It’s not easy saying goodbye to traditions. As controversial as the University of North Dakota’s old Fighting Sioux nickname was, their new moniker has arguably been just as divisive.
Upset about the November name change branding the school the Fighting Hawks, fans of the men’s hockey team are booing during home games when announcers utter the bird name. Dave Berger was in the Ralph Engelstad Arena stands when the team took its home ice for the first time as birds of prey. The new name was conveniently (more likely strategically) announced two weeks earlier, before the highly ranked squad began back-to-back road series.
But when they came home to battle (nay, demolish) Denver on December 4, the boo birds were waiting.
“It was a raise of the eyebrow,” recalls Berger, who was born and raised in Grand Forks. “Is this really what’s happening?”
But a subsequent “Sioux forever” chant hammered home the point. Berger, a former UND student and fan of 35 years, has accepted the new name. He won’t boo his beloved green and white.
Yet the fan base — particularly men’s hockey supporters — is divided between those holding on and those moving on, he says.
“It really feels like there are two groups of people who are trying to exist in the same space,” says Berger, who writes for the blog and fan forum SiouxSports.com.
The acrimony started in 2012, after the NCAA forced the university to ditch its Fighting Sioux nickname deemed offensive to Native Americans. North Dakota went without a mascot until adopting the Fighting Hawks after a long submission and fan voting process, which has been met with mixed reviews at best.
Since the home-ice jeers began, the team has shifted the way it announces the name during games. The PA announcer used to mention the Hawks after the team killed a penalty, but it didn't want fans booing when they were supposed to be cheering. Now it announces the name at the onset of the penalty kill.
“We wanted to have the exciting action on the ice match the excitement from our fans,” says Kyle Doperalski, associate athletics director for external operations.
Still, the home-ice boos have besmirched an otherwise impressive season for the team, currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Berger thinks it will take time for fans to embrace the new name and some may never. But right now there’s still a lot of frustration on both sides.
“At a certain point we have to choose, we have to decide if we’re a fan of the former logo” or the team, he says. “I’m going to pick the team, the student athletes every time.”