How did the Hibbing Bluejackets get their name?

If you ask that question, you’ll soon get the feeling that you’re talking to a bunch of economists or meteorologists.

Nobody knows for sure.

One story is that back in 1914 Andy Anderson and his buddies started a little bus company that was used to transport miners from various locations. In 1923, Hibbing High School (HHS) opened. A couple years later, Duluth East opened. Both schools submitted mascot/names for their school in 1926, with East being a year before the completion of their new school.

Hibbing chose the Greyhounds to celebrate the new name of the successful bus company (and greyhound logo) and East submitted blue jackets (the anchor logo) — a name reserved for the maritime captains or sailors, as Duluth was/is the largest inland seaport in the world.

Needless to say, the submissions were mixed up in St. Paul.

Hibbing ended up with the Blue Jackets and East with the Greyhounds.

By the time the mistake was realized, the approval had been completed and neither team appealed.

•••

However, the Duluth East-Hibbing High mix-up gets shot down pretty quickly.

Linda Suihkonen, recently retired HHS librarian/media specialist and Class of 1971, has researched the question and she says:

“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 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 (North Hibbing) pals and they are all wearing Navy pea coats, which in Navy jargon are ‘Blue Jackets.’

“There is a story floating around online that states Duluth East was supposed to be the ‘Blue Jackets’ and Hibbing was supposed to be the ‘Greyhounds.’ According to the article, this was supposed to be a mix-up of nicknames being registered with the state. Neither I, nor Hibbing Historical Society Museum Curator Erica Larson 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 an 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 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, Sept. 14, 1927, and may have chosen ‘Greyhounds’ for their nickname for that reason.

“The high school library, the Hibbing Public Library and the Hibbing Historical Museum each house a collection of Hibbing yearbooks called ‘The Hematite.’ The term ‘Blue Jacket’ first appears in the 1933 edition. Mention is also made of ‘Blue Jackets’ being sold to H-Club members. In the 1934 yearbook, the nickname becomes one word — ‘Bluejackets’ only to revert back to ‘Blue Jackets’ in 1935. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Popeye became the mascot using a paper maché Popeye head.

“This information is included in a delightful article written by former student, Marcy (Erickson) Johnson, which was published in the Hibbing Daily Tribune in 1988, and includes some of the information above. Ms. Johnson interviewed people, such as former librarian Marilyn Basarich, Mario Retica and Val Peterson, and is to be commended for her use of primary sources.

“We have had inquiries on this since I got here, and I really don’t have an answer. This particular story, I have heard recently, but can’t confirm or deny it for sure.

•••

From Craig Hattam of the Hibbing High School faculty about the Bluejacket name:

“First, Hibbing may have had an amateur sports team named the ‘Greyhounds,’ because businesses attached their name to the team, just like softball today.

“But, the early tradition of high schools was to name themselves by the color of their uniforms, yellow jackets, red coats, blue jackets etc ….

“I have copied and pasted an article done on the subject of school names from the late 1980s that was in the Hibbing paper…. where the name Bluejackets actually came from was probably never a formal decision…. just happened….

THE BLUEJACKET MASCOT AND TEAM NAME

The following article was retyped from a 1988 Hibbing Daily Tribune article titled:

“HHS ‘Bluejackets’ nickname first appeared 55 years ago by Marcy Erickson:”

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 peacoats?” others wondered.

Today, the Hibbing Bluejackets’ name carries with it nautical connotations, but it does not appear that it 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 as their own story.

Hibbing High School Librarian Marilyn Basarich has not seen the name Bluejackets prior to its appearing in the Nov. 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 usually written as one word.

The 1933 Hibbing High School yearbook, the Hematite, is the first yearbook to contain the name Blue Jackets. Several sports write ups refer to the Hibbing Blue Jackets.

On page 63, the following is written in the description of the “H” Club, and 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 1930s, issuing letter sweaters to lettermen was discontinued during the Depression.

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

Hibbing’s original 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.

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 said 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 Pepper referred to pep, according to former Pep Club Adviser 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.

The connection Hibbing now has with the Navy may have been purely accidental.

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

The first evidence of any connection with the Navy is a picture of the Hibbing High School basketball team in the 1954 Hematite. Hibbing had warmup jackets with sailor collars and an anchor insignia on the front.

“One of the warmups we could get in blue and white that was attractive 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 those warmups until at least 1960 when a picture of the boys tennis team appears in the Hematite with an anchor insignia on their warmups.

In the early 1970s, the cheerleaders’ uniforms included the sailor collar and sailor hats. Today, nearly every Hibbing High School team used some form of the anchor on their uniforms, other equipment or programs.

In the early 1970s, Popeye became Hibbing’s mascot. The anchor had been adopted and someone decided to stay with the Navy theme. A paper-maché Popeye head was made and a picture of Marcia Feldman wearing it is in the 1972 Hematite.

When the head broke, a new one was not made and Hibbing has since been without a mascot.

Several people came up with interesting answers in search for the origins of the name Bluejackets. Retica said he thought Hibbing High School may have been called the Ore Diggers at one time. In the article on the football team in 1931, the name Ore Diggers does appear.

Before 1933, Hibbing High School was usually just called Hibbing or the Blue and White in the Hematite and school newspapers.

Hibbing High School English Teacher Dan Bergan said someone told him the school got the name because at one time the cheerleaders wore peacoats.

A few other people mentioned that former athletic director Doc Savage had bought some peacoats.

Former Athletic Director Gary Addington contributed, “I don’t know. Wasn’t Frank Hibbing a sailor?”

Hibbing High School Science Teacher Dale Gibbs quipped, “I think it might be an old Indian name.”

However it started, the name Bluejackets has been with Hibbing High School for over 55 years.

•••

Former HHS Librarian Linda Suihkonen appeals to all of you history lovers and detectives out there. If you have any verifiable information that can help solve the mystery of the origin of the “Bluejackets” nickname, please contact her at lindshui@uslink.net or Erica Larson at the Hibbing Historical Society at (218) 263-8522.

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