Do the Deering 'Northern Lights' have the best basketball mascot in the U.S.?

Beth Bragg

Darn the luck, Dateliners.

So sorry, Shamans and Sea Parrots.

Here's to next year, Halfbreeds and Harpooners.

When it comes to mascots, the Deering Northern Lights reign supreme over high schools from Alaska and five other Western states. So says a poll by USA Today, which on Friday morning will open online voting for the national championship of nicknames.

Back to defend their national title are the Centralia Orphans of Illinois, who clearly have sole claim on the pity vote.

Ten schools, including Deering and Centralia, are in the running for a $2,000 cash prize and the honor of proclaiming their mascot is No. 1, even if none of their teams are.

Deering hasn't sent a team to the state basketball tournament in ages, maybe in forever. A victory for the Northern Lights is fielding a team at the start of the season, not cutting down nets at the end of it.

"All 14 students in our high school are eligible, and every single one plays basketball," second-year principal Garrrett McMullen said. "So every year it's, 'are we gonna have a basketball team or not?' " When the boys won a game -- a single game -- at this season's regional tournament, it was a very big deal, McMullen said.

But the Northern Lights have dominated the mascot contest on the strength of a new logo, considerable school spirit and, apparently, a strong Internet connection.

Rules of the contest are simple: All voting is done online, and you can vote as often as you like as long as you are 13 or over.

Deering, located on Kotzebue Sound in the Northwest Arctic Borough, has 45 students ranging from pre-kindergartners to those 14 high schoolers. The village is home to 130 people.

Yet the Northern Lights accumulated 90 percent of the Best Mascot vote at the statewide level, grabbing 374 of 414 votes. At the region level, the Northern Lights drew 1,228 out of 1,314 votes.

Asked if the Northern Lights are stuffing the ballot, McMullen laughed.

"All 14 of them," he said. "I'll have three computers going at a time, voting."

McMullen said he doesn't know why the Deering Northern Lights are in the running for the national championship and the Shishmaref Northern Lights are not. All he knows is Deering received a letter from USA Today encouraging the school to enter, and it did.

Deering's entry features a new school logo, which was designed by a friend of McMullen's who lives in Pennsylvania. She produced a logo that included some trees in the foreground. When McMullen took the design to the school district for approval, "they said there have never been trees here for thousands and thousands of years." The logo was sent to Stellar Designs in Anchorage, which got rid of the trees and added more color.

Deering was one of 408 schools nationwide to enter the contest, which last year totaled more than 25 million votes, according to USA Today.

By the end of the statewide voting earlier this month, Deering had knocked off some of Alaska's heavyweights.

Down went the Aniak Halfbreeds and their proud logo, which shows a Native woman crossing a spear with the rifle of a white man. Vanquished were the Harpooners of Point Hope, where whale hunting is the village's lifeblood, and the Dateliners of Little Diomede, where the international dateline is within walking distance.

Also defeated: the Nome Nanooks, the Chefornak Shamans, the Kasigluk Tundra Foxes and the St. Paul Sea Parrots, sea parrots being another name for puffins.

Talk about an Elite Eight. No room in that group for the Anchorage School District's vanilla nicknames (Lynx, Cougars, Wolves, Wolverines, Eagles, Mustangs, Golden Bears and Thunderbirds) -- although you'd like to think the Lumen Christi Archangels would have a fighting chance. But if you add the Archangels to the field, how can you leave out the Bristol Bay Angels?

You could argue that the Alaska contest was tougher than the regional one. Against contenders from California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii, the Northern Lights stepped on the Tarantulas (Gabbs, Nev.), devoured the Cheesemakers (Tillamook, Ore.) and diffused the Bombers (Richland, Wash.).

As for the Acorns of Live Oak, Calif., and Pine Lads of Lanai, Hawaii -- seriously?

Lanai is the Pine Lads because the island was once a giant pineapple plantation. The school is probably hoping for extra credit for cleverness, because the girls are called the Pine Lasses.

To that we say: Have ya met Metlakatla? The Southeast Alaska village is home to the Chiefs, unless the girls are playing. Then it's the MissChiefs, as in "they sure create mischief with that trapping defense."

As for the Acorns? Well, if it's nuts you want, look no farther than the Orofino Maniacs of Idaho, an also-ran in the Northwest region.

The Maniacs were in a tough bracket. The championship went to the Chinook Sugarbeeters of Montana, a town where farmers grow sugar beets and the mascot is a sugar beet with a fierce-looking face and eggbeaters for legs.

The Sugarbeeters, in turn, defeated a strong lineup of Montana contenders that included the Belfry Bats and Deer Lodge Wardens, a nickname that's a winner only if you know that the state prison is in Deer Lodge.

Had the Wardens advanced to the national contest, we'd be looking at a classic cops-and-robbers battle between the Wardens and Criminals. That's the Criminals of Yuma, Ariz., where one time long ago the school burned down and classes were relocated to the old territorial prison. When Yuma pulls off an upset, you can bet the opponent claims it was robbed.

Of that group, only the Northern Lights are neither man nor beast.

Animal mascots dominate the field -- the Kangaroos, the Turkeys, the Donkeys. Also in the running are the Flying Dutch, the Shipbuilders and the (yawn) Lancers.

And then there's the Orphans, whose regional victory was truly out-of-this-world: They beat the Martians of Goodrich, Mich., and the Space Pioneers of Indianapolis to advance.

We stand by our belief that when it comes to nicknames, few places come close to Alaska, an equal-opportunity state that counts Belugas, Killer Whales, Harpooners and Whalers among its nicknames.

But we're happy the Arkansas champion didn't advance to the finals, because it would be awfully hard not to vote for the Arkansas School for the Deaf Leopards.

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.

Final results

Bray-Doyle (OK) Donkeys 16,813
Centralia (IL) Orphans 60,711
Chinook (MT) Sugarbeeters 3,014
Deering (AK) Northern Lights 1,228
Gilmour Academy (OH) Lancers 24,453
Morse (ME) Shipbuilders 33,746
St. Marys (Pa.) Flying Dutch 13,940
St. Mary's (TN) Turkeys 3,406
Terryville (Conn.) Kangaroos 38,491
Yuma (AZ) Criminals 8,326

Region results 

Nickname Votes
Deering Northern Lights 1,228
Lanai (HI) Pine Lads 8
Live Oak (CA) Acorns 12
Gabbs (NV) Tarantulas 13
Richland (WA) Bombers 18
Tillamook (OR) Cheesemakers 35

Alaska results 

Nickname Votes
Aniak Halfbreeds 15
Cherfornak Shamans 1
Deering Northern Lights 374
Diomede Dateliners 1
Kasigluk Tundra Foxes 2
Nome Nanooks 14
Point Hope Harpooners 2
St. Paul Sea Parrots 5


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