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The Midgets? Really?

Updated: Jun 13, 2023

By Carlo Kumpula (Revised: June, 2023)

Many sports mascots have come under fire in recent years. As the Washington Redskins became the Commanders and the Cleveland Indians became the Guardians, criticisms of the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Braves have re-surfaced along with renewed challenges to numerous high school mascots.

Complaints about race-based mascots are nothing new. Over the past few decades in Wisconsin the Milton Redmen became the Redhawks, the Kewaunee Indians became the Storm, the Menomonie Indians became the Mustangs, and the Osseo-Fairchild Chieftains became the Thunder. Other schools have simply removed Native-American imagery from their logos. An example would be Warriors. By using the word Warriors, with no additional imagery; the term might refer to ancient Greek Warriors, Roman Warriors, or even the American military's "Wounded Warriors." The mascot becomes a bit more ambiguous and, thus, more acceptable.

That brings us to the Butternut Midgets, which some might question as to why they're included in my book. Rest assured, it was a difficult decision; one that I didn't take lightly. I discussed the issue with several teacher colleagues from around the state, all of whom agreed with my rationale.

Most significant is the role of historical context. Going to high school in Mellen I competed against both the Butternut and Hurley Midgets. I was aware that the two mascots weren't quite the same. Hurley, as has been the story with most U.S. schools using the mascot, adopted the name from an undersized, but successful, athletic team. In Hurley's case it was football. According to an April 4, 2004 article in the Iron County Miner, the earliest mention was in the October 10, 1925 edition of the Iron County News after a football game against Bessemer. It wasn't until 1930, though, that the school's yearbook referred to the football team as the Midgets.

In 2019 Hurley became the Northstars. As with most communities that have undergone similar change, it wasn't an easy decision.

Butternut, on the other hand, has the story of Charles "Midget" Fisher, the World Champion wrestler which provides historical context unique to this one school and community. According to Mascot, there were at least a dozen high school Midget mascots at one time. Seven have been changed due to either consolidation or public pressure, leaving one each in North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri along with Butternut. None of the other four, however, can match Butternut's historical context.

The other factor is the legal aspect. Through the 1990s and on into the current century, Wisconsin Statute 118.134 (referred to as Wisconsin's Indian Mascot Law by the Marquette Sports Law Review) has been debated, revised, debated, and revised again. Essentially, though, the focus of the law has not changed. It has specifically addressed race-based mascots, particularly those involving Native American names and images. The Hurley and Butternut mascots have rarely factored into the equation as they were not race-based. And, while groups such as the Little People of America have challenged all of the remaining "Midget" mascots in the U.S., Butternut's story of Charles Fischer has endured.

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