Saturday, 23 May 2015

“Mohawks” name brings out the best in Hat High

Quinton Slack tears downfield during a Mohawks practice in 2012.
    The name "Medicine Hat High School Mohawks" brings out a vast array of positive images.
    When that name is mentioned, the first pictures turn to football with head coach Quinn Skelton guiding the Green and White to another big win. He has been the Mohawks head coach for 25 seasons and was named the NFL Canada youth football coach of the year in 2008 due to the positive impact he has had on his players.
    You also see players that carry themselves with class including offensive lineman Dan Federkeil, who played for the NFL's Indianapolis Colts and is now with the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, and receiver Nathan Coehoorn, who plays with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos. Both have returned to Hat High to either help with football camps or give great life building speeches for players. Their professional jerseys hang in the trophy case located in the school's main entrance.
    Hat High rosters in recent years included quality individuals like Quinton Slack, who was a starting quarterback and is now just focusing on post-secondary studies, and running back Tristen Getzinger, who is a recruit of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Both are the perfect examples of the type of people you want in the community representing your program, because all they do is make the team look good on so many levels.
    While the Mohawks football program is usually the first team that comes to mind when one thinks of Hat High, athletes and coaches involved with all the other teams at the school also come away with similar high quality experiences. The girls teams go by the moniker of "Kwahommies," which is a cute play coming off spelling Mohawks backwards.
    Grade 11 point guard Isabel Rattai helped the Kwahommies senior girls' basketball team win the 4A Alberta Schools Athletic Association title in March, and she has been a gem away from the court. A starter since her Grade 10 season, Rattai gives big support to the rest of Hat High's teams at rallies, and she is spectacular when it comes to interacting with young players that play her sport.  
    The teachers and staff at Hat High do a stellar job of helping their students excel academically, so they are prepared to move on to the next step of their lives in a trade or moving on to post-secondary studies.
The Hat High Mohawks logo.
    Being associated with the Mohawks and Kwahommies teams is the aspect that makes the high school experience that much more special. Hat High has had a long time feeling over decades where being a member or supporter of one of its teams is something you take with you for the rest of your life like memories of doing the "Cha Cha Slide" during halftime of games at the Methanex Bowl in the Gas City. For most alumni and alumnae of Hat High, they will always see themselves as Mohawks and Kwahommies.
    That is the type of attachment all athletic teams try to achieve, but only few do. Hat High's athletic teams have achieved that type of attachment. It is common for Hat High grads to post their team's logo on items like hard hats, helmets in the military or clothing years after leaving high school.
    Unfortunately, a specter finally caught up to Hat High.
    Over the last 15 years in North America, a large number of teams that have had a moniker linked to a First Nations culture have changed their team nickname due to concerns about racism. The successful holdouts have mainly consisted of professional clubs in the NHL, NFL and MLB.
    In the view of political correctness, the general sense is that using any term linked with a First Nations culture as a team name is not appropriate unless the team is made up of players of First Nations descent.
    The only program immune from that political correctness generality is the Florida State University Seminoles of the National Collegiate Athletic Association due to the fact the Seminole Tribe of Florida has officially sanctioned that post-secondary institution to use the names and images associated with Seminole history.
Mohawks HC Quinn Skelton, left, with Nathan Coehoorn in 2014.
    In an interesting twist, the Seminoles track team features Hat High grad and Canadian Olympic hopeful Sage Watson, who is a standout sprinter in the 400-metre dash and 400-metre hurdles. She also has reputation of being an outstanding and modest person.
    Despite all the things that surround the Mohawks and Kwahommies teams, news came out of Medicine Hat recently that Suzanne Tripp, who is a Grade 12 student at Hat High, has started a petition to have the school change the nicknames of its sports teams or specifically the "Mohawks" name. Tripp told CBC that she felt that the use of Hat High's team monikers represented First Nations people as "terrifying and savage."
    She also said the "Mohawks" nickname didn't make sense geographically, because the Mohawks tribes were from the area that spans the present day eastern Ontario to southern Quebec.
    There is concern that Tripp's petition alone would be enough to eliminate "Mohawks" and likely "Kwahommies" as names for Hat High's teams.
Isabel Rattai of the Kwahommies.
    In 2014 in Saskatchewan, Regina's Balfour Collegiate and Saskatoon's Bedford Road Collegiate both ceased respective use of the nickname "Redmen." In both cases, "Redmen" originally was used to signify the team's colours and First Nations logos were added later on. Both schools also have storied histories with their athletic teams.
    The push to change the name of "Redmen" at Bedford Road took on a bigger life in 2011, when Erica Lee, a Bedford Road graduate, made a Facebook page calling for the change. It is a move that draws parallels to what is happening currently in Medicine Hat. 
    Balfour Collegiate changed its name on the recommendation of an elders advisory council set up by the Regina Public School Board. The advisory council was formed in March of 2014 when heat was building up regarding the use of the "Redmen" name by Bedford Road.
    When you talk to people in the streets in Regina and Saskatoon, the notion often comes up the minority won out over the majority regarding the elimination of the use of the "Redmen" name.
    In Medicine Hat, the petition calling for the end of the use of the "Mohawks" name has been met with a petition calling for a stay in the proceedings on changing the moniker or basically a call to allow Hat High to keep its team nicknames. The petition was started by Rick Preikschas, who is a Hat High alumnus from the Standoff reserve.
    The fact remains that before Tripp started her petition, the words "terrifying and savage" have never been used in association with Hat High's teams.
    The Medicine Hat High School Mohawks and Kwahommies are frequently associated with the words "pride, honour and class."
    If the Mohawks First Nations people, who are located a lengthy distance away from Medicine Hat, wanted to give sanction to Hat High to use the "Mohawks" moniker, it would be a good thing.

    If you have any comments about this blog, feel free to email them to