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Muskegon Big Red Band

Last Dance 2002

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1956-57 Wes McLaughlin

A nickname for the local squad...

The game of football dates back to 1895 at Muskegon, yet many mysteries still surrounds the origin of Muskegon's nickname for their athletic teams and the mascot that later followed.


While Rutgers and Princeton are created with playing the first intercollegiate football game in 1869, the first athletic team to identify themselves with a nickname is lost in time.  Yale University. it appears, was the first university in the United States to officially adopt a mascot.  “Handsome Dan,” an English bulldog was introduced to the sports world in 1899.  Representing strength, bravery and dignity, the canine had been purchased by an undergraduate for $5.00.  For the next 30 years, Dan was led Yale football and baseball teams into battle and a tradition was born.  Yale's athletic squads became known as the Bulldogs.


The original “Handsome Dan” passed away in 1898, and would not be replaced at Yale until 1933.  By then, mascots were all the rage at college and high school campuses across the nation.  Serving as symbols to represent the schools, many factors where embodied in the role.  Animals, of course, were often selected to fill the position. Graceful, tenacious and often fierce in the defense of their territory, it was a natural fit.  School colors often influenced the choice, as did a community’s history.  Warriors and heroes, both real and imagined, were often selected.  Characters from mythology, medieval and from the not-so-distant past were often selected assume the role.


Digging for clues...

Using newspaper reports, the school's monthly campus magazine, Said and Done and old football programs as a resource, we discover that for many years, athletic teams at Muskegon were referred to in print as simply MHS, the "Muskies", a play on the town's name. or  the "Red and White" an obvious reference to the school adopted colors. Football game programs as well as the Said and Done made frequent use of a distinctive block 'M' to advertise big games against opponents.


With the arrival of Bob Zuppke as athletic director and coach in 1906, players were sometimes referenced as "Zuppke's men".  When J. Francis Jacks took over the as in 1920, newspaper writers shortened the phrasing to “Jacksmen” in print.


A former graduate who played under the legendary Bob Zuppke during his days at Muskegon, Jacks molded the young men into an athletic juggernaut.  Under his direction, Muskegon earned three mythical state titles in football and one in basketball.


When Jacks died unexpectedly following the 1924 season, the school hired C. Leo Redmond, a star on the gridiron at Western Michigan Normal College (now Western Michigan University) as his replacement Weighing in at nearly 300 pounds during his playing days  Redmond picked up the nickname "Tiny" along the way.


Some have suggested that the team nickname "Big Reds" was simply a play on the name of their new coach, much like "Jacksmen".  However, this is most certainly not the case, as newspaper reports refer to the football team as the "Big Red team" in 1922, three years before Redmond's arrival.


In reality, it appears that the nickname was simply a playful reference to the colors worn by Muskegon’s early athletic squads and the team’s success on the state’s playing fields. Most likely, it arrived thanks to the creative work of local sportswriter, Jimmy Henderson, who would serve for years as the sports editor for the Muskegon Chronicle.


Now about that Indian...

Local educator and historian Daniel J Yakes notes:


"During historic times the Muskegon area was inhabited by various bands of Ottawa and Pottawatomi tribes. Perhaps the best remembered of the historic Indian inhabitants of this area was the noted Ottawa Indian chief, Pendalouan. A leading participant in the French-inspired annihilation of the Fox Indians of Illinois in the 1730s, he and his people lived in the vicinity of Muskegon during the 1730s and 1740s until induced by the French to move their settlement to the Traverse Bay area in 1742.


The name "Muskegon" is derived from the Ottawa Indian term "Masquigon" meaning "marshy river" or "swamp." The "Masquigon" river is identified on French maps dating from the late seventeenth century, suggesting that the French explorers had reached the western coast of Michigan by that time."


When Muskegon High School decided to associate an Indian with their nickname is still unknown. Some old-timers from the Muskegon area have suggested the use of an Indian began in the 1930s, but proof is hard to come by.


Students and school officials were certainly aware of the area's Native American origins. 


A January 1915 article in the school's monthly, Said and Done, includes a beautiful wood print depiction of a Native American.


A student yell, pulled from a 1914 game program, brings to light interesting parallels.


M.H.S. Song

Fling out the dear old flag of red and white,

Lead on your sons and daughters through this fight:

Like men of old on giants

Placing reliance,

Shouting defiance (Os-key-wow-wow!)

Amid the broad green plains that nourish our land,

for honest labor and for learning we stand,

And to thee we pledge our heart and hand,

Dear Alma Mater, M.H.S.


A second yell appears in the same program:


Oski-wow-wow (Short)



Muskegon, Wow!


For those with some knowledge of college fight songs and football history, the phrase, Oski Wow Wow jumps from the text.  Oskee Wow Wow is the official fight song of the University of Illinois and was written in 1911.


Bob Zuppke, Muskegon's former coach, was named head coach of the Illinois football team in 1912 and locals were quite proud of the association  Zuppke's first coaching assignment following college graduation was at Muskegon, where he assumed the reigns of the program in 1906. The coach married a local girl, Frannie Irwin, a member of a prominent local family. In later years, Zuppke would often summer in Muskegon.


On October 30, 1926, Chief Illiniwek debuted as the team mascot.  Did Muskegon decide to use an Indian to serve as a symbol for their athletic teams because of this tie to Illinois?


A Crosstown Rival


Muskegon Heights was added to the Muskegon football schedule in 1922.  Under the guidance of Oscar E. "Okie" Johnson, the Heights climbed the ranks to become Muskegon’s No. 1 rival in athletics by the 1930s.  Johnson, who took the reigns at Heights in 1927, had been a former teammate of Coach Redmond's at Western.


An examination of publications from Muskegon High has yet to pinpoint the first use of an Indian as a mascot.  However, a look at Muskegon Heights publications many help narrow the timeframe.  Muskegon's crosstown rival used an image of a Tiger on a 1934 State champion banquet program.  Heights' programs prior to the 1934 publication do not show the image.


November 1943...


Evidence of an Indian as a symbol does appear in a November 1943 Said and Done article highlighting the band's upcoming halftime show planned for the season-ending contest with Muskegon Heights.  Within the text we learn that the band unveiled their new uniforms during the game.  Describing the detail of the new attire, the writer provides a clue.


"Continuing a black and red color scheme, the coats are red with black epaulets, black military cuffs, and red and black braid trim.  Boys will have contrasting black trousers and a double red stripe, while girls will wear black whipcord skirts with red kickpleats. Hats will be black with red edge, red stripe and plume.


Silver hat bands, buttons, and musical emblems carry out the traditional 'red and white' of Muskegon Senior High.  A new feature is a black and red circular emblem with 'Muskegon Big Reds' lettered about the figure of an Indian in scarlet headdress."


Depictions of Indians continued to appear in future school publications. So logic would dictate that somewhere between the early 20's and 1943, Muskegon decided upon a mascot to go with the nickname.


1955 Muskegon - Heights

Image from the November 11, 1955 edition of the school newspaper - Campus Keyhole 


A Spirit Leader...

The Home of the Muskies Is Beautiful


"Many moons ago a tribe of Indians known as the Muskies dwelt on the banks of a marshy lake.  The chief of this tribe, Chief Muskie, was one of the wisest in the whole Indian nation and by far one of the most progressive.


Chief Muskie called together a council and met with them to discuss new ways of getting knowledge It was decided by these wise men to build a school."


Beginning with the front cover, and continuing throughout, the 1956 Said and Done yearbook featured a reoccurring theme. Each section of the 216 page publication was introduced by a passage, like the one above, that described the "history" of a mythical tribe of Indians known as the "Muskies".  Each included a photo featuring students dressed in "Indian" attire.


The theme was repeated throughout the school year. Staff of the school newspaper, The Campus Keyhole, built the winning float at the annual prep rally.  It featured an Indian dressed as a football player. The annual Thanksgiving assembly, presented by members of the Speech Guild, was a reproduction of the First Thanksgiving.  Mid-year graduates sold apparel featuring screened print images of the block M, with an Indian logo in the foreground to raise funds for a trip to Chicago.


Word is that Wes McLaughlin was Muskegon's original Big Red Indian. He  performed his first dance at a talent show.  Sanford Miller and Bob Jensen paired up and served in the role for the next two years.


In November 1961, a newly formed group of twirlers was created.  Called the Cherokettes, they circled Muskegon’s Big Red Indian, and joined him in dance during performances at football and basketball games. 


In the fall of 1963, the Big Red Marching Band debuted their new band uniforms. Acquired for $12,000 raised from three years of fund raising , the design now featured a Indian in full headdress on the chest.  It was the collective choice of the School Board, the Band Parents group, and the members of the band. 


Jerry CavinessThe dance of the Big Red Indian captured the imagination of Steele Junior High student Jerry Caviness.  He vowed to that he would one day represent his high school in the role.


In 1965, with his arrival at the high school, he tried out for the honor.  Selected as an alternate, he backed up Bob Farris, then assumed the position in the fall of 1966. Developing his own dance, Caviness added a new tradition, adding a white feather to his spear for each team victory, and a red feather to the collection representing a loss.


Lowell KirkseyThe Kirksey brothers, Lowell and Isaiah handled mascot duties during their high school days beginning in 1969.  Lowell was the first, and only, student to serve at Big Red Indian for three years.


For members of the band, the presence of a mascot meant the chance to perform another original piece of music.  Entitled "Indian Boy," it joined William Stewart's "Alma Mater" it help separate Muskegon High School from the prep landscape and was a highlight of pregame.  Fans participated with a simple rhythmic clap - no tomahawk chop by any stretch of the imagination.


Over the years overzealous sports writers, marketers, opponents, students and fans certainly poked fun at the Indian nickname.  Typical of the times, headlines and caricatures viewed in modern day light, painted stereotypes and depictions that would be viewed as insensitive and derogatory today. 



When these issues were brought to the attention of school administration, opinions were solicited from the membership of local Native American tribes and  the district moved to use of a distinctive silhouetted graphic of an Indian as the symbol.  The logo made its first appearance on the cover of the football program in the autumn of 1987.


In addition, tribe members joined with teachers and students to redesign the regalia worn at sporting events.  Guidance was also used by students as they developed their dance, lending authenticity and distinction to the position.


Students cherished the opportunity to be named for the honor.  Like others before him, Tim Lopez had to write an essay explaining why he wanted to be assume the role of Big Red Indian and had to perform his dance during tryouts. While honored to be perform during the 1996-97 season, his true joy came from watching young children light up when they were told they could touch the feather that adorned the costume.


The Native American symbols were used until 2002, when the district chose to retire the images and replace it with a stylistic block M, with origins dating back to the early 1900's.


"Over the years, we have worked hard with various groups to make sure our dance and regalia were authentic portrayals," stated Joseph Schulze, Superintendent of Schools in January 2002. "I know we intend to honor, but sometimes good intentions lead to unintended and harmful consequences.  Keeping the old symbol and dance suggests that we know best how to honor Native Americans."


"How should a school and educational institution respond to issues of human worth and dignity? Both Reverend Charles Poole, president of the Muskegon Board of Education, and I believe that we should lead the way. We must not risk promoting stereotypes or culturally insensitive practices. I am proud of our district's commitment to diversity, but it is a commitment that must be examined regularly and acted upon, even if the resulting decisions are unpopular."
Junior Chris Carter carried the role to the end, performing the Indian's last dance.  Images from the school's annual Said and Done illustrate the final view of Muskegon High School's beloved but retired mascot.     



1957-58 Sanford Miller & Bob Jensen
1958-59 Sanford Miller &
Bob Jensen
1959-60 Glen Swartzlander &
Dave Hall
1960-61 Dave Hall & Bill Sapp
1961-62 Bill Sapp
1962-63 Terry Meinhardi
1963-64 Jack Schugars
1964-65 John Matthews
1965-66 John Matthews & Bob Farris
Alternate – Jerry Caviness
1966-67 Jerry Caviness,
Alternates Chuck Birmingham & Tom Heethius
1967-68 Jerry Caviness,
Alternate – Tom Heethuis
1968-69 Tom Heethuis,
Alternate – Charles Aiken
1969-70 Lowell Kirksey
1970-71 Lowell Kirksey
1971-72 Lowell Kirksey
1972-73 Isaiah Kirksey
1973-74 Isaiah Kirksey
1974-75 Carter Robinson
1975-76 Carter Robinson
1976-77 Robbie Williams, Alternate Sam Brown
1977-78 Robbie Williams
1978-79 Byron "Kee Kee" Reynolds
1979-80 Byron "Kee Kee" Reynolds
1980-81 Bobby Payne
1981-82 Greg Roberts
1982-83 Greg Roberts
1983-84 J.J. Martin
1984-85 Manuel Heraada
1985-86 Gentry Doxey
1986-87 Jason Dillingham
1987-88 Ganghus Goins
1988-89 Ganghus Goins
1989-90 Curt Vanderstelt
1990-91 Haywood Floyd
1991-92 Antonio Romanelli
1992-93 Antonio Romanelli
1993-94 Mitchell Snavely
1994-95 Tim Bunnell
1995-96 Tim Bunnell
1996-97 Tim Lopez
1997-98 Jess Rosner
1998-99 Derek Pastoor
1999-00 Michael VanDam
2000-01 Michael VanDam
2001-02 Chris Carter