In the heart of Utah County, which is in the heart of Mormondom, you will find Springville High School and their football team, the Springville Red Devils.
The reason for the mascot is simple enough. The school was constructed by the Red Devil Cement Company, so the mascot was named in their honor. Every few years, this upsets groups who consider a Red Devil to be an inappropriately satanic icon associated with impressionable teenagers, who will no doubt start conjuring demons and praying to Beelzebub upon exposure to such. Rhetorical pitchforks fly, and much sound and fury is expended on an issue that matters, really, not at all. Occult activity in ultra-Mormon Springville doesn’t seem to be on the uptick.
On occasion, a similar debate has taken place at the University of Utah, where some question whether or not it’s disrespectful to Native Americans to refer to to U of U sports teams as “The Runnin’ Utes.” This microcosm of the long-running “Washington Redskins” controversy wastes a lot of passion and ends up going nowhere.
While there are strong opinions on both sides, it has not seemed necessary to me to take a side on these issues either way. Locals with a stake in the heated debate seem to have been able to work these things out on their own, or less. Really, who cares?
Which brings us to Dixie College.
As the Southern Utah school prepares for its new university status, many have suggested that a name change is in order, as the title “Dixie” conjures up a relationship with the Confederacy and the ugliest chapter in American history.
Yet the word has its own unique place in the story of Utah.
When Brigham Young sent the first Mormon settlers down to the south end of the Utah territory, he did so with the hope that they would be able to grow and farm cotton in the warm climate. Those efforts resulted in the area being labeled “Utah’s Dixie,” despite the absence of slavery and Utah’s allegiance to the North during the Civil War. The name is in broad use throughout the area even today, with a large “D” for Dixie emblazoned in a lighted letter carved into a prominent hill in St. George. That hill has also been unforgivably marred to make way for some ugly condos, which almost persuade me to be an environmentalist.
Should the school choose to expunge the name from the fledgling university, it is not likely they will succeed in eliminating the Dixie label from the region in which it finds itself. Personally, I’ve got no real problem with Dixie. Perhaps a greater cause for concern is the mascot of Dixie College – the “Dixie Rebels.”
Rebels? Really? How about the “Dixie Confederates?” The “Dixie Secessionists?” The “Dixie Wish-We-Could-Be-Slaveowners?”
I mean, come on.
It’s no use to pretend this is an innocent, unintentional linkage. Utah’s Dixie has no history of rebellion, but America’s Dixie does. Using this mascot deliberately creates the unfortunate association that troubles critics of the Dixie name, and, to put it gently, it might be time to reconsider that mascot in order to avoid confusion.
That said, I don’t care much. I don’t watch football. I graduated from a university whose mascot shares its name with a condom brand. I’ve got no dog in this fight, except to say that St. George isn’t as nice in the winter as people think it is.
So there you go.
UPDATE: A St. George friend has pointed out that, a few years ago, Dixie College changed its mascot from the “Rebels” to “the Red Storm.” Some may think this means I’m slow on the uptake. I prefer to think this blog gets retroactive results!