Throwback Thursday August 13, 2020

In the past couple of weeks, the Montana Western family has lost two Bulldog greats, Dick Ferris and Jim Lodge. Two Hall of Famers and two men who made huge contributions during their careers as educators. In addition to those impressive credentials, the two were also members of the legendary intramural powerhouse, the Ungowas!

The word Ungowa, is an unknown or made-up word to many. But, to those who remember the Saturday matinee performances of Tarzan, the word Ungawa (please note the change of spelling) was rallying cry of Tarzan, in particular the Tarzan played by Johnny Weissmuller.

Tarzan's "ungawa" was strictly a made-up word when it first appeared in the movies. It had a multilayer meaning, but basically it was how Tarzan communicated with the animals. But by chance, it's also Swahili, with a couple of meanings, depending on inflection. "To unite" or "to join" is one translation. It also is a kind of ground grain.

On the Western Montana College (WMC) campus in the middle 1960’s, it took on legendary meaning. Dillon native and Western freshman Paul Stahl formed an intramural team with a nucleus of Dillon boys. He isn’t sure why the name Ungowa was chosen.

The logical reason could be simply the uniqueness of the name. There is also the campus legend of it being named after a mythical character. Whatever the reason, Stahl made the name WMC distinct by changing the first ‘a’ in the name to an o.’ From Ungawas to Ungowas!

The Dillon Ungowa roster in addition to Stahl included Jim Abbas, Don Campbell (in volleyball), Ed Ferris, Dick Ferris, Tim Pilgrim, Dan Shadoan, Jim Seidensticker, and in later years Pete Burwell, John Cornish and Bob Swartz. The team was rounded out by an elite group of outlanders; Bob Bennett of Deer Lodge, Steve Poole of Lima and Dick Weigand of Warm Springs, Ore.

Earlier, I described the Ungowas as an intramural powerhouse. They were always in title contention no matter what the intramural sport from 1965 to 1969. The Ungowas won two basketball titles, three volleyball titles, two billiard titles and two tennis titles. They scored their most impressive achievement by winning the very first intramural All-Sports trophy. The trophy was awarded to the top intramural team based on points won throughout the school year.

The Ungowas didn’t confine their enthusiasm to the intramural playing fields and courts. They were a loud and boisterous presence at Bulldog athletic contests. One could say they were the precursor to the Dawg Pound of today. Their chants and cheers probably still echo in opponents ears.

Legendary characters become legends not only by their exploits but also by having those exploits recorded for history. The Western Ungowas were no different. There is one tale that described the first Ungowa as a lad who enjoyed in his spare time, playing football, basketball, volleyball, softball, swimming, pool, ping-pong, horse shoes, track and tennis. He didn’t play chess because of the lack of the chess set. As he grew older, other Ungowas joined him and the team added other sports, but not chess and that is part of the legend.

We are the Ungowas, We are seven-feet tall. Ungowa! Ungowa! Ungowa!

The original post can be found on the University of Montana Western Alumni Facebook Page.