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History of the Chippewa name

What it means to be a Chippewa

The following was compiled from "The First Hundred Years" by John Cummings and an article by Bill Kreifelt.

The nickname "Chippewas," while reflecting the rich Indian heritage of the Mid-Michigan region, has not always been applied to Central Michigan University athletes. The first semi-official nickname, the "Dragons," was tagged in 1925.

As part of the second-ever homecoming celebration, a gigantic bonfire was built by the students. The students scoured the community for old wooden boxes and scraps of lumber to convert into a pyramid, which, when ignited would light up the field for the pep rally. A student concoction that looked like a dragon would wind its way through the crowd and circle the bonfire with red lights and smoke shooting from its gaping mouth.

The name Dragons hung on for a while and was used in write-ups of the football games during the 1926 season. It apparently lacked appeal among the students, though.

In 1927 a drive began to adopt a new and more official name for the athletic teams that could be used in write-ups and cheers.

"Wildcats" was the first choice with the reason being that the name should "be a brave fighting animal that once roamed the woods of Michigan." This name was proposed to start the ball rolling.

After more thinking Harry Gover then submitted the name "Bearcats" with the explanation that "it has all the fighting qualities of wildcats and more because no one ever saw a bearcat."

Thus, the student paper Central LIFE decided it would use the name Bearcat as an experiment when writing stories of the various athletic contests the school then held.

The name stuck for 14 years until 1941.

That's when a drive by Central's line coach, Lawrence (Doc) Sweeney, began.

Sweeney took his idea to the student council in November of 1941 and investigations began.

Sweeney pointed out that while it meant breaking with a considerable tradition built up by use of the name Bearcats, the nickname of "Chippewas" offered still much more. He argued that the name Bearcat meant absolutely nothing in the way of geographical location and besides, the animal was practically extinct. Coach Sweeney stated, "The name offers nothing in the way of background for showmanship or pageantry, and most students have never seen or heard of a real bearcat."

The name Chippewa was geographically correct, Coach Sweeney said, pointing out that the Chippewa Indian tribes were once scattered about this particular area, and he argued further:

"It is the name of our college yearbook, the Chippewa River flows through Mount Pleasant and the name Chippewa opens up unlimited opportunities for pageantry and showmanship for the band as well as athletic teams. The Indian chief would be an outstanding marker for athletic uniforms, the Indian pow-wow could replace the pep-meeting and Indian ceremonies could be conducted on many occasions. School flags could be made much more attractive and finally all types of Indian lore have a strong appeal and could be used to great advantage."

After preliminary examination others voiced their support for the new name. President Charles Anspach, assistant professor of mathematics Judson W. Foust and Women's League President Esther Anderson all made statements of support in LIFE.

The campus paper itself was one of the first to back it. Other testimonials came from coaches, campus groups and the administrative council.

For its ultimate test, the issue was put to an all-campus vote on Jan. 16, 1942. The name Chippewa was adopted, 351-90, but the campus paper saw it fit to remark that less than half of the students voted.

The new name went into use almost immediately and has continued on despite the changing of Central's name.

Central opened its doors in 1892 as Central Michigan Normal and Business Institute. Central Michigan Normal School was initiated in 1896 along with the first football team and the unofficial nickname "Normalites" for all the students.

The school offered its first four-year degree program in 1919. Subsequent name changes include Central State Teachers College (1927), Central Michigan College of Education (1941), Central Michigan College (1955) and the present Central Michigan University (1959).

Serious consideration was given to dropping the nickname Chippewas after it was recommended by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission.

On March 1, 1989, an advisory committee to the president recommended retaining the name under certain conditions. Those conditions included developing educational programs in conjunction with the local Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council, sessions to familiarize CMU students and staff with traditional Native American culture, dropping the two official CMU Native American logos (a Native American profile and a spearpoint with a feather inside a block "C"), eliminating Native American drumbeats by pep bands and other measures.

The logo underwent a change in 1996 from the block "C" to the moving action "C" that is presently used.

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