It’s early on a Friday night, but the Ralph Engelstad Arena is already rocking. Just minutes before the puck drops at center ice, the lights go down in the arena and the cheering somehow manages to get louder. The players gather in the tunnel and slowly emerge from the shadows as they approach the ice.
The PA announcer bellows from the rafters. “Here come your Fightiiiiiiing Hawks!”
Sigh. It’s just not the same.
The long wait is over. After an arduous and asinine process that has taken a decade to complete, the University of North Dakota finally has a new nickname. UND has gone from the Fighting Sioux to nothing to the Fighting Hawks (or F’n Hawks as Minnesota-Duluth would put it) in a few years’ time. A new era for UND athletics officially began a few weeks ago.
As is the case with change, some love the name, some hate it (the UND student section made that pretty clear) and some just want to move on. Right now, I’m in the third column. When the new name was announced on November 18, I was sad at first. Something that was so important to me, my family and my friends had officially come to an end. Even as I write this, I find it hard to believe that the team that I’ve loved and cheered for over the last 15 or so years will now be known as something else. However on the afternoon of the 18th, after reflecting on what had occurred for a few minutes, I realized that as hard as it was, it was time for me and UND’s passionate fan base to move on.
When I first arrived in Grand Forks in the fall of 2002, I tried to do everything I could to become a Sioux fan. The grand majority of my family is from North Dakota. Growing up, I thought the Fighting Sioux was a cool nickname that was unique to the state and to the region. I knew that hockey was an important part of the community, but I didn’t know how much until my first week on campus. One day after my folks helped me move in, I walked over to the Barnes and Noble and bought a jersey, a green one that’s still hanging in my closet. About six weeks later, I took in my first game at the Ralph and was hooked. Over the next four years, I spent numerous weekends with my friends on campus rooting for the Sioux to bring an eighth national title back to the school.
I’m still waiting. I remain hopeful.
During my time at UND, I turned immediate family and even some non-immediate family into Sioux hockey fans. As a result, I ended up taking in games outside of Grand Forks. My family attended the WCHA Final Five from 2004-2013 in St. Paul and one year of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. (On a side note, Target Center is an atrocious place to watch a hockey game). The passion runs deep today as my family and my relatives (Minus myself and my wife) gets together in Grand Forks every season to take in a weekend series.
I like to think the passion grew stronger after the NCAA made its infamous ruling that said sanctions would be applied to schools that used Native American logos or nicknames that were deemed “hostile or abusive.” If that ruling wasn’t stupid enough as “hostile or abusive” could apply to just about anything, what the NCAA did next can only be described as flat out idiocy. They forced each school to get approval for their name from local tribes. If the school couldn’t pull that off, which wasn’t exactly an easy process, they had to dump its nickname. In the end, smaller schools like UND, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, etc. had to drop their nicknames, while schools like Florida State are allowed to have a white guy, with war paint on his face and dressed in Native American regalia, ride an Appaloosa across a football field and toss a flaming spear into the turf. Meanwhile, Seminoles fans are free to perform the Tomahawk Chop and do the War Chant, while UND fans are frowned upon for yelling “Home of the Sioux” after the national anthem. This ruling happened 10 years ago and it still pisses me off. Not because it forced the Sioux name to go away, but because it was okay for some teams to have a “hostile or abusive” name, but not others. If you’re going to make a ruling that large, make it an all-or-nothing deal. It could’ve saved a lot of time and money for everyone.
As most hockey fans know, the nickname was eventually dropped in 2012 and then after a ridiculous cooling-off period that lasted three years, a list of possible nicknames was compiled and narrowed down to five. The final five were unique, but unpopular amongst most fans I knew. North Stars and Sundogs (Just imagine what that logo would’ve been!) were dropped after the first round of voting and Nodaks the round after that. (Nodaks was by far the dumbest of the five. The No Dicks chant writes itself). After one last round of voting, Fighting Hawks was chosen over the Roughriders and the nickname immediately went into effect. A Fighting Hawks logo will be announced next summer.
I had mixed feelings when Fighting Hawks was announced. I was hoping that the new name would be unique like the Fighting Sioux was, and in a way, it is. However, it’s also not. The majority of teams that have been forced to change their nicknames over the past few decades decided to go with some variation of Hawks or Eagles. Miami (Ohio), Louisiana-Monroe, Southeast Missouri State, Seattle University, Dickinson State (N.D.), Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Northeastern State (Okla.) and Stonehill College (Mass.) all have switched to some sort of Hawk as well as several high schools, so UND didn’t really think too much outside of the box. However, nobody has added Fighting to their Hawks name yet, so UND is original in that regard. Now that it’s been a few weeks since the new name was announced, I’ve accepted it and I think my family has also.
The puck is circling around the net and UND is on the power play. After a series of passes, a UND defenseman fires a blast from the point that clangs loudly off the pipe and over the opposing goalie’s blocker. The Ralph erupts with cheers, high fives are given and the student section performs the “Sieve!” chant. The PA guy bellows again. “Heeeere’s your University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks scoring!”
Sigh. It’ll catch on eventually.