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Go Spuds! Minnesota’s most common — and most creative — high school mascots

It’s not Gophers.

Eagles are the most popular mascot all of Minnesota, followed by tigers, panthers and cardinals.

The Minnesota boys state hockey tournament kicked off Wednesday in St. Paul with a face-off between Cougars and the Zephyrs. The Dragons played the Spartans. The Moose went up against the Hawks and the Prowlers competed with the Cardinals.

Fans’ focus will rightly be on the skill of these young players, but those match-ups raise some pretty important questions: what about the mascots? Which are most common in Minnesota? Most eccentric?

Using data from the Minnesota State High School League, MinnPost took a look at how schools represent themselves in mascot form.

Early mascots

Mascots have been around for more than a century, and their earliest origins have nothing to do with sports, according to the NCAA.

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In the 1880s a French opera called “La Mascotte,” which translates to “lucky charm”, popularized the term. The work is the story of a down on his luck farmer in Italy whose life is turned around after a woman named Bettina shows up, bringing him luck, and his crops finally grow. By the 1900s, the NCAA says, the term was in use in the states to refer to something that brought about good luck.

“It’s not clear when teams began using live animals to roar, prowl and intimidate their opponents — not to mention fans in the lower sections,” the NCAA writes, but the first college mascot might have been Yale’s Handsome Dan, the pet bulldog of a member of the school’s 1892 class. The use of costumed people in favor of live animals is traced to the 1960s.

Mascot types

The vast majority of high schools in Minnesota have their own lucky charms, in the form of animals, plants, weather phenomena and a host of other, sometimes wacky and seemingly inexplicable, talismans.

More than half of schools with mascots in the data, by MinnPost’s estimation, have animals as mascots.

The most common mascots are the intimidating sorts. Eagles are the most popular mascot all of Minnesota, followed by tigers, panthers and cardinals. But other animals abound as well.

In at least one case, it appears, just being a regular animal wasn’t enough, so the animals got fanciful prefixes: the mascot for Southern Minnesota’s Grand Meadow High School is a superlark, embodied by a sweater-clad bird that perhaps more closely resembles an eagle. Similarly, Winona has the winhawks.

Animal mascots
Source: Minnesota State High School League

After animals, the most common variety of mascot is occupations — loosely defined. About a fifth of high school mascots fall into this category, the most common being knights, warriors and raiders, or other descriptors of people, such as the Marshall School’s (in Duluth) Hilltoppers and one that must surely win some award for local color, the Sauk Centre Mainstreeters, named for one of hometown novelist Sinclair Lewis’ best-known works, based on life in the town.

Another honorable mention: in Jordan, the boy’s teams are called the Hubmen, a reference to that city’s history as a railroad hub. (The girl’s teams in Jordan are the Jaguars. Talk of choosing one or the other was shot down last year following a survey of the community.)

Occupational (loosely-defined) mascots
Source: Minnesota State High School League

In a state like Minnesota, it’s hardly a surprise to find six high schools with lakers as mascots, but thunder, storms, tornadoes and cyclones are also found among the 23 schools with natural phenomena as mascots.

Nature-related mascots
Source: Minnesota State High School League

Then there's the assorted objects — your rockets, your nuggets, your sabres (swords, like Sartell-Saint Stephens, not the saber-tooth tiger, like Shakopee), which make up 15 Minnesota high school mascots, according to the data. And schools with fantastical creatures: dragons, centaurs, titans, griffins and lycans, for mascots. Several schools adopt colors as mascots: the Maple Grove Crimson, the East Grand Forks Green Wave and the Mankato West Scarlet among them.

There are oddballs. MinnPost counted one school — Moorhead High, with a food-related mascot: the Spuds, an homage to the area’s history of potato farming. According to the district website, at least one Moorhead school was built on potato farmland.

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There’s the Teddies, at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, a school named for President Theodore Roosevelt and represented by a Teddy bear.

And how about those Awesome Blossoms? That’s the mascot for Blooming Prairie High School. True to its name, it’s a flower blossom.

According to the Blooming Prairie Leader, the Blooming Prairie team has been called the blossoms for more than a hundred years.

In the 20th century, according to the Leader, attempts to give the team a scarier name were abandoned. When the mascot was redrawn in the ’70s, consensus determined that rather than ferocious, it looked “awesome,” and the name apparently stuck.

School colors

Two color combinations tied for most popular among Minnesota high schools: 33 schools each fly blue and white and red and white.

Top 10 Minnesota school color combinations
Source: Minnesota State High School League

While those seem like safe choices, some schools decidedly took another route: black and blue, considered a fashion faux-pas by some (or is it?), for Christian Life Academy, and an earthy brown and gold, plus white, for Apple Valley’s eagles.