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All Over the Map: The story behind the Northwest’s weirdest school mascots

Kirkland High School (which later became Lake Washington High School) chose the Kangaroo as a mascot in the 1930s; this image is from the 1943 Kangaroo yearbook. (Feliks Banel)

The “snow days” that disrupted many schools during last February’s storms mean that graduation time is stretching a bit longer into June than usual. In honor of this year’s grads and anyone else getting a little impatient for summer vacation, here are a few local school mascot fun facts.

Lake Washington Kangaroos (of Kirkland)

The “Kangaroo” name dates to the 1930s, when what’s now Lake Washington High School on Rose Hill was still called Kirkland High School, and still located in downtown Kirkland.

L-Dub is one of as few as only two high schools with a kangaroo as mascot; another is in Weatherford, Texas. That Lone Star kangaroo dates to before our own local Kangs; it was apparently named in the 1920s after the mascot of Austin College, also in Texas, in honor of a popular Weatherford teacher who attended that other institution.

Local Kangaroos are everywhere, and a few of them in the media biz shared their thoughts on being part of the marsupial brotherhood (full disclosure, I’m one, too).

Q13 anchor Bill Wixey, LWHS class of ’85, wrote:

“As far as being a Lake Washington Kangaroo, I have always considered it a badge of honor. I’m very grateful to have grown up when I grew up and where I grew up. Many of the dearest friends I have in this world are Kangs — people who have that common bond: growing up in that sleepy little lake town that became a suburban Mecca.”

Jeff Burnside, Seattle and Spokane journalist, LWHS class of ’75, wrote:

“At Lake Washington High School, I found my professional path in life, I found some lifetime friends and confirmed exactly who I thought I was. But I was embarrassed that our mascot was the Kangaroos. C’mon, the Kangs?! Purple, no less!? Ugh. I considered mounting a campaign to change it. But, over time, I came to embrace all that that mascot represents just as I further embraced my high school experience and all that it represents in me. Thanks, L-Dub.”

Oddly enough, only Lake Washington High School shortens the full name to “Kangs”; at Weatherford High they go only by “Kangaroos,” and at Austin College, they shorten the name to “’Roos.”

Also probably only at L-Dub: First-year students are called “Joeys.”

As for the deep origins of the word “Kangaroo,” I was sad to read the busting of this particular myth that had the word meaning, “I don’t know.”

The Evergreen State College Geoducks

Evergreen’s mascot, chosen in 1971 when the school was founded, is the mollusk known as the Geoduck (pronounced, “GOOEY-duck”). This is what founding faculty member Dave Hitchens wrote sometime later about the origins of the geoduck as TESC’s mascot:

“Nobody knows how [ecology and natural history professor] Al Wiedemann came up with the concept of the geoduck, but he was very animated about pushing it as a mascot. However, the geoduck turned out to be the perfect mascot as he presented it to the faculty at Pack Forest Retreat [in Eatonville] in June 1971. While standing in front of a flag that he created representing sea, sand, and tide, Wiedemann gave five reasons why the geoduck should be the mascot of The Evergreen State College: permanence, versatility, flexibility, vulnerability, and non-aggressive. There were laughs throughout the presentation, but Al Wiedemann was dead serious on the subject.”

Knute Berger, a writer for Crosscut who graduated from Evergreen in one of the first classes back in the mid 1970s, wrote:

“As a journalist who covers the Northwest, I am glad to be a non-combatant in the Huskies vs. Cougars or Huskies vs Ducks wars, though I generally root for the Huskies. Often, when it comes up among newcomers, they can’t believe a geoduck is actually a real state college mascot. They look shocked when I tell them our Latin motto — Omina extares — translates as ‘Let It All Hang Out.'”

Franklin High School Quakers in Seattle’s Rainier Valley

The “Quaker” name was supposedly suggested by Royal Brougham in 1920, when he was editor of the student paper. Brougham later became one of Seattle’s most famous sportswriters and had a street (formerly Connecticut Street; sorry, Hartfordians!) by the stadiums renamed after him.

The image of the school mascot sometimes resembles the guy on the Quaker Oats box, but it’s actually supposed to be Benjamin Franklin. As for who that guy on the oats box is, this is what the Quaker website says on its FAQ page:

Q: Who is the man on the Quaker Oats box? Is it William Penn?

A: The ‘Quaker man’ is not an actual person. His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity and strength.

There’s also a Franklin High School in Portland, Oregon with “Quakers” as their mascot. However, they are nearing the end of a multi-year process to select a new name.

The Portland Public Schools website says “Franklin is undergoing a mascot name change because its current identity, Quakers, has been found to violate district policy that forbids names with a religious affiliation.”

Six alternatives have been chosen for the Portland school, and the school board is set to vote sometime before the end of this month to formally select from among Ambassadors, Chargers, Falcons, Firs, Lightning, or Thunderbolts.

As of Friday morning, Seattle Public Schools had not responded to an email sent midday Thursday about any possible plans to drop Seattle’s Quaker mascot.

In recent years, several local schools have changed their mascots to reflect changing attitudes, particularly toward Native American-themed mascot names. Port Townsend High School changed from the Redskins to the Redhawks in 2014, and Seattle University changed from the Chieftains to the Redhawks in 2000. In Eastern Washington, Richland High School’s “Bombers” mascot, with mushroom cloud logo inspired by the nearby Hanford project, remains controversial for some.

Meanwhile, writer, comedian and longtime television personality John Keister, who graduated from Seattle’s Franklin High School in the mid 1970s, wrote:

“It was really strange going to a high school in which the mascot was The Quakers, a nonviolent religious sect. Although, to be honest, I don’t think most of the student body had any idea what a Quaker was.  This was demonstrated before every game when banners went up featuring an angry looking Ben Franklin firing a musket with slogans like ‘Kill ‘Em Quakers!’ We did get one thing right however: we practiced a lot of nonviolent resistance on the football field.  And we smoked a lot of hemp, which I think the founding fathers were very fond of.”

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