West Aurora takes seriously how it honors Black Hawk

  • West Aurora mascot logo

    West Aurora mascot logo

  • A life-size bronze bust of Black Hawk sits in the West Aurora school library, commissioned by West's Class of 1958 and created by artist Gareth Curtis based on a lithograph created during Black Hawk's lifetime housed in the Library of Congress.

    A life-size bronze bust of Black Hawk sits in the West Aurora school library, commissioned by West's Class of 1958 and created by artist Gareth Curtis based on a lithograph created during Black Hawk's lifetime housed in the Library of Congress.

Updated 3/4/2013 10:08 AM

Using Native American images and names to denote a school mascot or athletic team is a highly sensitive issue. West Aurora, whose teams are known as the Blackhawks, is wisely doing its part to increase integrity in the use of its namesake.

As part of a process begun in the fall of 2011 and implemented this school year, an accurate depiction of Black Hawk -- not technically a chief but certainly a legendary leader of the Sauk and Fox people in Illinois and Wisconsin of the late 18th and early 19th centuries -- has been installed as the symbol of West Aurora.


It is now part of the school crest and school seal. It can be seen on a new placard in the gym and most notably with a life-size bronze bust in the school library, commissioned by West's Class of 1958 and created by artist Gareth Curtis based on a lithograph created during Black Hawk's lifetime housed in the Library of Congress.

A Sept. 9, 2011, ceremony dedicating the bust was attended by George Thurman, principal chief of the Sac and Fox Nation in Oklahoma and the great, great grandson of Black Hawk. Thurman's son and daughter-in-law also were in attendance. West Aurora co-principal Ross Truemper said their reaction was and has been positive.

"I appreciate that Chief Thurman's son was here for the ceremony as well," Truemper said. "And he was of the mind that, 'I'm no mascot.' We don't have a mascot. We have a symbol."

This portrayal has phased out the historically inaccurate representation of a generic-looking Native American in a full headdress Black Hawk never wore. The image, which Truemper characterized as "clip art," has roots dating to 1937, a year after students voted on "Blackhawks" as the name for the school's athletic teams. At the time the school was located at Galena and Blackhawk streets.

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It is important to note that even in non-politically correct times the Class of '37 stated its intention to honor the man. A plaque gifted by that class posted in the gym lobby states, in part, that Black Hawk "was a valiant fighter always loyal to the interests of his people"; and pertaining to West Aurora athletic teams, "May they ever maintain the highest ideals of courageous action, loyalty, and action."

The West Aurora High School School Symbol Standards Ad Hoc Committee, formed in 2011, teamed current students, alumni, coaches, activities personnel and West Aurora High administrators to make recommendations to District 129 administration on matters such as an appropriate symbol, official school colors and the school crest and seal.

In comments emailed to the Daily Herald May 2012 by District 129 community relations director Mike Chapin, it's clear today's students realized the importance of respecting the school's namesake.

"Perhaps prompted by the events of this year, the students' view of Black Hawk has moved from a generic character to the real person," Chapin wrote. "Now when they call themselves Blackhawks, it is out of respect for the man, his qualities and his values."


Likewise, at the 2011 bust dedication ceremony District 129 Board President Neal Ormond, a graduate of the Class of '58, said the Ad Hoc Committee process included "the saga of educating our classmates."

Truemper said: "I think what was wonderful about the process is we really looked at a lot of things and became much more aware of the rich history of West Aurora High School. And I think the richness of that history almost demanded that we be accurate and very correct in which symbol we use and how we use it."

Truemper is a veteran of both athletic and school administration dating back to the original Wheaton Warrenville High School. He helped execute a similar transition when Naperville Central changed the name of its athletic teams to the benign Redhawks from the Redskins -- which though insulting obviously remains the name of the pro football team in our nation's capital.

As at Naperville Central, there was some reaction to change. To honor heritage at West Aurora, the 1930s representation will not be struck from history but will be discontinued for use.

"The other symbol will always be a welcome presence at West Aurora High School and we're not making an active effort to expunge the old symbol. However, in the future we're going to use the accurate symbol appropriately," Truemper said.

This issue will exist, pro and con, as long as athletic teams -- and, as Chief Thurman stated, "everything from golf courses to auto repair shops" -- use Native American names and imagery.

In examining its own practices, West Aurora seeks to salute the man, Black Hawk, rather than exploit a people.

"He's our symbol to align our teams and school with, and I think that's a distinction," Truemper said. "It's really done respectfully and just oozes pride and honor."


If it's March it must be time to announce the deadline on orders for Geneva's football fundraiser, "Shrimp Fest."

According to the January edition of The American Home magazine, "Shrimp Fest" is the nation's No. 1 food-based fundraiser for high school athletic programs.

Just kidding, The American Home ceased publication in 1977. Regardless, even Batavia fans could enjoy a hot shrimp dinner with sides though they may ask to hold the "Viking" potato.

Orders must be placed before March 11 and can be picked up -- delivered straight to your car -- outside the Geneva athletic office between 4:30-7:30 p.m. March 15. The price of each individual dinner is $12.

For details and fun conversation, call Geneva coach Rob Wicinski at (630) 463-3929.

From "roped" to honored

Imagine: chairman of the board at age 22.

As a freshman at Loras College in 2009-10, St. Charles North graduate Travis Misner said he was essentially "roped into" going to a leadership conference held by the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. His pitching coach suggested it, fair enough, but then a senior up and said, sure, Travis would go.

"I got roped into going," Misner said. " ... I was not very happy about it."

From lemons Misner made lemonade. Now a senior, in January Misner was voted chairman of the NCAA Division III Student Athlete Advisory Committee at the NCAA Convention in Texas.

"It hasn't really resonated with me yet," Misner said over the phone last week from Dubuque. "I understand my duties, I understand what I have to do, but to represent every single student-athlete in Division III, as leader of the committee ... I'm taken aback by that. It's amazing."

However, Misner started putting himself in positions of leadership at St. Charles North. He said he was a Peer Leadership assistant and a class representative on the student council. As a senior he was awarded a North Star Award and also granted a scholarship from Cal's All-Star Angel Foundation, bestowed upon one North Stars and one South Elgin baseball player a year.

"I was given a lot of awards at the end of my time (at St. Charles North)," Misner said. "I was humbled and wasn't really expecting that. I was more scared for college than anything."

Little did he know how true that would be, at least on the baseball field. A starting pitcher, the summer after his senior year in high school Misner hurt his shoulder, causing him to sit out his freshman season. He rehabbed over the next summer, had cortisone shots and then subsequent surgery in October 2011. Entering Friday's game at the RussMatt Invitational in Auburndale, Fla., he'd yet to pitch an inning of college ball.

Now he's set to play.

"The shoulder's healing better than expected," Misner said.

While inactive between the lines, Misner solidified his position as a school, regional and, now, national leader of college student-athletes.

He represented the IIAC and, by jurisdiction the New England Collegiate Conference on the national committee, and was one of two student-athletes across all NCAA divisions to attend a 2012 amateur athlete forum in Taipei, "University Sports: A Platform for Sustainable Development."

His official duties as chair of the committee -- running meetings, speaking at association events, serving as liaison to new members, attending the annual convention -- begin in May. He's eligible to stay on the committee after his eligibility is exhausted, but he'll opt instead to remain on the committee only through this first term. Misner will graduate in May, a physical education/K-12 teaching major planning on pursuing sports administration or sports management.

This weekend, though, the chairman of the board is on the mound.

"It ended up being a great experience," he said.

Speaking of North Stars ...

Congratulations are due retiring St. Charles North football coach Mark Gould. The only head coach the North Stars have fielded has been selected for induction into the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in April.

Gould, who led St. Charles North to eight straight playoff appearances and also coached one season at Geneva, will join a 14-man class that also includes St. Francis assistant Jack Schomig Jr.


Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1

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