Culleoka throwbacks spark nickname debate

By Chris Yow

Homecoming is intended to bring back alumni from years past to celebrate their high school, visit with old friends and support the athletics teams.

At Culleoka on Friday, the festivities included a little extra nostalgia when the varsity boys’ basketball team took the court donning uniforms that read ‘BLUE DEVILS’ across the chest.

Perhaps that doesn’t seem all that strange, but — Culleoka’s mascot and nickname is ‘Warriors’.

Why, then, were the boys wearing jerseys that have a different nickname?

In 1994, Culleoka Unit School officially changed its nickname from Blue Devils to Warriors. The reasons behind the change are mostly rumors and speculation, but by all accounts the change was brought upon by a few complaints among parents.

As I was speaking with a group of parents and alumni during Friday’s homecoming festivities, I asked several different people why the name was changed, and Laura Parks — alumna and basketball parent — confirmed her recollection was complaints from some parents.

That’s when I heard an unidentified female voice behind me say, “From the Yankees!” I couldn’t get anyone to fess up to the comment, but nobody corrected her.

Just after the Saturn headquarters opened in Spring Hill in 1990, a large number of employees from northern states moved to the area — several of which chose Culleoka to call home.

One of the most-trusted rumors is many of the parents of new children attending the school didn’t want their kids cheering on — or ‘worshipping’ — devils, no matter the color designation. There is no way to know the validity of that particular rumor.

Edward Kerr posted on Facebook in a discussion about the name change, saying it is, “the original, our heritage, as it should be, and should have never been changed. Ignorance of the history and a don’t-care attitude about the past is what drove this change.”

A photo of the 1969-70 Culleoka basketball team with a sign noting the former mascot ‘Devils’. (Courtesy photo)

Two years ago, the middle school basketball team bought a set of uniforms with the school’s former nickname across the chest, sparking a new debate on whether the nickname should change back. The apparel sold along with it raised close to $10,000 in funds to help upgrade several athletic facilities as well.

With Native American connotations for mascots and nicknames being changed in professional sports, such as the Washington football team dropping the ‘Redskins’ nickname and set to choose another next season and the Cleveland Major League Baseball team recently announcing they will not be known as the ‘Indians’ following the 2021 season, there may not be any better time than now to make the change.

Landon Andrews (20) watches a shot go in against Hampshire during homecoming on Friday night, wearing the throwback ‘Blue Devils’ jersey. (Photo by Chris Yow / SM-Tn Sports)

Culleoka boys’ basketball coach Mike Lovett said his players enjoy the history and their uniforms, but said he didn’t have a preference on what the nickname should be.

“I think that’s a community choice,” he said. “We support whether it’s the Warriors or the Blue Devils, but we do know that the older generation grew up playing as the Blue Devils and they enjoy when we wear these jerseys.”

The process through which the school must go to make the change is probably much different that 1994 when Parks says the school administration simply made the decision and the change.

The Warrior nickname was chosen because the word Culleoka is actually a Native American word meaning “sweet water” which explains why the cantaloupes are so good. That history, though, doesn’t trump the school’s history for most alumni, who want to make the change back.

Senior guard Landon Andrews, who scored 29 points and brought down the house with a two-hand slam dunk off an alley-oop from Ranger Graham said the throwback jerseys are ‘pretty sick’.

“We got these as a gift when we won the (District 10-A tournament) championship. We used to be the Blue Devils and they changed it to Warriors, and we wanted a throwback jersey,” he said.

His preference between the two?

“I say Blue Devils — I like that.”

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