March Mascot Madness
The onset of the 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this past week affords an appropriate occasion to again consider the phenomenon of sports mascots.
Sadly, Most school sports mascots are dreadfully overused and mundane. The Wildcats of Diamond High School (Diamond, MO), as displayed on the back of DrHGuy’s letter jacket, is especially common. In a survey of high schools in Washington State, USA Today found “Wildcats” the 6th most common (“Eagles” were #1).
AllanShowalter.com, as readers might anticipate, is more taken by the offbeat team representatives. Who wouldn’t love to see a game between the Huskers and the Jerkers?
Yep, around these parts, we are intrigued not by Lions and Tigers but by the Banana Slugs that represent the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Evergreen State College (Olympia Washington) Geoducks (pronounced gooey-ducks), the latter named after local clams with a long large tube protruding from the shell, the appearance of which is, I suspect, the inspiration for the school’s motto: Omnia Extares, which is officially translated from the Latin as “Let it all hang out.”
We are impressed that not only is the Doane Stuart School (Albany, New York) is represented by the Thunder Chicken but also that, apparently in an effort to distinguish themselves from all the other Thunder Chicken teams, this mascot intimidates opponents at games by playing the bagpipes. (“Phooey, this is the wrong Thunder Chicken. I wanted the Bagpipe-Playing Thunder Chicken”)
From poultry, we segue into the realm of mascots commemorating farm labor. Cobden, Illinois High School is the home of the Appleknockers, a name which apparently has to do with picking apples from the local orchards. Hoopeston, Illinois Area High School counters with the Cornjerkers.1 Other agrarian teams include the Lewisville, Texas High School Fighting Farmers, the North-East Pennsylvania School District Grape Pickers, the Sugar Beeters from Chinook, Montana High School, the Haybalers of San Benito High School (Hollister, California), the Cottonpickers from Robstown, Texas, and, arguably, the Lumberjack/Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin University, Nacogdoches, Texas (which is, coincidentally, also the home of what I’m told is a well regarded forestry program).
From honest labor, we whipsaw to criminal behavior. The teams of Arizona’s Yuma High School became known as the Criminals after the school began holding classes in the cellblock area and hospital of an abandoned prison. In 1913, three years after students began studies at the make-shift school, an opposing team upset about losing a football game to Yuma dubbed its players the Criminals. Four years later, the nickname was officially adopted.
And don’t get us started on Christian school mascots. An impending post is dedicated to Wheaton College’s shift to mascot more likely to “enhance our reflection of His Kingdom.” Instead, let’s end this survey with The Missionaries of Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington), a mascot which is worthy of mention if for no other reason than the traditional school cheer, which allegedly concludes with the chant:
We’re on top!
Disappointingly, no graphic is available.
A Team Named Kewpies
As the official cheer of Hickman High School in Columbia Missouri declares,
Strawberry shortcake, Gooseberry Pie
V – I – C – T – O – R – Y
Are we It?
Well I guess Yes!
We’re the Kewpies2 of
H – H – S!
That’s right – The Kewpies.
The spirit of The Kewpies is embodied in the gender-neutral, nude baby portrayed atop this post.
Further, “Kewpies” was not a name chosen ironically in the fashion of, say, the UCSC Banana Slugs. According to the Hickman High School web site,
The name Kewpie is as exclusive to Hickman as the spirit that the name suggests. The name itself dates back to 1909, when the first Kewpie was created by an Ozark resident named Rose O’Neill. The Kewpie first appeared in the Cresset [Hickman’s Yearbook] in 1914 in a dedication to the basketball team, A . . . whose loyalty to the school and to the Kewpie motto to keep smiling has won the state championship. There are several stories making the tie between the Kewpie and the old Columbia High team. The one most generally thought of as authentic is about a game in which the Kewpies were playing against with much larger players, and were described by reporters as smiling like Kewpies, even though they were being outmanned. No matter what the story, the unique name and spirit associated with the Kewpies is something that every Hickman graduate carries with him or her always.
Being called “Kewpies,” however, may have its advantages. As Hickman’s web page postulates, the name is likely to remain exclusive to them while there are multiple Wildcats, Tigers, Bears, and such emblazoned on letter jackets everywhere.
Perhaps being called “Kewpies” provides a certain motivation, not unlike, per the Johnny Cash classic, being “A Boy Named Sue.”
During my medical school days in Columbia, Hickman fielded one of the highest rated high school football teams in the country. That season, a highly successful one for the Kewpies, I had a revelation which I am now passing along because, if there is something to be learned from this exegesis on mascots, this is that lesson:
on a football team called the Kewpies
is being trounced by a football team called the Kewpies
Other Gentle Mascots
While the Kewpies are my personal favorites, there is an entire genre of gentle creatures tapped as mascots. The Fort Collins (Colorado) High School athletes, for example, are officially known as the Lambkins. And let’s not forget the brave male basketballers of Vincennes Lincoln High School, Vincennes, Indiana who proudly answer to the Alices, a mascot chosen in 1923 as a replacement for their previous name, the Pirates. During the Vincennes drive to their destiny as the 1923 state basketball champions, a local sportswriter (I can’t find the reference but I am confident that the complete translation of “a local sportswriter” is “a perpetually intoxicated local sportswriter”) began to refer to the boys basketball teams as the Alices, apparently in reference to Alice of Old Vincennes, a book by Maurice Thompson about a woman who made an American flag for George Rogers Clark when he captured Vincennes from the Brits or to Alice in Wonderland. The mascot symbol is, naturally, a large green snowman with an orange top hat. I cannot find an explanation for this although the afore-mentioned, hypothetical besotted sportswriter is my number one suspect.
Of course, one cannot fail to mention the Benson High School Bunnies (Omaha, Nebraska). I hereby admit that I have steadfastly resisted researching the history of mascot because I desperately want to believe it involves a reference to the marauding rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Other Noteworthy Mascots
Mary Baldwin College Fighting Squirrels
Cuero, Texas Gobblers
Indiana University, Purdue-Ft. Wayne Mastodons
Scottsdale Community College Artichokes
Mesquite Skeeters (Texas)
Wichita State Shockers
Northern Montana Northern Lights
Sweet Briar College Vixens
Arkansas Tech Wonderboys
Heidelberg Student Princes
Progreso, Texas Red Ants
New York University Fighting Violets
Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters
Williams College Purple Cow
Crane Golden Crane (Texas)
Columbia College Claim Jumpers
South Dakota Tech Hardrockers
Eastern Arizona Gila Monsters
Pittsburg State Gorillas
Campbell Fighting Camels
Southern Arkansas Muleriders
California Maritime Keelhaulers
Sangamon State Prairie Stars
Trinity Christian Trolls
Worcester Industrial Tech Designers
Credit Due Department: Geoduck photo =bBy The Evergreen State College – The Evergreen State College photo archives, CC BY 4.0, via Wikipedia Commons
Note: Originally posted Mar 7, 2007 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
- To prevent confusion between the Hoopeston Cornjerkers and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, keep in mind that husking is the removal of the silk and husk from the ear of corn while jerking is the action of removing the ear of corn from the cornstalk. Both corn husking and corn jerking are nasty, dirty jobs of the sort that convince one that the long hours of study and other sacrifices required to attend medical school are well worth it if earning an MD is what it takes to get one off the farm. [↩]
- Emphasis added lest the reader be misled to believe that the school teams were known as the Hickman High Strawberry Shortcakes or the Hickman High Gooseberry Pies. Whether those desserts would have been better mascots than “Kewpies” is beyond the range of this post. [↩]