March Madness

Years ago we greeted the month of March by saying “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” but this year the month began more lamb-like and came accompanied by basketball and hockey games, players we cheered for, exciting wins and sometimes loses. Last week was another great win when the Langdon-Edmore-Munich girls basketball team won the state championship. The sort of euphoria that comes with a win like that carried over to the first games of the boys regionals and then the pressures of what announcers call 'March Madness' got to be too much. Highly ranked teams were out of the running. Teams that had struggled mightily began to be eliminated, and both players and fans appeared in need of a rest. The situation led for jumbled research at best.

This week we begin with an apology and a correction on the girls listed with the 2005 state girls basketball team. The comment on Danielle Veer was a case of me mixing up Danielle and her sister, Carlye, who is the family member who is a nurse. Danielle, pictured with the winning team in 2005, lives in the Langdon. She is married to Joey Hansel, and last time I saw them they were the proud parents of Kamden and Layken Joye.

As this is written, basketball is still underway, but some of the teams are almost too worn out to play their best. There is a good possibility the Langdon-Edmore-Munich boys team has played and lost to a team predicted to win the boys state championship for 2020. The 2019-2020 season has been a year with many exciting games, and thanks to the various teams for providing hours and hours of entertainment. Yes, I am told that the track teams are already beginning training and that Jocelyn Dinius, who was an important part of several teams during her high school years, is winning honors for NDSU track these days. When not running, jumping or pole-vaulting, I understand Jocelyn is studying to be a dietician.

While listening to the recent games and reading about the various teams playing at district, regional and state events, I found it necessary to read a lot of the coverage several times in part because of the names. A problem for someone who normally tries to spell names correctly is that the names of present-day team players appear to utilize every possible spelling for names we used to think were spelled only one way. Then there are the names for both boys and girls that long-ago people thought came in genetic format. That is no longer true. Every so often you might find a team member named John or Mary or even an occasional Ole, but few if any Lenas are listed on the rosters even from towns noted for Scandinavian roots. The names given to children today are creative, charming and inventive, but after years of helping elementary children try to learn to spell their own names, I can see problems ahead for a newer generation.

So rather than complain about hard to spell individual names, I started looking at the team names, some of which may sound familiar if you happened to have spent several generations in North Dakota. There are still Cardinals, Blue Jays, Trojans, Orioles, and Spartans (all formerly notable in the Cavalier County tournaments), but statewide today’s favorites are Warriors, Indians, Braves, and Sioux (all with possible tribal connections) and many Bison, Bears, Bear Cats, Cougars, Coyotes, Tigers, Lions, Eagles and Hawks. North teams get a workout as in North Star, North Prairie, North Border, Northern Lights, Northern Cass, North Shore, and Northwood. There are Dragons, Cossacks, Mustangs, Holsteins (their girls used to be called the Milkmaids), Royals, Imperials, Skyhawks, Woodchucks, Wildcats, Clippers (with a sailboat emblem), Wolves and Loboes (different schools), Aggies (formerly with a farmer emblem but now a prancing steed), Patriots, Polar Bears, Titans, Spoilers, Tornadoes, Mystics, Vikings, Raiders, Packers, Broncos, and yes, even a team called the Squirrels. Teams with Saints in their name may have an emblem that is primarily letters or an angel or a possibly a saintly figure. Thompson Tommies have a two-T emblem, not an animal or person figure, but if it works for them that is why they chose it.

A big change I noticed was how the emblems have changed over the years. Growing up, I loved the bright red cardinal on the Langdon teams and the pretty Orioles in orange and black on Osnabrock’s uniforms. Now all the birds and other animals need to be fierce and fearsome. One of the most familiar road signs on North Dakota’s highways was designed with the profile of an Indian leader named Red Tomahawk, and only recently were those state road signs removed and replaced with a more modern design. Many people will remember a grandson of the original Red Tomahawk who played basketball in the 1970s-1980s era, and announcers would give his history during the games. In recent Hoopster or Miss Hoopster issues I did not find the Red Tomahawk name listed, but school after school have a similar profile as their school mascot. Several of the schools choosing this emblem are not on or even near reservations. Some of the other mascots or emblems need a bit of thought to understand how or why they were chosen, but the list is entertaining just in itself. Over the years these mascots have generated a lot of nicknames which tend to change with the times.

Hoopster pages and other sports books do include some college basketball teams, but much of the focus is on the high school teams so when readers inquired about college and university nicknames and mascots, I was not sure where that information would be located. The best sources, other than alumni, appear to be the library and the internet. Both have entertaining stories on this topic.

UND and NDAC both appear to have had football teams back in the 1890s. One book has a picture of a reported game between the Sioux and the Aggies in 1894, and it is possible the team name is wrong for both teams at the time the picture was taken although they were known by those names at a later date. Other records tell us that the Agricultural College, being a land-grant college opened to improve agriculture in the area, was first known as Farmers and then as “Aggies”. Then in 1922 the AC adopted the Bison as their mascot, and teams were also called “The Thundering Herd” which bison personified in the pre-settlement era. There are still teams with Thunder in their names playing in North Dakota.

On another picture dated 1898 the NDAC basketball teams are pictured with comments about their dress – no pads, no helmets, almost no uniforms compared to the football team. The comment about their hair (not seen under football helmets) was that the team had a hair-style much like the top of a shock of wheat. The coach in a suit is pictured holding the basketball, and there is mention of a special player who had scored 90 points in the basketball season. Not quite the 1,000 several strive for today. On the same page or nearby is a picture of the girl’s basketball team of early days in long dresses with long sleeves, petticoats, and boots. Some girl’s teams (including one from Langdon) practiced outdoors. A later NDAC section mentions girls were not to leave the dormitory after 7:30 p.m. and shows them dancing with each other in a large room at the top of their dormitory. On the wall behind the dancers is a basketball hoop.

Mascots (often quite ugly) were created for both college and high school teams, but some schools wanted the real live animal at their games. This desire created a host of problems. NDSU had a bison mascot who would attend the games, greet people and was asked to sign autographs. A name had to be created, and in 1991 this mascot was christened Thundar. Along came ESPN’s Game Day which wanted a real bison, and one was located and paraded for the game and television viewers. That mascot now lives in the Wahpeton Zoo where you can visit him. He does not sign autographs. UND has changed its name several times as well being formally the Sioux only from about 1930 on and having several different logos before the one created by Bennett Brien and now no longer in use. Today they are known as the “Fighting Hawks” and their mascot, listing he graduated from Hawkacademy, will greet and speak with you when you attend their games. His bio lists that if he approaches you at a game, he is harmless and friendly. I did not find information on the Flickertail teams yet but am sure it will surface in the near future.

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