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Devil Elected Mascot of Mission Viejo High : Symbol: 76% of students pick imp. Return of satanic emblem apparently won't end the controversy.

September 24, 1993|ANNA CEKOLA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MISSION VIEJO — A smiling baby devil was overwhelmingly chosen as Mission Viejo High School's new mascot, but many students and parents were far from happy Thursday and the long dispute over a devil logo appeared headed for the next school board election.

In a special election Wednesday, 76% of the campus voted for the friendly-looking devil emblem, yet after the results of the tally were announced Thursday, students complained the mascot isn't fierce enough.

They groused that the school should resurrect the meaner devil image that represented the school in the past, before the school board officials banned it in 1986 amid complaints by fundamentalist Christians in the community.

Said junior Blake Rennie, "in football games, you're going to have a wimpy-looking devil on your helmet. You'll have people laughing at us."

And observers predicted that parents, some who claim the devil image depicts evil while others argue students have the right to choose whatever mascot they want, would continue fighting over the issue.

"We're sure this issue is just starting anew and afresh," said teacher Terry Sheppard, chairman of the 13-member committee that organized the election based on concepts submitted by students last spring.

"The Pandora's Box has been opened," he said.

The new mascot won a decisive victory over four other logo candidates: a fire-snorting, long-horned steer placed a distant second place with about 19% of the vote while a cartoon Tasmanian devil, Minotaur and devil bulldog, only picked up about 4% of the vote combined.

Of the 1,914 students and school employees eligible to vote, 64%, or 1,224, participated in the election, according to the League of Women Voters Orange Coast Chapter that was asked to oversee the election because emotions were running so high.

"Certainly any national candidate would consider that a resounding mandate," said chapter president Evelyn Hintze.

Although school officials called on students and the community to unite behind the new mascot and move on to more important educational matters, the election hasn't eased controversy over the issue.

A group of parents who filed a lawsuit in June over the mascot issue said Thursday they'll run candidates for two seats on the Saddleback Valley Unified School District Board of Education in November, 1994.

"The kids have made a change, now we're going to make ours," said parent Sandie Gonzales.

The suit claims that school officials violated students' civil rights last year when they tried to stop students from wearing the banned devil emblem on caps and T-shirts.

Meanwhile, parents offended that the devil is returning as the campus mascot said lawsuits may be filed claiming the devil is a religious symbol that doesn't belong in a public school.

"It's still the devil, there is no cute devil," said Bev Stephenson, whose daughter graduated from Mission Viejo last year. "If they can have a baby devil, I can see someone saying, 'How about a baby Jesus at Christmas?' "

Judy Linck, whose daughter attends the school, added: "I don't think (the students) even realize the full implication of having a devil as a mascot. It's not a positive image. . . . Only the Lord knows where it will go from here."

While students said they were excited that their mascot will once again match the school's Diablos nickname (which means devils in Spanish), many said they'll try to change the image to one that's more fierce and intimidating.

Some have described the baby devil mascot as "Casper the Friendly Devil," referring to the cartoon ghost.

After the Saddleback Valley Unified School District Board of Education banned the school's devil mascot in 1986, students voted to keep the nickname, but changed the mascot to a bulldog, which never became popular.

Senior Houdin Honarvar said the devil mascot is "part of the tradition of our school."

"We wouldn't want the Tasmanian devil because that's a cartoon character," Francine Ribeau, editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. "We figure once the devil is chosen, we can always change it to any image we want."

It appears unlikely, however, that the baby devil will be altered into a ferocious character. Committee members said the only changes to the logo might be a few finishing touches from a professional graphic artist.

In the future, members said, the devil may wear a football helmet, cheerleading uniform or other outfit.

"It will forever more remain a baby, happy, whimsical devil," Sheppard said. "This devil will not grow up."

Committee members said they purposely avoided a demonic mascot candidate to avoid offending a large segment of the Christian community.

"We took this avenue, hoping it would unite people, and hoping the democratic process would make people happy," said Sally Stoddard, a committee member and president of the school Parent-Teacher-Student Organization. "If we had allowed a rather satanic mascot, the community would have been in an uproar."

Principal Robert Metz, who was not involved with the election committee, said he supports the vote, but hopes the school can begin receiving more attention for its nationally recognized education programs.

Several students voiced a similar desire.

"I don't think the controversy is going to get anywhere," said senior Kate Parsons, student-body secretary. "I want to see the mascot we've chosen be popular in school, and see people getting behind the spirit of the school."

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