The mental_floss Guide to the NCAAs (The West)

We may not be much help in filling out your bracket. But throughout this week we’re going to bring you a _flossy take on March Madness: one interesting fact about each of the 68 teams in the tournament field. Today we'll wrap things up with the West region.

(1) Duke has turned out numerous productive NBA players, but the non-athlete grads have done pretty well for themselves, too. Blue Devil alums include Richard Nixon (Law School), Melinda Gates, Charlie Rose, Judy Woodruff, Ron Paul (Med School) and mental_floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur. Also, Ken Jeong of The Hangover and Community.

(16) Hampton’s campus in southeastern Virginia is home to the Emancipation Oak, which was named one of the 10 Great Trees of the World by the National Geographic Society. In 1861, Mary Peake Smith of the American Missionary Association taught newly freed slaves under the oak. The slaves had found refuge at nearby Fort Monroe after fleeing Confederate-held Norfolk County. Two years later, the local African-American community gathered under the tree to hear the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.
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(8) Michigan was not nicknamed the Wolverine State because a large number of the largest member of the weasel family roamed within its borders.

In fact, the first verified sighting of a wolverine in Michigan wasn’t until 2004. Instead, the state nickname may date back to a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan in 1803 known as the Toledo War. It’s unclear whether the Ohioans applied the nickname to their rivals as a derogatory term or if Michiganders coined it themselves as a source of pride. Wolverines were well known as a fierce and ornery species that would kill much larger prey. Regardless, Michigan would become known as the Wolverine State and the University of Michigan adopted the nickname for its athletic teams.

(9) Tennessee's nickname dates back to the War of 1812. President Madison asked Andrew Jackson to find 1500 fellow Tennesseans to voluntarily help him fight the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Later, during the Mexican War, Tennessee’s governor put out a call for 2800 men, but 30,000 volunteers showed up. All of this voluntary participation earned the state, and later its biggest college, a nickname.
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(5) Arizona’s colors used to be sage green and silver, representing the state’s sage bush and its mining history. When a school newspaper writer suggested the color combo was unable to “produce a decorative college pin, flag or varsity sweater,” a committee voted to change the colors to the red and blue we know today. (Some say the school got an amazing price break for purchasing athletic jerseys with common colors.)

(12) Memphis will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year after being founded as the West Tennessee State Normal School in 1912. The school has changed its name several times since then, most recently from Memphis State University to the University of Memphis in 1994.
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(4) Texas has French-American architect Paul Philippe Cret to thank for the 307-foot Beaux-Art Main Building, better known as The Tower, that defines the Austin campus. The tower features a carillon of 56 bells that the resident carilloneurs play songs with three times a week. Cret, who was commissioned by the university’s regents to design the master plan for campus, was the head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 30 years after honing his design skills in his native France.

(13) Oakland University sits on what was originally a massive estate owned by Matilda Dodge Wilson, the widow of auto magnate John Francis Dodge. While the land itself was a nice gift, it included the Tudor revival mansion Meadow Brook Hall. Not only is the house still loaded with the Wilsons’ amazing art collection that includes everything from Gainsboroughs to Van Dycks, it also hosts one of the world’s priciest collector car shows each year.

Still not enough to impress you? Meadow Brook is also a celebrity wedding destination. Eminem remarried ex-wife Kim Mathers on the grounds in 2006 – the reunion only lasted a couple of months - and NBA forward Shane Battier tied the knot in the hall in 2004.
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(6) Cincinnati alumni and faculty have been pioneers in many fields, but the university also has a spot in the annals of on-campus fast-food history. McDonald’s opened its first-ever collegiate outpost in Cincinnati’s Tangeman University Center on October 2, 1973. In a development that’s sure to surprise no one who’s ever been around cash-strapped, perpetually hungry college kids, the outlet soon became the largest McDonald’s in the world according to UC Magazine.

(11) Missouri adopted the Tiger nickname in 1890 to honor a local Civil War militia called The Missouri Tigers. According to the school's website, Mizzou originally had two tiger mascots, a male and a female, but neither had a specific identity. In a 1984 name-the-mascot contest, the tiger became Truman—after the Missouri-born former president.
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(3) UConn has a huge edge when it comes to recruiting students who prefer to consume their frozen dairy treats on a grand scale; the school’s Winter Weekend festivities include the One Ton Sundae. According to a story in the school’s Daily Campus, the tradition began in 1978 when a group of students from the Student Union Board of Governors pulled a boat out of a nearby lake, cleaned up the inside, and proceeded to fill it with “literally a ton of ice cream” for the student body to share. The group still sponsors the annual event. Students and non-students pay a buck or two for a plastic bucket that they can fill with ice cream from the massive boat and slather with toppings. 

(14) Bucknell may or may not be able to recreate the tournament magic it used to pull off a stunning upset of Kansas in 2005, but the Bison athletic department will always have one boast to fall back on: it churned out one of the finest pitchers ever to play baseball. Christy Mathewson won 373 games in the Majors and was one of the Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees in 1936. Before he hit the big leagues, the Christian Gentleman – that was his terrific nickname – played baseball and football at Bucknell. (He was a darn good football player, too; he made the All American team as a drop kicker in 1900.) Bucknell’s football team still plays its home games in Christy Mathewson – Memorial Stadium.
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(7) Temple was founded in 1884 as a night school, and people jokingly referred to its students as “night owls.” When the school started fielding teams, it was only natural to call them the Owls.

(10) Penn State is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2001, which would be reason to celebrate in Happy Valley if such a place existed. As the school’s website explains, “The University Park campus and the community of State College are located in the Nittany Valley, near its confluence with Penns Valley. The origin of the name Happy Valley as applied to this location is murky.” Like many nicknames, the Happy Valley moniker was most likely fueled by sports writers and broadcasters.
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(2) San Diego State adopted purple and gold as its official colors after the San Diego Normal School merged with San Diego Junior College in 1921. The color scheme was a poor choice, as purple and gold also happened to be the colors of nearby St. Augustine High School and conference rival Whittier College. A movement to change the school’s colors was launched and students voted on replacement options in 1927. Scarlet and black beat out purple and gold by a vote of 346-201.

(15) Northern Colorado’s teams are the Bears, and while the mascot may not be all that unusual, its history is. In 1914 Alaska’s Commissioner of Education, alum Andrew Thompson, gave Northern Colorado a real Native American totem pole as a gift. A bear sat atop the totem pole, so the school switched its mascot from the Teachers to the Bears. “Totem Teddy” became a campus landmark over the years.

There was just one tiny problem, though; the totem really belonged to the Tlingit people of Angoon, Alaska. In 2003 the school returned to totem to its rightful owners under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990.

Ethan Trex, Stacy Conradt, Meg Evans and Jason English also contributed to today's bracket. See Also: The Southwest, The Southeast and The East.

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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