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Naming rights / July 31, 2019
So Phoenix it is.

The Great Mascot Debate of 2019 has come to a close with a decision to go with America’s most boring city as the avatar for future generations of Mecklenburg County students. I visited Phoenix once (flew in for a Cactus League weekend) and couldn’t wait to hit the highway out of town for MLB spring training ballparks, most of which are situated in small Arizona cities that circle the mothership. Seriously, Phoenix is blazing hot, flat as C-SPAN public affairs programming, and the cityscape has all the pizazz of muffled elevator music. Bleech.

On the other hand, democracy is a precious thing (also, seriously) and Phoenix was the people’s choice in public surveys to identify a mascot for the county’s new secondary school. Those who vote get to decide, and those who don’t get to whine about it. So let’s give members of the school board props for heeding public sentiment, light though the participation in the surveys proved to be. In retrospect, it would have been nice for the school board to set one ground rule for the mascot-naming contest: all entries must’ve had some identifiable connection to Mecklenburg County. (Mudcats was the only finalist that might have met this standard. Plus “Mecklenburg Muddies” would make for great headlines.) But you know what? Captain Hindsight is a South Park character, not a flesh-and-blood advisor to the Mecklenburg County School Board. So Phoenix wins out.

It’s times like these when it’s a good idea to examine one’s own presumptions and biases, and ask the simple question: Who am I to talk? Longer ago than I care to admit, I graduated from Halifax County High School in South Boston. Our school mascot? Comets. Who in the heck resembles a Comet? A frozen climber falling off the side of a Himalayan mountain, leaving a icy contrail behind while hurtling through empty space to certain death, that’s who. Did we care? No.

Then and now, Blue Comets always struck me as a terrific team nickname. Why? Because that’s the way things were supposed to be and who asked you to argue the point anyway?!? Obviously of course, claiming Comet pride as part of one’s existence in vaguely ridiculous, but yet because it was always so, so far as we knew (this is my inner 16-year-old speaking), the righteousness of being a member of the Blue Comets was not to be questioned by outsiders. After all, the Comets almost won the state championship in basketball two years in a row! (Sheriff Hawkins was a starting forward on one of those teams, if you can look at him now and believe that. Hey Bobby, I’m kidding! Please put away the gun.) Point is, the amber effect of old age makes every aspect of Stranger Things-adjacent culture look wonderful and true, while the new stuff sucks. Barons and Dragons are fine choices for a mascot. The Phoenix needs to get off my lawn.

After high school, I went off to college. Once there, I experienced a different side to the whole rah-rah school spirit business (which, to be clear, is a wonderful thing in moderation.) The university I attended made a huge deal of the sanctity of its hallowed traditions, except when the powers-that-be decided that said traditions were stupid, counterproductive, dangerous or all three rolled into one (a.k.a. the best parties). So one quickly got used to one of the great oddities of academia: “New traditions.” Huh? I’m pretty sure none of us students would have been admitted in the first place if we had dropped that phrase on our SATs.

“New traditions” took the place of old traditions that were deemed problematic by the administration, and although we snickered at the idea that the tradition business could be as flimsy as all that, we were also gone in four years (or so), to be replaced by younglings who knew no different. We were soon to be yesterday’s news, in other words. It’s hard for a person to accept one’s own irrelevancy, which is why folks can argue about mascots all day and never tire of the fight. So, just to finish the story here, apparently, the kids liked the idea of Phoenix for a mascot. Kids these days also seem to think Toto is the only band from the 1980s that matters (just judging from the number of times I’ve seen my daughter and her friends grooving to the strains of “Africa”) and my constant objection that Toto was one of the crappiest bands of the era gets no further than the distance between my mouth and two deaf ears. The moral of the story is that mascots belong to an ever-changing community, and the advent of Mecklenburg’s new school is a milestone moment that should be appreciated for what it is — an apex of positive change and community revitalization. Which, by the way, is sorta the symbolism inherent in the idea of the Phoenix.

But still: bleech.

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