The popular mascot thread is still kicking:
I grew up in North Dakota, where there is a long history of sports teams with controversial sports mascots. Up until the 1970s, the mascot for Dickinson State University was the Savages (the school is 60 miles from an Indian reservation) and every year a white female student and a white male student would be elected homecoming chief and princess and don costumes to dress the part. The current mascot for the school’s men’s teams is Blue Hawks and the women’s teams are called the Blue Chicks. Today there is a small amount of controversy about the nickname of the public high school in Dickinson as the mascot for Dickinson High School is the Midgets.
For many years the mascot of Wahpeton High School was the Wops. That nickname got changed to the Huskies. I think it lasted as long as it did simply because there are so few people of Italian extraction in the state.
The mascot controversy at the University of North Dakota got a lot of national press. The Fighting Sioux nickname has been officially retired and the school has no mascot at this time until tempers cool and a new one can be introduced (I think the Fighting Frackers would be a good option). Things got really ugly in the state and the legislature got involved and it even ended up on a statewide ballot. Some people felt so strongly about the Fighting Sioux mascot that they wanted to keep it even if it meant the school could not compete in NCAA tournaments. It also did not help that one of the two Sioux tribes in the state voted to support/approve the use of the Sioux nickname … while the tribal council of the other Sioux tribe never permitted the members to vote.
Unfortunately for UND, the controversy overshadowed and diminished the really good work and huge investment the school has made in Native American higher education.
All this mascot talk got me thinking again about a very tearful, bitter school board meeting I attended with hundreds of my fellow students in 1986 in an effort to keep our principal and a group of evangelical Christian parents from changing our school mascot from The Diablos to The Bulldogs.
When Mission Viejo High School in southern California was founded in 1966, it’s mascot was The Diablo, aka “Pablo the Diablo.” I don’t really remember anyone ever referring to our mascot by its appended Spanish first name, especially since the color guard mascot at the time was always a girl dressed in a devil’s outfit . I definitely don’t remember anyone being offended by the ethnic/cultural association of naming the school’s mascot devil Pablo. But as evangelical Christians began to assert themselves in the local political and educational institutions of Mission Viejo at the time, the Diablo mascot became a primary target of their ire.
The student body was divided as parents and kids took sides in what became a city-wide controversy. I was on the pro-Diablo side, and for me personally it became friend against friend after my best friend started dating a born-again girl and he “converted” to maintain the relationship (she also convinced him to get a perm, but that’s another story). I remember the pro-Diablo student leaders speaking passionately about tradition and history at the school board meeting, but our side was ultimately outvoted. The pro-Diablo forces lost and the school’s mascot was changed to the Bulldogs.
I graduated in 1987 and never looked back and had assumed that the mascot remained the Bulldog ever since. The thread on mascots prompted me to do a little research and I discovered that the battle raged on and still continues today. The student body fought back in 1993 and after a campus-wide vote rechristened the school’s mascot as the Diablo (though the current cartoonish incarnation is a lot different than the illustrations I remember of our Diablo, who sported a Van Dyke and his eyes had a certain sinister gleam). Interestingly enough, the anti-Diablo forces in 1993 cited the separation of church and state as an argument against the mascot:
Bev Stephenson, a former school employee whose daughter graduated from Mission Viejo High last year, opposes the devil logo and fears an uproar from the local Christian community if a devil mascot wins–even a cute, smiling one. “We’re talking about the separation of church and state,” Stephenson said Tuesday. “We don’t put the Ayatollah Khomeini out there. We don’t put Jesus on the flag. We don’t use the devil either. There are many other positive depictions we can use.”
The mascot remains The Diablo at present although this rather lonely blog post suggests there are still those hoping to change it back:
Many parents and students have voiced concern over the mascot as the Diablos; saying that it is the one thing that bothers them about this High School. Today’s society is full of dark and evil messages that bring our children down. Let’s build our kids up and empower them with a Unified Mascot Change.
Almost defiantly, it seems to me now, the school website offers a “A Tour the Campus with Pablo the Diablo” page. I’m glad that subsequent students were able to get the mascot changed back after my classes failure to keep it. For me, the experience marked the first time I had ever encountered the political will of the evangelical Christian community and as I reflect on it now, the battle over the Diablo, as localized as it was, seems a harbinger of the cultural war that’s been waging ever since on a national level. I wonder how many of the Christian fans who oppose changing the mascot of the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins would be in favor of changing either mascot to the Cleveland Satans or the Washington Devils?