They Were The Cardinals

On Thursday, May 24, 1972, the Cokato High School baseball team lost a heart-breaking 1-0 game to Watertown in the district tournament held in Delano. This game marked the final athletic event participated in by the Cardinals of C.H.S.

Three months later, the Chargers football team of Dassel-Cokato High School began their new era by defeating the Rockford Rockets, 34 - 16. That inaugural effort saw the Chargers put together an undefeated 8-0 regular season and advance to the state championship, where they suffered their only loss at the hands of Mt. Iron, 54 - 6.

In late 2009, the question arose at Dassel-Cokato High School whether or not to keep the Chargers nickname. The discussion was intense. In the end, the name was kept the same.

Make no mistake, the subject of high school team nicknames can generate passionate debate. Changing a name, in the eyes of some, is tantamount to losing a community's identity. On the flip side is the argument that it really is just a name, so what does it matter?

Any number of current impassioned discussions over the use of team nicknames relating to Indigenous peoples - such as Warriors, Redmen, Redskins, Indians, et al - highlight the fervor that can sometimes come with these propositions.

All of this got us to thinking, just how long had Cokato H.S. been the Cardinals? Why did they choose that name? Did they switch from something else? All good questions for us to pursue.

We first asked some alumni. The answer, paraphrased, was along the lines of “it was that as long as I can remember”. Fair enough. Next step was to examine what should be a credible source, the C.H.S. yearbooks.

From the appearance of the first Cokato High School annual in 1922, through 1934, it was called The Aurora. Starting in 1936 and running through 1972, the name was The Cardinal. Prior to 1958 annuals were not published each year, and in a couple of cases there were four year gaps between editions.

The forward of the 1936 Cardinal contained the following announcement:

"The Class of 1936 has seen fit to drop the original title AURORA because of its lack of symbolic connotation, and to adopt in its place the school emblem and color, THE CARDINAL. It is the hope of the Class of 1936 that the change meets with the approval of the alumni."

That 1936 annual, the cover for which is seen at right, encompassed the school years 1934 - 35 and 1935 - 36. The 1934 football team page made numerous references to them as the "Cardinals". Working our way back we came to the 1934 Aurora, a slim publication. It was the Great Depression after all, so keeping costs down was likely a consideration. On both the basket ball (yes, they used two words, not one) and football team pages, the term "Cardinal and White" was used to describe the teams. Not Cardinals, but the colors of the uniform - Cardinal Red and White.

Moving back to 1930, the next available annual, that Cardinal and White phrasing was used for all the athletic teams - football, boys basketball, girls basketball, and baseball. The 1928 Aurora, which contained summaries of teams going back to the 1924-25 school year, also used that same term.

A possible answer appears in the 1924 Aurora. On the baseball team's page, it was stated: "Our boys made their debut in their new cardinal and white uniforms on May 4th…"

Those uniforms were paid for through donations by the Cokato business community, which had a long history of supporting baseball. Prior to that reference, there is nothing in any annual to indicate a uniform color. Since the pictures in those publications are black and white, we could not tell just by looking. One question that also could be asked is: when did high schools in general begin the use of team nicknames. Another good one, for which a simple Google search did not provide an easily-accessible answer.

Either way, we know when Cokato High School began to use the Cardinals. We have a good sense as to why. And we know when they stopped.

Names will come and go, and when they do change, we will be here to document that. It's what we do best.

This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of In The Midst Of, (c) 2014, Cokato Historical Society.