color knightheadA Knight's Tale
Redesigned logo helps usher in new era in Calvin sports

By Benjamin Buursma '00

logoAs the time-honored Calvin fieldhouse gives way to a glittering new complex devoted to athletics and its sundry studies, so, too, does an old Knight pass his lance on to a new generation.

In a development effort paralleling the construction occurring on campus, Calvin has revamped the Knight logo to energize the school’s sports brand and better capture the hearts of its students.

[Click on the Knight with the horse to read more about "Why the Knights?"]

logoOut with the old
When men’s basketball coach Kevin Vande Streek took over the men’s athletic director position in 2003, he recognized the need for an update.

“In the world that I work in, I see logos and basketball floors all the time, and the fresher ones are the ones that catch my eye,” Vande Streek said. “Some of the schools in the area have updated their logos. I think the image of what we’re trying to say and who we’re trying to be is important, and I think we want to keep up to date with everything we do—whether it’s teaching, coaching or certainly marketing.”

Due to inconsistent usage, the Calvin Knighthead was on its last legs.

“One of the problems we had was there were 17 different athletic teams using different fonts, different C’s, different Knightheads, and so weren’t matching,” said current men’s athletic director Jim Timmer. “We didn’t have anything identifiable.’”

“We just weren’t using the old Calvin logo anymore, not on uniforms or anything,” added Vande Streek. “I think it was out of date and had just run its course. I talked to fellow coaches, and they agreed, so I thought that we should do something about it. Of course, not being an artist, I didn’t know what exactly.”

What he did was start a process that would span several years and inspire a burly manila folder.

Vande Streek took it upon himself to find a new logo and entrusted his daughter-in-law and her sister with the first sketches. After some revisions, Vande Streek realized it was time to involve others.

Gary Lepsch with Kevin Vande StreekEnter Calvin’s Gary Lepsch, senior designer in the college’s marketing and communications office. According to Vande Streek, Lepsch leapt on the opportunity to build a new Knight—one portraying such descriptors as movement, energy, flow and competition.

“The first drawings pushed the edge a little bit,” said Lepsch. “They were more of something you might see in a ‘Dark Knight’ movie, with more of a modern look, and we thought, ‘Maybe that’s a little bit too far.’ Then I came back with some more traditional coats of armor and helmets.

“This final logo is simple, but has action to it. I think it works very well. It looks competitive in moving forward; it’s classic, traditional and elegant with a sports energy to it.”

logo 1959logo 1963logo 1970logo 1970

Left to right, logos from 1959 and 1963, and the two on the right are from the 1970s.

Protecting the Knight tradition
The energetic identity and youthful appeal were vital to a redesign, but Vande Streek also wanted to protect the tradition of the Knight.

“I’m a huge history buff, and one of the things I love about Calvin is its tradition as a school and its tradition of athletics, so I wanted to be very true to that,” Vande Streek said. “Once we got to a point where Gary had some drawings, we brought some other people in, because we wanted to be respectful of the tradition and not offend anyone. We didn’t take the approach of ‘We’re changing this and don’t care what anyone thinks.’ We wanted something that the alumni could be proud of, as well as the current students and athletes—and student athletes of the future.”

When Lepsch enlisted Calvin colleagues Phil de Haan, Bob Alderink, Jeff Febus and Mike VanDenend to help him forage for the history on the old logo, he discovered there really wasn’t much tradition to draw from—as far as the logo is concerned.

logo 1965The Knighthead dates back to the opening of the fieldhouse in 1965, according to Dave Tuuk, a former Calvin athletic director and professor, but the image wasn’t born of a fertile tradition. It’s not even known how the Knights moniker was adopted. Tuuk said it could have been an intrepid—or inept—reporter for The Grand Rapids Press who inspired a name change from the Calvin-ites during the 1926–27 basketball season.

With no traditional constraints to deal with on the design end, Lepsch moved forward on developing a new Knight.

“Honestly, when it came down to it, [the new Knight] came out of my imagination rather than from any actual period-style knight,” Lepsch said.

logoKnight for a new day
The primary logo features “a forward-leaning Knight holding a lance sitting atop a hard-charging horse,” according to Calvin’s Web site.

“As with any logo or brand project, this has been through many stages and revisions,” Lepsch said. “From the first pencil sketches to the ‘What if we did this?’ ideas, the development folder is an inch thick. Eventually, we got to this image, which is being met by most with a fair degree of excitement. I’m happy that they’re happy. I didn’t want to design something that comes and goes, but something that years later would look sharp and I’ll be proud that I was a part of it.”

Though it was a long process, Calvin women’s athletic director Nancy Meyer said it wasn’t one fraught with tension and holdouts for the old logo.

“There was good buy-in for Gary’s design, because we liked what we saw,” she said. “There was good feedback and a few suggestions for tweaks from people with an artistic eye.”

horseLepsch also took the Knight on the horse and developed several elements to complete the Calvin sports brand. Not only can the athletic programs use the complete charging Knight, but also the new Knighthead, new word-marks (graphic trademarks) that say “Calvin” and “Knights,” a new “C,” or a “C” with a lance through it.

In designing the new athletic word-marks, Lepsch wanted to tie in the look of the mark Calvin uses as an academic institution.

“Calvin’s word-mark is identifiable,” Lepsch said. “So I wanted something that played off that font, but that had a little edge to it. The sports one is slanted a bit and beefed up.”

Ideal timing
The unveiling of the new logo comes at a time when the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex is about to open. That was a major consideration. The Knighthead with a flowing plume is slated to adorn the middle of the basketball court when the 5,000-seat Van Noord Arena opens in January.

Athletic and Campus Store apparel featured the new logo this fall.

“I think all of our coaches are really excited about the change; our current athletes are really excited about it,” Vande Streek said. “It’s just given us a little boost of energy. To get it on some of our fall sports teams and see some T-shirts in the bookstore is really neat.

“As far as the men’s basketball team goes, our new road uniforms will feature the Knighthead on the shorts, and that’s the first time since I’ve been here that we have incorporated the school logo into our uniforms. And of course we’ll see it in the new arena when that opens in January.”             

Ben Buursma is officer of communications for Western Michigan Christian High School in Muskegon, Mich.