Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fans spar in USA TODAY high school mascot competition March 16, 2013

A gym at Wabasso High School, home of the Rabbits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A gym at Wabasso High School, home of the Rabbits and my alma mater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here simply to illustrate sports and not directly connected to the mascot competition.

I’M NOT SURPRISED, not at all, that a USA TODAY sponsored competition to find “the best” high school mascot in the nation has turned into a verbal sparring match between fans of the Winona (MN.) Winhawks and the Centralia (ILL.) Orphans.

The issue apparently started when USA TODAY’s online voting site crashed on Thursday, the final day of the competition.

From what I can gather, the Orphans held a strong lead early on with the Winhawks implementing a strategic last-minute game plan in an attempt to claim the Region 4 title.

Now these high school sports fans are accusing each other of poor sportsmanship, unfair voting tactics and more, while others are calling for a boycott of USA TODAY’s contest. As of Saturday morning, commenters had posted 546 comments on the Region 4 voting page, well beyond any other region. Region 6, the next closest with the top two mascots separated by less than 3,000 votes, had about half the comments.

Region 4 has also racked up the most votes at nearly 7.9 million, compared to the second nearest vote total of almost 4.5 million in Region 5. The vote and comment totals in Region 4 show you just how heated this competition has become between the Minnesota and Illinois teams.

I read only a sampling of the comments from each region, enough to surmise that codes of good sportsmanship have been replaced by name-calling and a whole lot of negativity, especially between Winhawks and Orphans supporters. I wonder if the USA TODAY high school sports staff wishes they’d never created this competition.

In a special announcement posted on the contest website, USA TODAY extended the voting period, which resumes at 3 p.m. ET Monday, March 18, and ends at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 20.

That decision is not sitting well with Orphans fans, based on comments posted on the Region 4 voting page. Online stats show the Illinois team leading with 36.937 percent (4,071,313) and the Winhawks trailing with 34.436 percent (3,795,630) of the votes. Some Orphans supporters are accusing USA TODAY of changing the game rules because of complaints from Winhawks fans.

True or not, I don’t know. But here’s USA TODAY’s official stance.

Wow! When you all turn out to support your mascot, you can really bring the site to a crawl. Because we want to make sure that everyone who wants to vote can vote, we don’t want any technical difficulties to get in the way. So the regional round of the USA TODAY High School Sports’ Best Mascot competition will resume…

I expect the war of words will resume, too, on Monday.

Does any of this surprise you? Not me. Sadly.

Two thousand dollars and a national title are at stake here. But now, with all the controversy and unsportsmanlike conduct surrounding this contest, would you really want your mascot to win?


Here are the current standings, top two in each region, as of Saturday:

Region 1:

  • Morse Shipbuilders of Bath, ME., 45.657 percent, 1,092,775 votes
  • Kingswood Oxford Wyverns of West Hartford, CT., 45.23 percent, 1,082,570 votes

Region 2:

  • Key Obezags of Annapolis, MD., 37.187 percent, 492,084 votes
  • Northampton Konkrete Kids of Northampton, PA., 21.007 percent, 277,976 votes

Region 3:

  • Key West Conchs of Key West, FL., 34.032 percent, 504,060 votes
  • St. Mary’s Episcopal School Turkeys of Memphis, TN., 33.462 percent, 495,609 votes

Region 4:

  • Centralia Orphans of Centralia, ILL., 36.937 percent, 4,071,313 votes
  • Winona Winhawks of Winona, MN., 34.436 percent, 3,795,630 votes

Region 5:

  • Pratt Greenbacks of Pratt, KS., 45.276 percent, 2,250,804 votes
  • Chinook Sugarbeeters of Chinook, MT., 44.677 percent, 2,221,011 votes

Region 6:

  • Carbon Dinos of Price, UT., 40.063 percent, 1,504,129 votes
  • Oregon Episcopal Aardvarks of Portland, OR., 39.987 percent, 1,501,267 votes

CLICK HERE AND HERE to read my first two posts on this contest. To vote in the USA TODAY “best” high school mascot competition, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling