Friday, April 25, 2014

A tale of two mascots

My high school alma mater has ceased to exist.

Sort of.

The building is still there, along with the asbestos and that one science textbook that was so old it became up to date again when astronomers changed their mind about Pluto being a planet. But the name got changed a few months ago and as of yesterday's school board meeting the mascot is officially gone too.

Some people would be really sad about that, but I don't think I mind too much. You wouldn't either if you spent your teenage years as a The Dalles Wahtonka Union High School Eagle Indian. Try saying that ten times fast. How our cheerleaders won state ten years in a row when they had that to work with is beyond me.

I started high school as a The Dalles High Indian. But at the beginning of my sophomore year TDHS combined with the Wahtonka High School Eagles (Wahtonka is a Native American word for "bend in the river." At least that's what they always told us. It might actually be Chinook for "loses at football"). The adults against the merger said that there would be a lot of fistfights at the new school between students who were former rivals. Ironically, the students got along perfectly fine, at least when it came to overwhelmingly voting in the Riverhawks as their new mascot, while the arguments between alumni became so heated that the school board came up with The Dalles Wahtonka Union High School Eagle Indians as some sort of misguided attempt at compromise.

That first year every time we played anyone at sports it was pretty hard to understand the announcers through the laughter every time they tried to refer to our team. By the end of the year the school board decided to drop the word "union" from the school name. It may have been an attempt to bring our moniker down from fourteen syllables to a much more reasonable twelve. Or it might have been because some of our rivals discovered if you tried to pronounce the TDWUHS on our uniforms you got the word "wuss."

Our salvation from trying to write cheers that somehow rhymed with Wahtonka came from an unlikely source. When the principal announced we would all be attending a mandatory pro-abstinence assembly we thought it was phase two of the school board's apparent work on a dissertation titled "Mass Humiliation's Effects on Student Populations." But the presenter turned out to be more stand up comic than health teacher. I don't know how much of an impact he made on the whole sex thing, but he did leave behind an important legacy when in the middle of the presentation he stumbled over our school's name and asked, "Do you guys mind if I just call you T-Dub?"

So we became T-Dub. And the Eagle Indian mascot, while still the school's officially sanctioned nickname, slowly became a relic used by out of town newspapers and tourists who asked "What the heck is an Eagle Indian?" (Don't ask us. If we knew we would have dressed up as one for homecoming).

This year the school board decided the word "Wahtonka" should go the way of  "union" in the name of the school (Following this pattern, I vote the next word to be dropped should be Dalles. The High School has a nice ring to it). And then the state decided it should be illegal to have Native American mascots. They later said you can use a specific tribe name, a la the Florida Seminoles, if you get permission from the tribe, but since there is no Tribe of the Eagle Indians, The Dalles was out of luck.

You would think the school board and administration would have at that point said "Hey we wouldn't be in this mess if we had listened to the students during the merger, so let's just have another vote now." But they didn't at first. Thus ensued an epic battle in which Cole and other leadership students almost lost the now ten-year-old fight for the Riverhawks but proved, in the end, more resourceful and persuasive than their oldest siblings. The Dalles Riverhawks it is.

What is a Riverhawk, you say? It's a bird. The same class of bird as the Seahawk, the class scientists call "It doesn't exactly technically exist," but whatever. Neither do Eagle Indians.