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1958 MSU Hotel School Alumnus, William Clithero, the First and Original Sparty,
the Mascot of Michigan State University

East Lansing -- April 2, 2009 -  In an article in MSU’s The State News on February 18, 2009, the very first “Sparty” cleared the historical air, and recounted exactly how the most famous mascot on the planet (or at least the Big Ten!) was born. 

Alumnus of the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (the forerunner of The School of Hospitality Business) William Clithero (BA ’58) wore the very first Sparty costume in 1955 at a pep rally at Jenison Field House before the Notre Dame game.  The papier-mâché Spartan head was made by his fraternity brothers, Donald Pais and Kenneth Roberts, and was six feet tall and weighed more than sixty pounds.  The 6-foot-4 and 200 pound Clithero was a perfect fit for the larger than life mascot costume.

By the 1956 Rose Bowl game, papier-mâché had been replaced by fiberglass, and though Bill could not attend the bowl game, he did play the role of Sparty for the following two years.  “I got to go with them (the Spartan Marching Band) – with my giant head,” explains Bill in The State News.  “It sounds dumb, but this is how Sparty was introduced to the Big Ten.  Everywhere we went, we went by train.  Sparty’s head got shipped with the band instruments.”

In fact, at an away game against Minnesota, the weather was so bad that band instruments could not be used.   ABC officials who were broadcasting the game asked that Sparty provide some half time entertainment instead, and Bill obligingly allowed the Minnesota Gopher to chase him into the end zone where Minnesota students pelted him with hundreds of snowballs.  Bill remembers his mother phoning him after the game to make sure he was alright.  “It felt like my head was inside of a drum,” says Bill. 

“We are proud that the very first Sparty is one of our alumni,” says Dr. Ron Cichy (BA ’72, MBA ‘77), director and professor in The School.  “The State News story was a thrill for us, because our School’s position is: The First, The Original, and STILL The Leader.  Well, now we know that Bill, our graduate, is The First, The Original, and STILL Sparty!”

As for the other aspects of his college career, Bill admits to having a lot of fun, even in some of his hotel management classes.   He recalls a class during one of his spring quarters which called for students to “taste and grade bowls of ice cream” produced by MSU. 

William Clithero in MSU’s first Sparty costume
Photo courtesy of the 1956 MSU Wolverine
Bill also chuckled about his “poultry” class, in which students wearing aprons and gloves had to draw live turkeys from a crate, and, in Bill’s words, “hang them, slit their throats, steam the feathers off, and field dress them.”  It is hard to envision current students taking any classes that even come close to something of that sort, but it is even harder to imagine a scene where Alumna and Wall of Fame Class of Developers Zoe Slagle (BA ’59) and one of Bill’s classmates, successfully grabbing her turkey which then proceeded to drag Zoe around the room before she could get it under control.  “Zoe couldn’t have weighed much more than that turkey,” Bill laughs.

In a more serious vein, Bill explains that decision to attend what was at the time called the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRI) was based on his cousin.  “I was very close to my cousin, who at the time was secretary to the general manager at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago.  She told me that hospitality was an up and coming industry.  She also said that because I loved to play cards I should consider moving to Las Vegas with my degree and start my career there.”

As it turns out, Bill’s first position after graduating was with a small private club in Chikaming, MI, south of St. Joseph.  He supplied the restaurant and bar, managed the profits from those areas, and maintained the nine-room lodge and 9-hole golf course.  As Bill tells it, however, “I noticed that those who had time to golf in the afternoon weren’t running clubs and restaurants.  They were insurance agents!”  He began to contact insurance agencies, and went on to enjoy a highly successful, 50-year career with Metropolitan Life and Aetna insurance agencies.

“What that tells me,” says Bill, “is that the degree I earned in HRI is very flexible.  It’s a well-rounded business degree, which allowed me to pursue other options.”

The same is true today.  “Of course our School is tied to the hospitality industry,” says Director of Academic Programs Dean James Rainey.  “But our curriculum can also take students in other directions, preparing them for leadership roles in a number of areas.”

Whatever careers they choose, graduates of The School can be proud of their beloved mascot, and even more proud that the tradition began with a fellow alumnus:  The First, The Original, and STILL Sparty!

About The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University
Recognized as the top-ranked hospitality business school in the world, The School celebrates its 82nd year anniversary in 2009.   The School has more than 9,000 graduates worldwide, including a number of leading academicians and industry executives, who have earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees.  Founded in 1927, the mission of The School is to continually enhance The School's leadership position in hospitality business education through teaching, research, and service.  The School offers an exceptionally well-crafted curriculum, taught by innovative professors who are leading textbook authors, sought-after consultants, and respected researchers.  The mission of The School of Hospitality Business Alumni Association is to provide active leadership in support of the mission of The School of Hospitality Business through membership participation, image enhancement, financial commitment, and promotion of synergies among students, faculty, alumni, and friends.  The First, The Original, and STILL The Leader. . . The School of Hospitality Business.  For more information, please visit


The School of Hospitality Business
232 Eppley Center
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824
Tele: 517.353.9211




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