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A rich history surrounds the many high school nicknames and mascots that exist in Michigan. In many instances, mascots tie schools in more closely with their local communities and heritages. Of the 1,550 high schools in Michigan, almost everyone knows at least one with an eagle, a panther, a Viking, or a wildcat as its mascot. In fact, the most popular mascot is an eagle, which at last count represented 44 Michigan schools.

But what about the Fordson Tractors, Flivvers, or Nimrods? Those and more than 100 other unique nicknames each belong to only one Michigan high school, and many of them are the only such mascots in the United States.

The Tractors

In 1917, Henry Ford opened a tractor factory in what was then the village of Fordson, which later merged with several other communities to become the city of Dearborn in 1929. The tractors made there were known as "Fordsons." When a high school opened in Fordson in 1928, it was hailed as "one of the finest school buildings in the United States" and the first million-dollar high school in the country. To this day, its students are known as the Fordson Tractors.

The Battling Bathers

Mount Clemens has borne the tide of "Bath City, U.S.A." since the late nineteenth century due to the mineral water that was discovered in the area. Although all but 1 of the original 34 bath houses have been closed for more than 40 years, that reputation endures with the athletic teams of Mount Clemens High School--the Battling Bathers.

In its heyday, Mount Clemens attracted thousands of tourists who soothed themselves in the city's famous baths, the first of which opened in 1873. Kim Parr of the Crocker House Museum said, "Mount Clemens was world-renowned for its mineral baths." Those who used the mineral water claimed to be cured of a myriad of ailments. Famous visitors to the baths included Henry Ford, Mae West, Babe Ruth, William Randolph Hearst, William Jennings Bryan, and Helena Rubenstein.

The Nimrods

A list of unique Michigan high school mascots would not be complete without the Nimrods of Watersmeet, located in the western environs of the Upper Peninsula. Often thought of as a derisive term today, a "nimrod" refers to an inept or dim-witted person, but its original meaning is far different. Biblically, Nimrod was "a great hunter before the Lord."

Watersmeet is located in the middle of the Ottawa National Forest, where the locals hunt bears, deer, grouse, and wild turkeys. Due to the community's familiarity with hunting, the Nimrods became a noble association to the town's roots. However, given the word's modern connotation, Watersmeet Nimrods have become known throughout the country as one of America's most unique mascots.

The Flivvers

In 1919, to procure a reliable source of hardwood for wheels, floorboards, and body frames for the Model T, Henry Ford bought more than 300,000 acres of land in the town of Kingston, near Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula, and employed architect Albert Kahn to design a factory to produce wooden parts near the site. Al Unger, athletic director at Kingsford High School, said, "Witii this, the town exploded in population. The plant employed 7,000 people, and Ford Motor Company built housing and a high school." "Flivver," a nickname attached to the Model T, began to gain popularity at approximately the time the plant opened in 1925. Consequently, teams at Kingsford High School became known as the Flivvers.

Recently, the school district looked for a 1923 Model T to display at the school in honor of its mascot. One was found on the Internet and purchased with the help of local donations. "It needed some work," Unger recalled, but enough contributions came in for the flivver's restoration. On October 18,2017, the restored flivver, painted in the school's blue and gold colors, was dedicated at Kingsford High School and remains on display at the Kingsford Middle School campus.

The River Rats

When a 2015 MLive poll asked respondents to choose the "coolest high school mascot" in Michigan, the winner was the Huron High School River Rats.

Some suggest mat in 1969, when constructing the new Huron High School in Ann Arbor, workers were inundated with rats from the nearby Huron River. Another story revolves around rival Pioneer High School students, who derisively referred to the new Huron High School students as "sewer rats." Rather than take offense, Huron students instead embraced the name and began calling themselves the River Rats. A third tale involves a dead muskrat that was left in the school locker room as a prank. A final story refers to me early years of overcrowding at the school, when it was so packed that rats were said to have fled the building too.

Of course, the River Rats nickname was not looked upon very fondly by the school administration. Thus Huron High School opened without an official nickname, despite the River Rats being the overwhelming winner of a student election. But perseverance won out, and today, Huron High's athletes are known as the River Rats. The school's athletic director still holds a raffle each Friday to determine which student wins the honor of wearing the mascot costume to games.

The Modeltowners

The Gwinn High School Modeltowners were named as a result of a historic social experiment When the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company built the town of Gwinn in the Upper Peninsula, it was hoped to become a model for future communities, giving it the nickname "the model town."

After a survey and the clearing of land for the town began in 1906, the model included many benefits for iron workers and their families. Among other things, the town was planned with green spaces and boulevards, a hospital with company doctors and visiting nurses, and a water and sewage system. A building caUed "The Clubhouse" held a library, gymnasium, bowling alley, swimming pool, and shower facility. The company also built a high school, whose mascot was appropriately named the Modeltowner.

In addition to the forementioned examples, there are still plenty more unique mascots in Michigan--including the Dreadnaughts, Corsairs, Saddlelites, Jungaleers, Chemics, Miners, Hematites, Chix, and Magi.

By Ron Marinucci

Ron Marinucci was a Fordson High School Tractor and later became an Amherst College Lord Jeff. He teaches Michigan history at Mott and Oakland Community Colleges.

Caption: The Fordson High School Tractors logo.

Caption: The new Battling Bathers logo.

Caption: A student wearing the "Bather" costume. (Both photos courtesy of Mount Clemens High School.)

Caption: The restored Fliwer, the mascot of Kingsford High School. (Photo courtesy of Al Unger.)

Caption: Huron High School students with the River Rat mascot. (Photo courtesy of Adele Middaugh.)

Caption: The Gwinn High School Modeltowners logo. (Photo Courtesy of Gwinn High School).

Please Note: Illustration(s) are not available due to copyright restrictions.
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Title Annotation:FOCUS ON MICHIGAN
Author:Marinucci, Ron
Publication:Michigan History Magazine
Geographic Code:1U3MI
Date:Mar 1, 2019
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