Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winona Winhawks lose to Orphans in regionals as national mascot competition advances March 21, 2013

WinhawksMINNESOTA HIGH SCHOOL sports fans, the results are in, and the Winona Winhawks are not advancing in USA TODAY‘s competition to name the country’s “best” high school mascot.

The Centralia Orphans of Centralia, Illinois, claimed the Region 4 title on Wednesday with 43.482 percent (more than 5.4 million) of the vote compared to the Winhawks’ 30.788 percent (more than 3.8 million). You can click here to view detailed Region 4 results.

Online voting for the national title begins at 11 a.m. ET today (March 21) and ends at 3 p.m. Wednesday, March 27. Click here to vote.

These regional winners are now vying for prizes ranging from $100 – $2,000 for their high school’s athletic departments:

  • Region 1: Kingswood Oxford Wyverns of West Hartford, Connecticut
  • Region 2: Key Obezags of Annapolis, Maryland
  • Region 3: St. Mary’s Episcopal School Turkeys of Memphis, Tennessee
  • Region 4: Centralia Orphans of Centralia, Illinois
  • Region 5: Chinook Sugarbeeters of Chinook, Montana
  • Region 6: Carbon Dinos of Price, Utah
Chinook Sugarbeeters mascot

Chinook Sugarbeeters mascot

Just FYI because I did not know, and you probably don’t either, a Wyvern is a legendary poison-breathing creature that is part dragon, eagle and snake. Obezags is an anagram of gazebos, a feature of the Key School campus.

Which mascot would you choose as the most unique/best?

Even though I live in Region 4, I’m going with the Sugarbeeters of Chinook, Montana, population 1,500. Chinook Sugarbeeters rolls off my tongue with a rural ring that pleases me. And that’s as good a reason as any to back a community which once was home to a massive sugarbeet factory, according to the Chinook Area Chamber of Commerce website.

The Chamber also states that Jay Leno once claimed the Sugarbeeters ranked as number two out of 100 “strangest mascots” in the U.S.

Whichever mascot wins, I hope the national online voting process is not plagued with technical problems and the unsportsman-like conduct of the regional rounds. Click here to read my previous post on those issues.

Let’s keep this all in perspective, people. Better to lose than to resort to name-calling and mean-spirited competition.

© Copyright 2013 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?

Thoughts?

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

 

Winona Winhawks represent Minnesota for “most unique high school mascot” honor March 6, 2013

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WinhawksTHE WINONA WINHAWKS beat out four other Minnesota high schools this week to advance in the next round of selecting the nation’s most unique high school mascot.

In an online contest sponsored by the High School Sports Staff of USA TODAY, the Winhawks defeated the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, the Roosevelt Teddies, the Jordan Hubmen and the Sauk Centre Mainstreeters to represent Minnesota in Region 4.

Results show the Minnesota voting was close—between two of the schools—with the Winona Winhawks grabbing 52 percent of the online votes and the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms nearly 46 percent.

That’s an impressive showing for the Awesome Blossoms given the considerable population difference between the two southern Minnesota communities. Blooming Prairie is home to about 2,000 people while Winona has some 27,500 residents.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie's logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie’s logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

Blooming Prairie High School substitute teacher Tammy Wolf noted that difference in a comment posted on the USA TODAY Minnesota voting page:

Great Job Blossom Fans! For a community of 2,000—we did ourselves real proud with 143,376 votes! Proud to be an “Awesome Blossom!” Thanks to all of you who voted for BP!

Voting began today for six regional winners who will then advance to the finals. The Winhawks are now competing against eight other mascots:

  • Hodags (a fictional monster) from Rhinelander, Wisconsin
  • Kernels (yes, after the Corn Palace) from Mitchell, South Dakota
  • Honkers from Kenmare, North Dakota
  • Norsemen from Roland-Story High School in Story City, Iowa
  • Orphans from Centralia, Illinois
  • Nimrods from Watersmeet, Michigan
  • Fighting Jeeps from Northeast Dubois in Dubois, Indiana
  • Zeps from Shenandoah, Ohio

So, Minnesotans, here’s your opportunity to put Minnesota, specifically Winona, into the national spotlight by voting for the Winhawks between now and March 14. Just click here to vote.

And what exactly is a Winhawk, you ask?

According to the online ballot, Winhawks is a nice play on words that transforms the stereotypical “Hawks” mascot into a winning proposition. Blackhawks. Seahawks. Plain-old Hawks. They have nothing on the Winhawks. Winona’s mascot, Herky, is a cartoon bird with bulky arms.

Prizes ranging from $100 – $2,000 will be awarded to the winning high school athletic departments. And in these days of cash-strapped schools (speaking generally here and not necessarily referencing Winona), that money, I’m certain, would be welcome by any district.

TO READ A PREVIOUS post I wrote about this mascot contest, click here. I really wanted the Awesome Blossoms to win. Sorry, Winhawks. But good luck now. Go Winhawks!

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Voting for Minnesota’s most unique high school mascot & insights into other team names in our state February 26, 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. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

MY ALMA MATER, Wabasso High School, has a white rabbit as a mascot. As you would rightly expect, a rabbit does not conjure up an image of athletic prowess. But I do not care. Rabbits reflects the name of the community, Wabasso, a Dakota word, I’m told, meaning “White Rabbit.”

The rabbit mascot also stands out among all the Eagles and Tigers, the most common high school team names in Minnesota, and the country in general, according to Terry Borning, author of MascotDB.com, a free searchable database of team names and mascots. (More on that later.)

Rabbits, though, was not unusual enough to grab the attention of USA TODAY’s High School Sports staff which is sponsoring a competition to find the nation’s most unique high school mascots. Staff chose five mascots from each state and Washington D.C. in the first round of the contest.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie's logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

The Awesome Blossoms logo from the school website.

Now the public will choose their favorites, via online voting, to advance to the second round. One winner from each state and D.C. will move on to regionals and the opportunity to win prizes ranging from $100 to $2,000 for their high school athletic departments.

In the running from Minnesota are the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, Roosevelt Teddies, Jordan Hubmen, Sauk Centre Mainstreeters and Winona Winhawks.

I’ll admit to a fondness for Blooming Prairie’s Awesome Blossoms, for several reasons. Any school strong enough to sport the name Blossoms deserves to win. Second, Blooming Prairie, a farming community of around 2,000 located 15 miles south of Owatonna, is the smallest of the Minnesota communities vying for this honor. I will always pick the smallest, most rural town and root for the underdog. (Plus, I really like the “Prairie” part of the town’s name.) Third, my second daughter first introduced me to the Blooming Prairie mascot when she was in high school and attended an Awesome Blossoms basketball game with a good friend. It was also the first night she failed to get home at a reasonable hour. Enough said on that.

Apparently, the Blossoms got their name from an area newspaper more than a century ago, according to one source. “Awesome” was later added by locals.

A seen from Main Street in Sauk Centre, home to the Mainstreeters.

A scene from Main Street in Sauk Centre, home to the Mainstreeters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Now, if I had to choose my second favorite from the Minnesota five, I’d select the Mainstreeters for the sole reason that I love Sauk Centre native Sinclair Lewis’ satirical book, Main Street.

So there, if this interests you, click here and go online to vote. Voting for the state winners continues through March 5. Those 51 winners then advance to second round regional voting from March 6 -14. Six regional winners then enter the finals March 15-25.

Terry Borning with TC Bear, the Twins mascot.

Terry Borning with TC Bear, the Twins mascot. Borning attended Concordia College in Moorhead, home of the Cobbers.

NOW, LET’S DELVE DEEPER into Minnesota high school mascot names via Terry Borning of the earlier mentioned MascotDB.com. Just a note, Borning, of Billings, Montana, and a computer science adjunct faculty member for an Arizona college, is my cousin. He has 43,799 sports team names and mascots in his database covering U.S. and Canadian high school, college and professional teams, past and present.

Borning’s interest in team names stretches back to high school, when he played nine-man football for the Hendricks Huskies. Hendricks is about as close as you can get to South Dakota in southwestern Minnesota without actually living in our neighboring state.

Hendricks and nearby rival Ivanhoe have since consolidated, becoming the Lincoln H I Rebels. Lincoln references Lincoln County where the schools are located while the “H” and “I,” obviously, stand for the separate communities. Adds Borning: “The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were a dominant NCAA basketball team at the time the schools consolidated in the early 1990s. The teens of that time considered themselves rebellious, so the moniker fit.”

That led me to ask my cousin how schools choose mascots and to specifically cite examples in Minnesota. He notes the popularity of Vikings here (11 high schools with this mascot) and the once common Warriors and Indians (no longer used), plus names like the Flying Dutchmen, all traced to ethnic heritage.

Agriculture and local industries also factor into names like the Moorhead Spuds, Austin Packers, Bemidji Lumberjacks and Crosby-Ironton Rangers.

Team names can extend, too, from the school’s name such as Lindbergh (Hopkins) Flyers, Robbinsdale Robins, Red Wing Wingers and Burnsville Blaze.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the past, animals, such as my beloved Rabbits, were common as mascots.

Recent trends during school consolidations are to forge a new identity such as the Northern Freeze Nordics comprised of students from the small northwestern Minnesota communities of Newfolden, Viking and Holt. (Yes, I had to check a map.)

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter.

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the Otters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Naturally, I wanted to know what mascots Borning might have selected for that USA TODAY contest had he been given the opportunity. He suggests these stand-out Minnesota names: Moorhead Spuds, Esko Eskomos, Thief River Falls Prowlers, Edgerton Flying Dutchmen, Two Harbors Agates, Grand Meadow Superlarks, McGregor Mercuries, Mahtomedi Zephyrs, Blackduck Drakes, Fergus Falls Otters and Barnum Bombers.

Just reviewing that list, I can see the connections between many of the mascots and their respective communities.

Borning also points out some unique Minnesota team names that have been lost to history such as the Jasper Quartziters, Tyler Danes, Walnut Grove Loggers, Granite Falls Kilowatts, Hendricks Midgets, Tracy Scrappers and Freeborn Yeomen.

I photographed this logo a year ago at Randolph Public Schools, home of the Rockets.

I photographed this logo a year ago at Randolph Public Schools, home of the Rockets.

Finding information on past high school sports team names has proven challenging for Borning, so he continues to research information for MascotDB, the only searchable online database of U.S. and Canadian high school, college and professional team names/mascots. “Reading up and discussing great and interesting team nicknames and mascots has always been a fun pastime for me,” he says. That led him to develop MascotDB.

Given the sheer amount of research he’s done, my cousin was able to tell me that only three U.S. high schools have Rabbits (not to be confused with Jackrabbits) as their mascots. Those are in Atlanta, Texas; Delta, Utah; and Wabasso, Minnesota.

Go, Rabbits.

A water tower in Wabasso sports the school's mascot, a white rabbit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A water tower in Wabasso sports the school’s mascot, a white rabbit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FYI: Click here to visit MascotDB.

Borning also welcomes information and questions about sports’ names/mascots. Contact him at info at mascotdb.com

Also, click here to learn more about the origin of the Rabbits mascot at my alma mater.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling