1909 Hibbing High School Girls Basketball team

Do you just love the uniforms of the 1909 Hibbing High School Girls Basketball team! However you might react to the uniforms, look into their eyes and you'll see that, even then, Hibbing's girls played a tough game. Pictured in the Lincoln High School's 1909 Yearbook, The Rail Splitter, from the left are: Albert Kanipes, Coach; Phnia Bey; Esther Pearce; Beatrice Atkinson; Mae Meehan; Margaret Gandsey; Signa Ekstrom.

When Joe and I give tours of Hibbing High School, it is almost inevitable that a tour guest will ask, “What are ‘Bluejackets’?” or “When did the school start using ‘Bluejackets’?”

Fifteen or more years ago, Dan Bergan, high school English teacher extraordinaire, did research on that very question. The late Jack Lynch also did an investigation for a 2014 newspaper article. And I have been collecting stories about the topic for many years.

Some of these “origin stories” overlap nicely. Occasionally, a story is only found in one place or recounted only by one individual. In other words, it’s not an easy question to answer with 100% certainty. However, in honor of another group of Bluejackets graduating and going out into the world, I thought it would be fun to return to this favorite question – “How did we get to be Bluejackets?”

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

Explanations of the School’s Nickname

The Hibbing Daily Tribune, on July 22, 1993, to celebrate Hibbing’s 100th Birthday, published a Special Edition with articles covering many aspects of life in Hibbing during the town’s first 100 years. One of the articles by reporter Marcy Erickson Johnson concerns the school nickname. A part of that article follows here:

The nickname for Hibbing High School is Bluejackets.

However, few people, if any, really know for sure how the school got that name.

“Isn’t it because of the Navy?” several people asked. “Doesn’t it have something to do with pea-coats?” others wondered.

Today, the Hibbing Bluejackets’ name carries with it nautical connotations, but it does not appear that was always the case.

Although many people think the name originated from a connection with the Navy, extensive research has not found anyone who backs that connection completely as the story.

Hibbing High School Librarian Marilyn Basarich has not seen the name Bluejackets prior to it appearing in the November 17, 1933, issue of the Hibbing High School newspaper. The high school football team was called the Blue Jackets, then two words.

It was written as one word as early as 1934, and today is written as a single word.

The 1933 Hibbing High School yearbook, the Hematite, is the first annual to contain the name Blue Jackets.

On page 63 the following is written in the description of the “H” Club, an organization for lettermen : “As a further source of stimulus, ‘Blue Jackets’ were sold to members.”

According to Bernard Keppel, who played football for Hibbing in the early 1930’s, issuing letter sweaters to lettermen was discontinued during the Depression.

“We then bought our own jackets. They were a medium blue and had a picture of the central entrance of the high school on the back,” he said. “The Lettermen’s Club, Student Council, and a few others voted on the name Bluejackets and it was accepted.”

Hibbing’s original school colors seem to have been Navy blue and white, according to several sources. Today the colors are royal blue and white.

According to the 1903 commencement announcement of the first graduating class, the senior class colors were blue and white. The first two graduating classes, 1903 and 1904, had two members each.

Jerry Kearney, all-around Hibbing High School athlete in the early 1930s, agrees that the “H” Club voted on the name Bluejackets and accepted it, but he believes the name was based on more than just the jackets.

“There was a pro football team in Minneapolis called the Yellowjackets. So we decided to call ourselves the Bluejackets,” he said.

The name stuck, but the school did not have anything to go with it. Hibbing went without a mascot until 1947 when Beejay Pepper, a teddy bear, was introduced by the Pep Club.

Beejay was shortened to B.J., for Bluejackets, and the Pepper referred to pep, according to former Pep Club Advisor Val Peterson.

“Many of the other teams had mascots, but we didn’t have anything. Nothing went with Bluejackets, and I was kind of partial to teddy bears. We voted on the teddy bear, and held a competition to name it,” she said.

“I think we had three different bears. I used to knit sweaters for whatever one we had,” Peterson said.

The last B.J. bear was lost in the 1960s, and Hibbing went without a mascot again for awhile.

Associating Hibbing with the Navy may have come about in a purely accidental way.

“The name had nothing to do with the Navy,” said Keppel. “There were no anchors or anything like that.”


Another Explanation

Also in the 1993 Centennial Edition of the Tribune was a short article by Dan Anderson. He did some research at that time and unearthed a few more possibilities.

And this from the 1986 Hematite:

Have you ever wondered how the Hibbing athletic teams got their nickname the Bluejackets? Well, there are two very good versions of how it came about.

The first explanation is that during World War II some of Doc Savage’s athletic teams wore surplus Navy “pea coats” to out of town games, thus the fans labeled them “Blue Jackets”.

A second version is that a specific class at Hibbing High School all bought blue jackets with a picture of the school on the back. The out-of-town people called these students “Bluejackets” and this then transferred to all of the school’s teams.


Yet Another Explanation

The following is an excerpt from the very excellent investigation done by Linda Suihkonen for the 2014 All-Class Reunion booklet. At the time, Linda was the head Librarian/Media Specialist at Hibbing High School. (Now retired from that job, Linda has transferred her formidable researching skills to her volunteer work at the Hibbing Historical Society.)

First off, the 1917 High School yearbook was titled “The Submarine”, so a nautical theme has been in place for some time.

Columnist Aaron Brown recently wrote that we “can credit a retired naval officer who served as Hibbing’s school superintendent during the city’s early years. He acquired surplus Navy pea coats for students to use as letter jackets and the name soon followed.” R.J. Thiel has also researched this topic. He has a 1915 photo in which his “Grandad is pictured with his Lincoln High (in North Hibbing) pals and they are all wearing Navy pea coats, which in Naval jargon are ‘Blue Jackets’.”

There is also a story floating around on-line that states Duluth East High School was supposed to be the Blue Jackets and Hibbing was supposed to be the Greyhounds. According to this particular story, a mix-up of nicknames occurred when being registered with the State High School League. Neither I, nor Hibbing Historical Society Museum Curator, Erica Larson, (now Zubich) have been able to confirm this. Thiel stated that the Minnesota State High School League originated in 1916, but that “it wasn’t until 1945 that the MSHSL became a(n) authoritative organizing body for high school activities.”

Larson states that it would not have been out of the question for Duluth to adopt the “Greyhounds” as their mascot because Carl Wickman, one of the original owners of the Mesabi Transportation Company, moved to Duluth in the early 1920s. He was using the Greyhound name for his bus line there by the late 1920s. Duluth’s East Senior High School opened its doors to students on Wednesday, September 14, 1927, and may have chosen “Greyhounds” for their nickname for that reason…

It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Popeye the Sailor Man became the mascot using a paper--mache Popeye head.


And Finally…

A June 29, 2014, article by the late Jack Lynch includes this information:

In the 1954 Hematite is a picture of the boys basketball team in warmup jackets with sailor collars and an anchor insignia on the front.

“One of the warmups we could get in blue and white had the sailor collar on it,” said former basketball coach Mario Retica. “We could get an anchor insignia with it, so we did.”

The boys basketball team wore that style warmup until at least 1960 when a picture of the boys tennis team appears in the Hematite with an anchor insignia on their warmups…

The anchor had been adopted and someone had decided to stay with the Naval theme.


Congratulations to all the area 2019 high school graduates, whether they be: Bluejackets, Blue Streaks, Tigers, Spartans, Blue Devils, Grizzlies, Golden Bears, Timberwolves, Broncos, Giants, Raiders, or Thunderhawks!


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