CARY, N.C. -- Last year, it was, “Hotbread!”, and now it’s, “Cuc it!”
There’s no doubt that Tampa has the very best rallying cries around, even if they do need a little explaining to fully understand. They’re inside jokes, a way to keep the team and their fans loose and into the game.
Honestly, that doesn’t seem to take much doing. J.D. Urso, head coach Joe Urso’s son, not into the game? You’ve got to be kidding. There’s virtually no chance of that ever happening. He yells during games and displays the signs he’s made, and the Tampa faithful respond enthusiastically.
J.D.’s mom, Julie, is right there with him.
When the Spartans won it all in 2013, the team brought a toaster into the dugout. Try real hard, and it was possible to smell the toast from the stands.
And then there’s, “Cuc it!” And again, there’s a story behind it.
“This group, when you talk about some of the success that we have, there’s a lot of expectations here off the field,” said Joe Urso. “Every year, we go out and we furnish homes for the poor. That’s where Ben Johnson, one of our guys, found this gnome when they were out furnishing homes. He asked the company if we could have the gnome.”
So, the gnome’s name is Cuc, right? Nope. It’s Jefe Herschel, and the ceramic figurine has found its way into the dugout for every game this year. He was there during Tampa’s victory against Lander on Wednesday, firmly affixed with round after round of medical tape to a post right next to Urso’s position at the end of the bench.
Here’s where the cuc comes in. The Spartans traveled to Cuba January 12-19 as part of a cultural exchange program. They played exhibition games against teams such as the Industriales Blue Lions, Mayabeque Hurricanes and Matanzas Baseball Team.
Tampa was a perfect 3-0 in the games against Cuban competition, but it was the conditions to which the team was exposed that seemed to make the biggest impression. As silly as "Cuc it!" may seem to outsiders, there’s actually a quite serious intent behind it.
“When you have this in the back of your mind, when it is hot, when you’re having to do those extra swings or extra weight-lifting, it makes it a little bit easier to push through those tough times,” said Urso. “We go into Cuba for our trip in January, and these guys see poverty and they see a Communist country and how people are treated.
“They come back with that same attitude of, 'Wow. How lucky we are to live in the United States. How lucky we are to have what we have.' So many of us complain for the wrong reasons. You see these things all having a major effect on these kids, in a very positive way, to work even harder for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Like Americans would call a dollar a "buck," Cubans call their convertible pesos a “cuc” -- pronounced “kook.” Many of the players brought the currency home from Cuba as souvenirs, and they’ve become another in a long line of Spartan traditions.
“They have these dollar coins they brought back, and after every win, they deposit a cuc into the gnome which they’ve nicknamed, ‘Jefe Herschel,’ which is a whole other story,” continued Urso with a laugh. “After every win, they deposit this dollar coin into Jefe Herschel, the gnome.”
Jefe Herschel had cucs inserted after each of the team’s three wins in Cuba, after each of its astounding 51 regular-season victories and following victories here in the DII Championships against Chico State and Lander.
What happens to the money is part of the story, too.
“There’s $56 in there right now,” said Urso. “Our tour guide in Cuba makes $17 a month, so their plan is to send this to the tour guide.”
Turns out, "Cuc it!" is not just an inside joke. It’s actually also a cause, just like the homes the team helps build for the homeless or Nathan Maxwell, the young man suffering from a brain tumor it befriended this year.