The second of a two-part blog series on the development of athletics and a school identity.  Read the first part here.

One of the things our faculty stressed time and time again to our students at our freshman orientation camps was that everything about Research Triangle High School is brand new; new building, new way of “doing school,” new traditions.  One prime example of this was the discussion about our school values, which I mentioned in my blog post about our orientation sessions last week.

But before the students came through our doors for the first time, many of us at RTHS were already laying the groundwork for developing our school identity.  When we weren’t planning to have athletics in our first year, things like mascots and school colors didn’t seem of paramount importance, but when we decided to officially support and sponsor several teams, that was something we had to move on.

Maybe it’s because some people know of high schools primarily because of their sports teams, but the question I got from tons of people as soon as I was hired was “So, what’s your mascot gonna be?”  Well, for several months, we as a staff didn’t know either.  Professional teams change their colors all the time, and in extreme cases (e.g. the Washington Bullets/Wizards), they change their nickname too.  But unless your mascot embodies Native American stereotypes or the Confederacy, high school and college branding very seldom undergoes drastic changes.  So we had to make sure we got this right.

For the colors, we only had one rule: we would not take sides in the ever-raging Tobacco Road college sports war.  That meant no light blue, royal blue, or red.  For the mascot, we also had one overarching rule: nothing lame or cliche.  “Hopefully we can have a productive discussion of mascots,” Eric told me in an April email, “that won’t result in us being the Golden Bulldogs.”

After compiling some lists on our own and then comparing notes, Eric and I settled on four color schemes to put to a vote: orange and blue, purple and silver, dark green and silver, and maroon and gray.  We both thought we could get the faculty behind orange and blue; biology teacher Lara Pacifici and I both went to Auburn for our masters degrees, Eric went to Florida for his bachelors and masters, and English teacher Deb Brown went to Syracuse.  But we couldn’t quite get everyone behind that one; purple seemed to have quite a few champions among the faculty.  There was also the issue of not knowing what our mascot was going to be.

It was around that time that Bill Massey, our art teacher and a former creative director at multiple advertising agencies, recommended that we put it to a vote of the whole RTHS community to ensure that whatever choice we made had “buy-in” among our stakeholders (i.e. the students and parents).  To that end, we included in the online colors ballot an open-ended spot where people could suggest mascots.  At the end of the voting for the colors, we compiled some of the most popular and frequent suggestions and put those to a vote.  These were our seven finalists.

  • The Manticores.  Eric pushed awfully hard for this from the beginning.  I was less than enthused at first, but had to admit that it’s a pretty badass creature – head of a man, body of a lion, and the tail of a freakin’ scorpion?!?!  WHAT?!  Eric suggested this as a possibility at several of the student open houses, and it was apparent from the get-go that his bully-pulpiting worked; the Manticore was suggested by quite a few people.
  • The Griffins, alternatively spelled Gryphons.  Head of an eagle, body of a lion; kinda cool and not too common.  I don’t know if it’s because we have a disproportionate number of mythology nerds in our student body, or if it’s because of the glut of fantasy-themed mascots at non-traditional public schools in our area (Raleigh Charter Phoenix, NCSSM Unicorns), but we saw this one from quite a few people too.
  • The Raptors and the Mammoths, categorized as our “extinct options.”  Mammoths grew on me after Eric sent me a picture of the logo for a minor-league lacrosse team called the Colorado Mammoth.  Deb pointed out, though, that maybe “Mammoths” wasn’t the best thing to be known as when we had a building full of image-conscious teenagers.  No one really seemed to object to the Raptors name.
  • The Elephants.  This was recommended by several people, but I just didn’t get it.  Babar doesn’t really strike fear in the hearts of opponents, although elephants have been known to go off the reservation.
  • The Lynx and the Wolves.  These are things that seem like they would be more common mascots, but they really don’t appear very often.  I certainly could’ve lived with either.

I have no desire to reveal the actual results of the voting as it was non-binding to begin with, but here’s how things shook down.  In colors, purple/silver and dark green/silver did very well, and the other two choices were pretty far behind.  In mascots, the top vote-getters were the Griffins, Raptors, and Wolves.

I really have to hand it to Eric; if I was the principal of a brand-new school and was told that my dream mascot choice appeared to not be very popular, I would have probably thrown a fit and stubbornly stuck to it.  But Eric very graciously conceded; it didn’t hurt that we discovered that manticores were seen as symbols of fraud in medieval Europe.

People began to rally around the Raptors name, but there was one thing that needed to be cleared up: was it the Raptors as in the dinosaurs made famous by Jurassic Park, or was it the Raptors as in the contemporary bird of prey?  We chose the dinosaur for several reasons.  For one thing, if we were the bird of prey, weren’t we just adopting a common mascot like Eagles in a roundabout way?  As William Shakespeare once said, “An eagle by any other name would be just as lame.”  There are also several local connections; there’s a significant dinosaur exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, and Dr. Mary Schweitzer has done some amazing, world-renowned dinosaur research at N.C. State.  And you can’t spell “Raptor” without RTP.

Purple, you almost won out as our school color.  Until someone brought this up.

Throughout the entire process, purple remained immensely popular among most of the faculty as a color choice. Settling on “Raptors,” however, completely killed that dead.  Purple dinosaurs?  We found a way to connect green and silver to our mission – the green represents natural science, and the silver represents the metal associated with engineering and technology.

So, everyone, we’re the Research Triangle Raptors.  And our colors are dark green and silver.  I learned several things from this process.  For one thing, you’re not going to please everyone.  I’m a consensus-builder by nature, and I feel like we reached a pretty good consensus in this process.  With hundreds of parents and students all wanting very different things, though, some people were going to be bummed by what we picked.  We just had to accept that and endeavor to get them to buy into it going forward.

Piggybacking on that last point, I also learned that input from the community can be not only helpful, but invaluable.  I don’t think anyone on the faculty would’ve thought up the Raptors as a mascot, but hey, out of the mouths of babes…  I have no idea if he’ll ever read this, but it’s worth mentioning that RTHS freshman Matthew Cottrell was the very first person to suggest the Raptors as our mascot.  Well done, sir.

Next comes the fun part – the actual creation of our identity and brand.  We’ve played around with some logo ideas (one possible secondary logo, shamelessly stolen from the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, heads this post), and hope to be releasing our official branding soon.  The building may not be done yet, but having a mascot and colors has definitely helped make this school feel more real.