The West Ada School District backed away from a controversial mascot for its new high school.
The district's school board unanimously rejected Thunder as the nickname for its sixth high school Tuesday because it conflicted with Eagle High and its history. It did approve naming the school Owyhee High, which is projected to open in fall 2020 as a 5A athletic program.
“I’m a parent of a former Eagle High football player and a current Eagle High cheerleader,” school board chairman Philip Neuhoff said. “I actually identify Eagle High with Thunder more than I do with Mustangs.”
Eagle High’s official mascot is the Mustangs but the school has used Thunder as an unofficial nickname since opening in 1995. Eagle’s first football coach, Mike Glenn, coined the phrase “Mustang Thunder,” referring to the sound of a horde of galloping Mustangs and showing they could become an intimidating force when they band together.
The moniker stuck and has since spread throughout Eagle High, from Thunder Stadium to the Thundering Mustang Band to Mustang Thunder Prints, a student-run print shop. The word “Thunder” is also on the side of the trailers for the football team and marching band, boosters have named their pep rallies “First Friday Thunderfest” and the go-to chant for teams and cheerleaders is “Mustang Thunder.”
“If you walked up to any Eagle High student who occasionally goes to games, they’d say that’s what we yell,” Eagle cheer coach Micki Virden said.
John Rorabacher, president of Eagle’s football booster club, said the school district has plenty of time to find another mascot with Owyhee High not set to open for another two years.
“If the new school were built, and the logos were on the gym floors and the uniforms were done, I could see standing your ground and wanting to keep it,” Rorabacher said. “But that’s not what we’ve got here. Obviously, there are other words and mascots.”
West Ada spokesman Eric Exline said the district will return to the original list of 375 mascots submitted by staff members to determine a new name. He said the district hasn’t decided if it will come up with a new mascot on its own or send out another survey.
The district originally sent out a survey to 44,000 parent email addresses, asking them to choose between Thunder, Rattlers and Miners, all mascots that evoked the Owyhee Mountains. Sixty-two percent of the 1,800 responders chose Thunder, 22 percent Rattlers and 14 percent Miners.
“I got more responses on a mascot survey than we did on a survey that asked how we did educating their kids this year,” Exline said.
The district didn’t learn about a potential conflict with Eagle High until it started receiving survey responses. Neuhoff, who represents votersin the Eagle High boundaries, said he’s surprised the district didn’t know of the problem earlier.
“This is part of a larger issue we have in the school district where we don’t have good control on our brands and marks,” Neuhoff said. “In fact, we have none.
“I don’t understand the pushback from the administration once they learned that we had an issue. It’s not just that the marching band calls themselves the Thundering Mustangs Band. There is a physical facility called Thunder Stadium. It’s etched in concrete.”
West Ada broke from its tradition to come up with the Thunder mascot for Owyhee to save money, Exline said. Eagle, Mountain View and Rocky Mountain created their mascots after hiring a principal, who came up with the nickname with community input.
Exline said settling on a mascot beforehand would let the district include the school’s branding during the design process like Ridgevue High did. That allows money from the bond voters passed in March to fund any design elements that feature the mascot instead of raising money from the community later.
At Ridgevue, for example, the gym bleachers fold up to reveal the silhouette of a Warhawk fighter plane, its mascot. And the school’s entrance has an image of the World War II plane in the floor.
“It’s actually even less expensive to do it in advance than to do it afterward,” Exline said. “Then it also gets the principal out of the business of the first thing that they all do is they go hit up their school communities for significant amounts of money to try and brand their high school.”
Naming the school Owyhee stems from the view of the Owyhee Mountains the school will have. It will be near Ustick and McDermott roads along the border of Ada and Canyon counties to help relieve overcrowding at Rocky Mountain and Eagle high schools.
While the school isn’t in Owyhee County, Owyhee has become a common name for schools in the Treasure Valley. The Boise and Nampa school districts have an Owyhee Elementary School.
The school colors — rust red and slate gray — are set. Exline said they won’t conflict with Centennial High’s maroon and silver colors.
“The red is significantly different,” he said. “If you have these two jerseys on the football field, you won’t have any trouble telling one team from the other. Nor would I have concerns about playing Boise High.”