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The Artists Decide to Punt

September 18, 2002

The Laguna Beach Artists seldom won on the football field, but you had to love them for their moniker.

No one could claim that this high school's nickname belittled Native Americans (the rap on the Indians and Braves) or glorified religion-based war atrocities (the Crusaders). It didn't chase after the qualities of four-footed carnivores. No, Artists was a name for a school and kids who were daringly different, for football players who weren't afraid to show their sensitive side. It was a label devoid of aggressive overtones, and therein lay the problem. As one out-of-town athletic director put it, "There isn't a whole lot of fear struck into your opponents by a name like that."

Tired of the oh-so-mature taunts the name tended to evoke from their adolescent opponents on the field, Laguna Beach's teenagers voted to dump the Artists label, that ages-old nod to the pretty city's rep as an artists' colony of sorts. They became the Breakers, the school's original nickname for a couple of years in the 1930s. It's an appropriate name for a school with a white-water view, though read another way it has a threatening quality. (Just what is it you're intending to break, oh gentle former Artists?)

The vote made for a nice exercise in democratic action and student empowerment, even though it miffed Pacific Grove High, near Monterey, Calif., which swears it has held claim on the Breakers mascot since the 1890s. "Don't we have a copyright or something?" the school's athletic director jokingly growled.

The editor of the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book vows to drop Laguna Beach from the almanac's list of most fitting and original team labels. "Oh, brother," Mark Tennis moaned over the Artists name being ditched because of its namby-pamby image. He's an admirer of the Los Angeles Ribet Academy's Fighting Frogs, and who can blame him?

After all, pro football Hall of Famer George Allen wasn't afraid to coach the Whittier College Poets, and it isn't pretty to contemplate what the iconoclastic coach would have said to any receiver who whined about being teased by the other team. Nor does Whittier think of changing its team name, persevering in its belief that the pen is mightier than the tight end.

Being different isn't an admired quality during adolescence, that period of stringent conformity. It takes on greater resonance in college, where you're more likely to see names like the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and the UC Irvine Anteaters, with their endearing animalistic chant of "Zot! Zot!" At some point in life, whimsy wins out over toughness.

But for now, Breakers, go forth this season and whup 'em.

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