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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published May 24 2012

‘Slapshot’ town embraces own Indian nickname, too

GRAND FORKS – While the trend nationally has been for prep and collegiate sports teams to move away from American Indian-themed nicknames and logos, the new North American Hockey League Junior A team in Johnstown, Pa., announced Wednesday that it will be known as the Tomahawks.

The new logo, also unveiled Wednesday, is an Indian head over a crossed pair of cut-stone tomahawks.

Johnstown and its War Memorial Arena provided the setting for the classic 1977 movie “Slapshot” starring Paul Newman. The city was host to a NAHL team called the Johnstown Chiefs for 20 years until it moved to Greenville, S.C., in 2010.

The new name and logo provide links to the Chiefs, according to a statement from the team’s owners, who said they also chose “Tomahawks” and an Indian head logo “to symbolize the new team’s fighting spirit, exciting style of play and good sportsmanship,” according to a regional TV station’s report.

Thursday’s front page of the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat carried a photo of team captain Jason Spence wearing a jersey with the new logo. The story was headlined, “Back on the warpath.”

UND connection

The Tomahawks’ first president, Rick Bouchard, is a UND graduate who played basketball for coach Dave Gunther’s Sioux basketball teams in the late 1970s. His brother, Jim, is majority owner of the Tier II Junior A franchise.

Junior hockey programs are open to athletes 20 or younger who seek to develop their skills and prepare for collegiate or professional competition.

Rick Bouchard was not available for comment Thursday. At the news conference Wednesday, when he unveiled the new logo, he acknowledged that many fans wanted to see a revival of the name Johnstown Chiefs – the name used in “Slapshot” – but another league now holds copyright to the Chiefs name.

“We wanted to respect the tradition of the Chiefs, and this was the second best way to go about it,” Bouchard said, according to the Johnstown newspaper’s report.

“We’re really happy about it,” he said. “It gives the idea that we’re going to be a fighting, scrappy team.”

‘Tommy Hawk’

Eric Knopsnyder, Web and multimedia editor for the Tribune-Democrat, covered the news conference. In a telephone interview, he said nobody asked whether the team had discussed the possibility of reaction against the use of American Indian imagery in the team name and logo.

“Nobody brought it up,” he said.

“We had the Chiefs for a long time, and there was no controversy. The logo then was an arrowhead. And toward the end, the last owner introduced a mascot, ‘Tommy Hawk,’ a guy in a costume with an oversized head.”

There was no indication the new team owners planned to revive the Tommy Hawk mascot.

Local reaction

Johnstown’s choice of an Indian-themed name and logo drew disparate reactions from people engaged in the long-running dispute over the Fighting Sioux nickname.

Whether UND may retire the name or be required to continue using it in the face of NCAA sanctions is a question before voters in the June 12 primary election.

Don Barcome Jr., Grand Forks, who helped with the petition drive to force the June 12 vote, welcomed the Johnstown decision and said it showed people are not opposed to the use of such imagery when it’s done with respect.

“If UND administration and (North Dakota Attorney General Wayne) Stenehjem had got behind the issue early on and put in a tenth of the energy they have used to get rid of the name, we would not be where we are at today,” Barcome said.

But Erich Longie, a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe who has long opposed use of the Sioux name, said he was “disappointed that another entity had chosen to use Native American imagery for their logo and mascot.”

He was disappointed, he said, but not surprised.

“Racism against Native American appears to run deeper than it does with other minorities,” Longie said. “That could be because we are the least politically powerful. No one would consider using a mascot that represents black or Hispanic people.

“It also may be a push back for all the success we Native Americans across the country have had in getting educational institutions to stop using Native Americans as mascots.”

Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald

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