UND chooses Fighting Hawks as new nickname

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Decades of debate and turmoil culminated in one 15-minute press conference on the University of North Dakota campus Wednesday where UND President Robert Kelley announced the university's new athletic nickname, effective immed...

Kelley Reveals Nickname
UND President Robert Kelley reveals the school's new nickname at a press conference Wednesday. (Wade Rupard/Grand Forks Herald)

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Decades of debate and turmoil culminated in one 15-minute press conference on the University of North Dakota campus Wednesday where UND President Robert Kelley announced the university's new athletic nickname, effective immediately, will be the Fighting Hawks.

The results of an online vote showed of 27,378 total votes cast by stakeholders, Fighting Hawks received 57 percent, beating out Roughriders.

The winning name comes after more than a year of work by committees and three public votes. The school has played simply as UND or North Dakota since retiring its Fighting Sioux name in 2012 due to the possibility of NCAA sanctions.

When asked initially what name he voted for UND, President Robert Kelley said he didn't have a favorite but later told reporters he picked Fighting Hawks in the last vote.

"Obviously it's far from over," Kelley said. "We've got a lot of work still to do, but the big part of getting through the selection of the new name is over."


Plans are in place to hire a design company to create a Fighting Hawks logo and while the new nickname will be used immediately. In fact, UND spokesman Peter Johnson, during his turn at the press conference, started by proclaiming "Go Fighting Hawks!" and thrusting his fist into the air.

Full implementation could take as long as three years depending on the program.

"Some things will go quicker than others," UND Athletic Director Brian Faison said. "It's like uniforms. We can do some things next year, no problem, but others are more problematic because of when you have to order the jerseys, but we'll work through it."

In an email, Johnson said $276,433 has been put into the nickname selection process so far.

Vice President for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton said she realized it was a significant cost to the university and didn't know how much logo development and implementation would cost.

DeAnna Carlson Zink, the executive vice president and CEO of the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, acknowledged there will always be those who refuse to let go of the Fighting Sioux nickname.

"But this really is a historic moment," Zink said. "It's only our third nickname in history and now we move forward. We move forward with respect for the legacy and tradition of the Fighting Sioux and even the Flickertails, and look forward to creating new traditions."


A winner from the start

Fighting Hawks proved to be the frontrunner in all three nickname votes this fall, winning 31 percent of votes during the first vote and 46 percent of votes during the second round. Nodaks, North Stars and Sundogs were eliminated in the course of the first two votes.

About 82,000 stakeholders could have voted, including alumni, students, UND employees, retirees, donors and season ticket holders, putting turnout for the final vote at 33 percent. The third round of voting had the highest turnout while 32 percent of stakeholders cast ballots in the second vote and 27 percent during the first vote in October.

Zink said she was pleased with voter turnout, something Walton echoed.

"We're really pleased people stayed with the process and people who had the opportunity to vote exercised that right," Walton said.

Tim O'Keefe, who led the Alumni Association and Foundation through some of the most tumultuous years of the nickname controversy, said he was also happy with voter turnout.

"In these last two votes especially, it really speaks to the passion of alumni and for that matter our current students," he said. "It bodes well for the future simply from the standpoint that people care."

Former North Dakota Governor and UND's future interim president Ed Schafer voted for Roughriders but he said he's just happy a name has been picked so they can move forward.


"The point is we needed to get here, to this point in time, to have a name chosen to move forward and build it into the character of the university," he said.

To begin rebranding, the school will officially release a request for proposals in the next few days seeking a design firm to create a logo to accompany Fighting Hawks.

Walton said the logo will be created by midsummer with implementation for the fall 2016 semester.

Ralph Engelstad Arena Manager Jody Hodgson said he doesn't know what will happen with the UND's athletic arena as the university rebrands with its new nickname and logo, but the existing Fighting Sioux logos will remain in place because they're allowed in the terms of the amended settlement agreement with the NCAA.

"We're just fresh into this situation and moving forward we'll have to figure things out as we go," he said.

A group of stakeholders will help select the design firm while another group will work with the firm to create the logo, Walton said. How the final decision will be made remains unclear because with Kelley retiring in January, Schafer will take office until he is replaced by a new president as early as July 2016, she said.

Schafer said earlier this month he wants to be involved in the process, something UND Student Body President Matt Kopp said, too.

"It seems to me the students I'm talking to are voting for Fighting Hawks and that makes me think there will be some buy-in," he said.

City spokesman Pete Haga said UND's nickname change gives the city a change to further its partnership with the school.

"I think this gives us a chance to rally around and support, recognizing there are as always different opinions moving forward, but there is a critical need to make sure the university and community moves forward successfully," he said.

A long road

The vote for UND's nickname has been met with both adversity and support from the public.

UND officially retired the Fighting Sioux nickname about three years ago when the NCAA threatened sanctions for teams using Native American imagery.

After being appointed by Kelley in September 2014, the first nickname task force held open forums to gather public feedback throughout the fall and winter. At some of those meetings, attendees said they wanted the Fighting Sioux name back while others stressed the need to pick a new logo and move on.

"Move forward for (student athletes)," UND women's basketball coach Travis Brewster said at an open forum in November 2014. "Move forward for the university."

Moving forward was not always easy.

Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, filed legislation Jan. 7 attempting to extend a moratorium prohibiting the school from picking a new nickname until July 2017, though it ultimately failed.

A second nickname committee gathered more than 1,000 individual suggestions from the public throughout April and then narrowed them down to five, controversially voting to take continuing to play as UND or North Dakota off the ballot. Kelley, amid outcry, briefly reconsidered before upholding the committee's recommendation.

This fall, a former Bismarck mayor first registered the trade names and later trademarks of the words that were nickname possibilities in an effort to stop the vote until UND/North Dakota was included. At Wednesday's press conference, Walton maintained the university is confident they will be able to move forward with implementing the Fighting Hawks name.

Days before the online vote for the nickname was set to start in October, three people filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the vote without the addition of UND/ North Dakota and inclusion of Sioux tribes in the vote.

Fargo judge Thomas Olson denied the injunction to stop the vote, citing the plaintiffs' failure to show the vote would cause irreparable harm.

An audio recording of that hearing reveals Nils Eberhardt, one of three attorneys from the North Dakota Attorney General's office representing the defendants, said the nickname vote was merely a "feeling-out process."

Officials maintain the winner of the vote will be the school's athletic nickname.

In addition to lawmakers and lawsuits, the public also tried to preserve the Fighting Sioux nickname.

Eunice Davidson and her husband David Davidson Sr., avid supporters of the name, organized a group in the spring called The Sioux Were Silenced that distributed information through social media and YouTube in an effort to revive the old name.

Throughout the late summer and into fall two protests were held and one student organized a small stand-in in protest of Kelley's decision to keep UND/North Dakota off the ballot.

Former UND hockey player Frank Burgraff is a proponent of the Fighting Sioux nickname and said he'll never buy in to UND's new nickname.

"They took my legacy away from me," he said.


Many took to social media to express frustration with UND's announcement Wednesday including notable alumnus Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter, who joked he was a fan of Bison Slayers but could live with Fighting Hawks.

Former UND Student Body President Tanner Franklin, who served as co-chairman of the task force that developed the process of picking a nickname, said he's disappointed with the end result.

"All the time that was spent, all the dollars that were spent, all the research that went into this, and we came up with a name that I don't feel as though identifies with this institution or the state and I'm really disappointed that's what it came to," he said.

Others were happy with the announcement.

Kathleen Neset, the chairwoman of the State Board of Higher Education that governs the state's 11 public institutions, said in an emailed statement that she was pleased UND let stakeholders have a say.

"We are making decisions now that will impact the future generations of North Dakota," she wrote. "It is time to unite in the cause for our students and work together toward their success."

Jesse Taken Alive is a member of the Standing Rock Tribal Council and was a proponent of retiring the Fighting Sioux name for years. He said in a text message that he's thankful and looks forward to the full adoption of the new name and logo.

"It has been a long and interesting journey," he said. "In our Lakota language we say Wopila (a heart given thank you)."

Spirit Lake Sioux tribal representatives didn't respond to attempts to contact them but Leander "Russ" McDonald, a former tribal council chairman and member of the nickname committee, said he feels his alma mater is moving in the right direction.

McDonald said when he came to UND as a student in 1997 he didn't have an opinion on the use of the Fighting Sioux name but grew to dislike its use the longer he was on campus.

"It's so important to have a safe and equitable environment on these different campuses to concentrate on education rather than concentrating on ethnicity and races," he said.

A new UND

While a lot of changes are in store for UND, some things will remain the same. Several UND entities including the Champions Club, NoDak Nation, and Dacotah Legacy Collection will retain their names, as will the Alumni Association and Foundation's annual Sioux Awards.

UND will continue using an interlocking "ND" for its athletic logo in the interim but Kelley and Hodgson have both said they won't censor what fans wear on campus or at games. Fighting Sioux gear is still commonplace in Grand Forks and the national anthem continually concludes with the crowd singing, "the home of the Sioux" at hockey games.

While the NCAA could investigate the continued use of the Fighting Sioux name by fans if other schools complain, Faison shook his head when asked about it at Wednesday's press conference.

"We'll see," he said. "I think it's what you do with it and what the mark looks like will be a big determining factor in ultimate acceptance."

Faison also acknowledged some will never support UND as the Fighting Hawks.

"I think it's naive to think there won't still be people who always treasure being the Fighting Sioux," he said. "Some people will never change and I get that but I think the majority of people over time will embrace the new."

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