Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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It's not easy cheering for a vegetable. But there are colleges and high schools in America where that's what school history demands.
Have you ever wondered how some high school and college sports teams wind up with stale names like Spartans and Wildcats but others carry on the tradition of the Beetdiggers and even the Fighting Okra?
It's the third week in August, football season is upon us, and it's time to huddle for the annual rush into fall sports. In this era of 24-hour sports talk, give me the rare, the creative, the seemingly inexplicable mascots that hark to days gone by.
Panthers, Tigers (sorry Hayden High) and Bulldogs (sorry Moffat County High) miss out on some of the rich tradition of school athletics - Wooden Shoes, for example.
The Teutopolis, Ill., high school soccer team hit the pitch Aug. 8 to begin preparing for its season-opening matches Aug. 24 and 25 at the Charleston Tournament. I'm going to take it on faith that the players weren't wearing their namesake "Wooden Shoes."
It's heck lacing up a pair of wooden soccer cleats. Worse than that, it's almost impossible to land an endorsement contract from Nike or adidas when your high school mascot is a life-size wooden shoe.
I assumed incorrectly that the Wooden Shoes nickname could be traced to a population of early immigrants from the Netherlands. It turns out many European countries have a tradition of shoes carved from wood. In Teutopolis, German immigrants are responsible for the high school's tradition. Students there still do research papers tracing the Teutonic lineage of the town's founders.
I say a mascot that has historic significance is always preferable to a random mammal mascot.
In the state of Texas alone, there are 96 high schools known as the Bulldogs, but just two Bumblebees (Little River Academy and Port Arthur Lincoln) and one school that cheers for the Bullfrogs (Lake Worth). You don't suppose tailgate parties at Lake Worth's rivals involve barbecued frog legs, do you?
San Antonio Central Catholic has one of the strangest "mascots" you'll ever encounter - they are known as the "Buttons," as in, "You'd better button your lip or we're going to run the ball right down your throat!"
I kind of like the Texas college that reveres an ornery wild boar known as a "Javelina."
Granted, javelina can be downright dangerous critters, just like the Wisconsin Badgers (ranked seventh in the Associated Press preseason poll, by the way). But they're also smaller than your average hog, which suggests that the starting backfield for Texas A&M Kingsville could be referred to by its rivals as "The Three Little Pigs."
One of my favorite high school sports nicknames has always been the Beetdiggers of Brush. I can't resist composing cheers for the rally squad.
"Dig 'em beets, dig 'em!"
I had long assumed Brush High School was the only institution in the nation that proclaimed "Beet Pride!" but I have been so badly mistaken.
Just one state to the west, in Sandy, Utah, Jordan High School has a longstanding tradition of honoring sugar beet farmers. It goes back to about 1915, when students were dismissed from school to help the farmers harvest their produce.
The sugar beet industry has vanished from the Jordan Valley, but the high school continues to enthusiastically embrace its historic name. In fact, every fall when student government is seated for a new term, each officer tops the greens off a fresh beet and takes a bite of tradition.
Out-of-the-box mascots can turn out to become valuable marketing tools. Just ask the Fighting Okra of Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss.
Historically, fans of Delta State were known as "The Statesmen." Pretty clever, huh?
Well, some student athletes didn't think so. They wanted a more aggressive image and promoted the image of a Fighting Okra that closely resembles a really peeved green chili pepper.
If that image appeals to you, or if you're just fond of Southern comfort food, you can order a fighting Okra T-shirt or $20 at the school's Web page.
It's a guaranteed conversation starter at tailgate parties.