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Column: Little Chapman High still the 'Fighting Irish,' but the leprechaun had to go
Three years after a tornado nearly wiped the town off the map, the last thing people in Chapman Kan. (pop. 1,393) need is another lesson about turning lemons into lemonade.
They got it, anyway, when Notre Dame called and asked for its leprechaun back.
It's a long story with a few twists, one of those David vs. Goliath battles over a logo that pits a plucky high school or little league against a muscular sports "brand." You already know who wins. But bear with us. Not just because there's going to be more and more of those fights in sports going forward, but because the backstory on this one is sadder than most.
Chapman High has been calling its sports teams the "Fighting Irish" since 1967 and has every right to keep the name. But somewhere along the way, the school settled on a mascot that looked suspiciously like the trademarked original back in South Bend. Notre Dame first noticed the resemblance in 2006 and after some discussions at the time, Chapman High officials agreed to come up with a version of their own.
But no one at the high school remembered to organize an art contest right away, and apparently the paperwork got shuffled into the wrong pile soon after. Two years later, the winds kicked up and blew all those piles ' and just about everything else in town ' away.
On June 11, 2008, a half-mile wide tornado swept across Chapman, killing one person, injuring dozens, displacing 200 or so residents from their homes and damaging nearly every structure in its path. The rebuilding effort has continued in fits and starts ever since, A new high school finally opened in January, but over the summer, someone at Notre Dame noticed the pesky leprechaun hadn't changed so much as a whisker.
But the Notre Dame official who got back in touch didn't know about the storm, or how it put everything in Chapman way behind schedule. Because of the timing, what was intended as a nudge felt like a shove to the people on the receiving end.
"When you get a letter from Notre Dame," Chapman principal Kevin Suther said, "it gets your attention."
This one did, and we can report the Chapman mascot art contest is now in full swing. The poster states "no clip art" for submissions and voting is scheduled to end Jan. 20. The new mascot will be revealed at a Fighting Irish basketball game on Feb. 10.
No word yet on what will happen to the logo that used to be in the center circle before district officials were forced to replace the damaged floor, not to mention all the other leprechauns lying around. No matter. Suther is pretty sure everyone in town ' including more than a few of Chapman's disgruntled alumni ' will get over the flap soon enough.
"If we're not used to change, I don't know who is," Suther said. "We'll bounce right back."
Notre Dame no doubt believes the same should hold true for its reputation. We'll see.
School spokesman Dennis Brown said the university was only doing the same thing any business would to protect a trademark, and that it told Chapman High officials back in 2006 ' as well as this summer ' to change the leprechaun the next time it got around to remodeling its uniforms or gym.
That's less heavy-handed than the zealous way the International Olympic Committee guards its rings, nor as mad as the NCAA gets over any unauthorized use of "March Madness." Every pro sports league, meanwhile, has lawyers ready to pounce on counterfeit logos wherever they appear and if you want tough, see how long it takes to hear from Nike if you decide to sew a swoosh on any article of clothing.
Two years ago, a rival vendor notified Major League Baseball that a company manufacturing uniforms for a youth baseball league in the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park was making jerseys with the names of MLB teams stitched on the front. The same company had been doing it that way for years without paying licensing fees, assuming that if it wasn't using the team's official MLB logos, it was exempt. MLB lawyers soon convinced the owner otherwise.
"I think they're taking a very generous interpretation of the law for themselves, but I'm not a lawyer," Dave Glenn, owner of SportStation said at the time. "And when I got the letter and talked to a lawyer, he told me my pockets weren't deep enough."
Soon after, the Tinley Park league bought licensed MLB caps with the real team names on them, but switched to jerseys with "Bulldogs" and the name of a major city ' Chicago, New York or Tampa Bay, for example ' sewn on beneath it.
"So, MLB got some money out of it anyway," Glenn said with a chuckle.
The lesson in all this, beyond how to handle setbacks without the advice of counsel, is a familiar one: While sport is a game, at the upper reaches it is first, foremost and forever a business. The folks in Chapman learned that the hard way, which is why their enthusiasm for the Fighting Irish will probably be confined to the town limits for a very long time.
Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org. Follow him at http://Twitter.com/JimLitke.