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Gene Therapy: A high school football team by any other name ...

Friday, November 01, 2002

Your WPIAL football playoffs get started tonight without the Fighting Tea Bag Tossers of Central Catholic, and that is good.

Egregiously over-the-line initiation rituals, those allegedly requiring the introduction of genitalia, have no place in the otherwise pristine atmosphere of big-time high school football. It must remain that wholesome, character-building sport in which physically immature 15-year-olds are let loose among 290-pound creatine-guzzling seniors for the entertainment of parents and coaches, or at least to provide a reason to tart up the cheerleaders and get the band outdoors once in a while.

Not to be critical.

While the situation at Central Catholic devolved in typical school fashion -- the victim got shamed, blamed and made to leave the building while the bullies got greater momentum (until they were arrested) -- it is true, all too true, that initiations and hazings associated with sports are often distasteful and even dangerous.

I blame the school nicknames, personally.

Central's nickname is the Vikings, which, being one of the more curious selections on the board, honors notorious ninth and 10th century marauders bent on plundering European monasteries and towns. That's not right for a fine Catholic institution. Try Bears. Docile, dignified (when not eating discarded Pampers), but dangerous when provoked. The original Vikings, by contrast, likely weren't above holding down an opponent and whacking him on the head with, well, you know.

The clear implication is that the whole thing might have been avoided were Central Catholic the Sugar Bears.

Central Arkansas University is the Sugar Bears. Honest to God. Have you ever heard anything discouraging said about Central Arkansas? Not when you name your teams after cereal. No one's ever going to investigate an incident involving the Battlin' Coco-Puffs.

In the early '90s, the Pirates employed a non-parrot mascot dressed for games in dashing buccaneer garb, until the guy got arrested for swimming naked with a girl in a public pool in the middle of the night. He got fired. That's the thanks he got. He was out there swashbuckling for them around the clock. Had the Pirates been named the Blue Jays, he'd be working today, albeit in a much goofier outfit.

How do you think the Penguins have generally stayed out of trouble? What's a Penguin going to do, overdress?

A nickname like the Fighting Irish, immortalized at another fine Catholic institution, is, again, just asking for trouble. Not surprisingly, a hazing ritual at Notre Dame belongs among the most torturous and humiliating in all of sports. You can stop here if you don't want to know, because I'm getting ready to blurt it out in all its graphic detail.

Ready?

At Notre Dame, they require freshmen to take calculus.

AAAAHHHH! Oh the humanity.

Beside calculus, mundane initiations like taping someone to a goal post or a police car seem relatively tame. Yet there are some nicknames out there that are just too foreboding in the way of related hazing.

What do you suppose, for example, happens to freshman on the teams at the University of California at Irvine -- the Anteaters? Uh-huh. Try 'em with some cocktail sauce or Hershey's syrup. It's easier.

Or how about at the University of California at Santa Cruz -- the Banana Slugs? That might be a little more manageable actually. Sophomores draw the name of a faculty member at random, and have to slug him with a banana. It's more of a pistol-whipping or a banana-whipping probably, though we shouldn't speculate, especially on banana whipping. Not this week.

Obviously I'm guessing about those wacky Californians, but it makes perfect sense.

No guess, however, would be safe in the case of Washburn University in Topeka, where the men's teams go by the nickname Ichabods. I don't want to know. I'd imagine it's worse than calculus.

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