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Pride still swells from W-DC's varied school mascots

Were you a part of the tribe? A Wildcat? Or are the Wolverines all you've ever known?

Students on the football field making a heart shape.
In their first year as consolidated schools in the 1992-93 school year, Wadena-Deer Creek celebrated homecoming with the band displaying a heart shape. The schools didn't become the Wolverines immediately, though, they were known as 'the Pride of Wadena-Deer Creek.'
Contributed / Wadena School Yearbook
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WADENA — It's been over 30 years since the Wadena School mascot was the "mighty, mighty Indian," but you can still show that tribe pride by buying a "Wadena Indians" shirt at Gremain's in Wadena. It's perhaps the only place you can still find one.
"We still sell a couple dozen every summer," owner Ron Greiman said on Tuesday, May 17, while busily screen printing shirts for the upcoming All-School Reunion marked for June 10-12 in Wadena. Each summer, some classes gather for a reunion in Wadena and many of those of the Indian generation continue to buy a shirt in remembrance of their glory years.
Why the Wadena Indians? Well, Wadena is named after Chief Wadena , an Ojibwe Indian chief of the late 19th century in northwestern Minnesota.

Wadena Indians.jpg
You can still find Wadena Indian gear at Greiman's in Wadena. They sell apparel with many of the area mascots on full display.
Michael Johnson / Pioneer Journal

"They are Indians, they are not Wolverines," Greiman said of those alumni of that era. That's a sentiment many students take with them as they continue to embrace the mascot that they embodied while going to school.
Greiman himself is a Blue Earth Buccaneer but had children that graduated in the final years that the Indian was still the Wadena mascot, in the early 90s. Whether you identify as a Wolverine, Wildcat or Indian, Greiman now has apparel for all including gear specific to the All-School Reunion.
Today, students, families and businesses alike share in the school pride of Wadena and or Deer Creek and Bluffton. Whether they were an Indian of Wadena, A Wildcat of Deer Creek or the mascot that helped bring Wadena and Deer Creek together, the fierce Wolverine. You'll likely see each of these mascots on display at the upcoming all-school reunion, which has never brought all three of these mascot groups together before. It's been 41 years since an all-school reunion has happened in Wadena.
Each group of students has embodied the mascot of their time and it's gone with them as they went out into the world.
“We are proud of our school and have helped make it what it is,” wrote the 1951 Wadena yearbook staff. “It is a place of cooperation, built upon honesty, courtesy, courage, good sportsmanship, loyalty, friendliness, and leadership. Here we have progressed.”

The 1951 yearbook staff said the Indians served as a “fitting name” and noted Chief Wadena would be proud of the school’s activities and organizations. Planning committee member and previous district senior bookkeeper Joyce Boyne wrote through her years at Wadena Schools they were the “mighty, mighty Indians,” and “We had lots of school spirit.” She graduated in 1967.

school room
A display in the school room honors the Wadena marching band. The uniform represents the type worn from the 1950s through the mid-1960s.

“As a graduate of Wadena High School, I will always be a ‘Wadena Indian,’” wrote Donna Sartell, a Wadena class of 1975 graduate, all-school reunion committee member and WDC administrative assistant. “As an employee of Wadena-Deer Creek Schools, I am proud of our school. The quality of education, athleticism and sportsmanship is second to none.”

The district made the transition to the Wolverines when the Wadena and Deer Creek schools combined in the 1990s. They started as “The Pride” of Wadena-Deer Creek without a logo for a few years. Both Wadena and Deer Creek, however, featured gold and blue school colors.

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“Blue for fidelity, gold for the treasures of our futures. How proud it makes us feel when we see these colors on the football field or on the basketball floor,” wrote the 1951 Wadena yearbook staff about the school colors. “Displayed by the band these colors thrill us as a symbol of the school we attend and cherish.”

As a student of the rival Staples-Motley Cardinals, Norm Gallant remembers a 1990s football game when WDC announced their new mascot as the Wolverines. They happened to be playing the homecoming game when the announcement came during halftime. Gallant is the WDC activities director and dean of students, and was also an elementary teacher before becoming AD in 2010.

WDC students voted for what their new mascot would be back in the 90s —a vote that was swayed by the Michigan Wolverines ‘ Fab Five ’ basketball team's popularity, according to Gallant who had the story shared with him from staff members at that time. He added there are about a dozen wolverine mascots in Minnesota. Gallant jokingly announced on April Fool's Day 2022 that WDC would be changing to the Fighting Whitetails, a joke that was not taken so well for some who did not get the joke.

The Wolverine’s logo is modeled after Utah Valley State, though it’s been hard to create a logo that truly looks like a Wolverine, Gallant said. Some might view the wolverine as a bear or a large cat, though it is in the weasel animal family. The WDC Wolverines also used a paw shape for many years and now use a mock Wolverine head.

Wooly the Wolverine might rev up the crowd at Wadena-Deer Creek sporting events, but that's just someone in a costume. The closest most students will get to a real-life example of the animal is in the middle/high school office, where a stuffed mu...

Over the last 10 years, Gallant described how the Wolverines has become more of an “identity.” He hopes to see a strong set of values instilled in students, embodied by staff members and shared with the community and those visiting WDC.

WDC administrative assistant Katie Polman has been leading a marketing committee to further define and regulate use of the Wadena-Deer Creek brand in 2022. She said the changes or tweaks they are working on are not major. There is no getting rid of the "paw" or wolverine. They will still be using the blue and gold colors (to be more specific air force blue and golden okre). The focus is to be more consistent with how they use each. If they send their logo out to a third party vendor, they want to make sure that they are using the right ones.
While the brand of WDC is the paw, Wolverine is their mascot, she explained. In all ways they use these logos, the goal is that whoever sees them recognizes with certainty that that is a symbol of WDC.
"The goal isn't to squash creativity," Polman said. "That's the message I want to convey to staff. But we still want that consistency and identity to be there."

The identity is important and it's a pride in that identity and in the body that's something the school district has worked on from the beginning.
“When you listen to our school song it talks about leadership and pride and class. I think those are the things that we’ve tried to instill in our teams and our crowds and our school is that idea of pride and leadership and class,” Gallant said. “Class is a really important word, we want to do things the right way all the time and … it’s not just about winning but doing things the right way and producing quality kids and quality people.”

What does it take to be a Wolverine?

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  • Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom: “A WDC Wolverine is progressive, creative, competitive, tenacious, spirited, and honorable. In addition, this year WDC Wolverines are resourceful, resilient, patient, compassionate, and if I might say so, ‘THE BEST’!” 
  • Matthew Fank: “No matter how many times you’ve been beaten down, you get back up!”
  • Britta Kern: “You’ve got to have SPIRIT!”
  • Talia Cotten: “Be strong, brave, noble-hearted, courageous, and strong willed. To be a Wolverine means a lot to me. How ‘bout you?”
  • Hannah Vorderbruggen: “A Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverine is someone who has lots of school spirit. They are a good role-model. A Wolverine is someone that is amazingly awesome!”
  • Tyler Wheeler: “What it takes to be a Wolverine to me is school spirit, responsibility, and sportsmanship.” 

Wolverine answers are from the 2012 Wadena-Deer Creek yearbook. Research materials on the Wadena Indians were compiled by Nedra Bertram of the Wadena County Historical Society.

A wildcat logo.
The Deer Creek wildcat logo emblazoned on a letter jacket.
Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at mjohnson@agweek.com or 218-640-2312.
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