Nancy Edmonds Hanson
In a state where high school mascots lean toward eagles, hawks and vikings, Moorhead’s Spuddy is number one!
His supremacy was made official last Friday when John Millea of the Minnesota State High School League presented Moorhead High athletic director Dean Haugo with the top award in the epic Mascot Nickname Challenge. Spuddy beat out the Blossom Prairie Awesome Blossoms in the final round to take the title in what may be the nation’s first-ever mascot match-up.
“We were sitting around last spring basically twiddling our thumbs,” the league media specialist says. “Zero high school spring sports. Zero sports, period.” Then, spotting the 64-team bracket of the NCAA, a seed was planted. “I did some research and realized that no one anywhere seems to have done that kind of thing with nicknames,” he reports. An idea was born.
Adopting the familiar sports tournament bracket structure, he began to comb Minnesota’s 500-some schools to find contenders. “The same old names – eagles and such – didn’t have a chance,” he says. “But it did get tough at the end.”
Spuddy and the Spuds nickname faced some tough competition in the ranks … the Edgerton Flying Dutchmen, Triton Cobras, Sauk Centre Mainstreeters, Thief River Falls Prowlers, Bemidji Lumberjacks, Breckenridge Cowboys, Fergus Falls Otters, Wabasso Rabbits and the like.
The Spuds went into the competition as the top seed in the northwest region. Millea shared the bracket challenge on his Twitter account late last spring – and it took off. “I was shocked at how big it became,” he says. “People were looking for something kind of sports-like that was fun to do.”
By the Fourth of July, more than 87,000 votes had poured in, winnowing the competition down to the Spuds and the Awesome Blossoms. That final round was a nail-biter. Finally the Spuds pulled out the victory by a hairsbreadth – with 50.4% of the vote versus the Blossoms’ 49.6%.
Along the way, Millea researched the team names. Calling the Blossom Prairie team the Blossoms was fairly obvious, though they did make it more ferocious by adding “awesome.” He discovered no other Spuds anywhere in the nation. “I looked at every high school in Idaho, just to be sure,” he notes. “I did find one called the Taters. That came pretty close.”
Moorhead High School’s teams have been known as Spuds for 100 years or so. The archives show the name emerging between 1918 and the early 1920s, inspired by at least one Moorhead school’s site atop a former potato field. It was formally adopted by the district in 1964.
Spuddy himself was born in 1962, the creation of MHS senior Brian Coyle. Kathy Coyle, the late inventor’s sister, who was still in grade school, remembers being fascinated by the operation: “I remember sneaking down into our parents’ basement to watch that creature being born.
“Brian found a great big box, then papier-mached it over and over again until he was satisfied with the shape. He painted it up with eyeballs and a top hat, then talked a friend into wearing this wild costume with black and orange pants.”
She adds, “Nobody told Brian to do it. It was invented entirely in his high school brain. I guess that makes me Spuddy’s aunt.”