students to enjoy it.”

In future years, Lipinski would love to see this event expand, with a possible concert and an expanded beer garden. Ultimately, he wants to give the students a chance to gather and have fun while supporting GVSU Athletics.

“I think it would be awesome if it became a winter homecoming. There are a lot of creative people on campus. Get multiple offices involved – student life and other folks — and in the future, maybe there’s performances from GVSU students, and it makes sense to wear flannel in the winter,” Lipinski said. “I think it’s something we can add on to from a retention standpoint. As long as there’s not a state of emergency, we’re going to have a basketball game inside where it’s climate controlled, why not have some fun with it?”