SHS History

Notes from Kevin Grau:

1) Shortridge High athletic teams were never formally known as the Satans. Looking at sample of volumes of The Annual it appears that the Satans was used as alternate reference in the 1970s up to closure in 1981. Looking at the Echo, if it has been microfilmed, might provide a better sense of when and how the term was introduced. (The Annual, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1981)

2) Before 1929 sports teams are referred to as Shortridge, the Blues, Blue & White, or playing off the coaches name, e.g. in the 1920s when the boys basketball coach was Burton there are regular references to the “Burtonians”. In the case of football it was the “Goldberries”. (The Annual, 1926, 1927, 1928)

Not at all surprising ,since during the 1920s, many schools, even universities, were still developing norms about mascots, nicknames, and other school spirit identifiers. The earlier practice of calling a team by distinctive color survives at Harvard. Crimson being derived from the color of a set of scarves Charles Eliot (1853 and later president of Harvard) presented to crew members in 1858.

Many of the monikers that are associated with a mascot and a color had roots in school colors used as a nickname. Traditionally the first American university mascot is said to be Handsome Dan of Yale in the 1890s. Several northeastern schools picked up on the fad, e.g. Brown where Theodore Francis Green (1887 and later governor of Rhode Island) introduced the Bear in 1904.

Gaus has a very succinct description of the origin of the Shortridge nickname:

“At the end of the 1928 season Mr. Burton gave up coaching basketball, so it was necessary for the “Battling Burtonians” to become something else. The Echo held a contest to choose a name. David Burns came out on top. He remembered some French soldiers who had come to this country during World War I to raise money for the war effort. When they were in Indianapolis, they stayed with the Burns family. They belonged to a special regiment called the Blue Devils, and young David found them dashing and heroic. He therefore made the winning proposal that all Shortridge athletic teams be given the name of Shortridge Blue Devils (rather than Blue Jays, Blue Aces, or Bluebirds). As a reward, he received a season ticket to all the athletic events for the next year.” Laura Sheerin Gaus, Shortridge High School, 1864-1981, In Retrospect. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1985, p. 136.

The most relevant example for us is Duke University. In the 1920s the then Trinity College ended a two-decade ban on football and the students began to assemble the details of contemporary college football culture. Trinity was already known as the Blues, Blue & White, or the Methodists (particularly in contrast to Baptist Wake Forest).

As the students agitated for a moniker and mascot a series of names were suggested many with blue as part of the name: Blue Titans, Blue Eagle, Blue Devils, Royal Blazes, Blue Warriors.   As was often the case in this era, standardization did not come from administrative fiat but rather through student usage. In 1923, the senior class decided to pick a name and that became standard usage in the student paper: “Blue Devils”.

How did the powers that be at a North Carolina Methodist school in the 1920s allow “Devils”? The origin of the name was martial, not diabolical. In WWI, there was a renowned French alpine regiment, the Chasseurs Alpin. When the US entered the war, members of this unit toured the US on a propaganda tour. In June 1918 they were in New York City touring in their striking blue uniforms, with blue beret and capes and referred to by the moniker bestowed by them by the Germans as Blaue Teufel, or as they now called themselves Les Diables Bleus, or as the American press called then the Blue Devils.

They were big enough in 1920s pop culture that Irving Berlin wrote a song about them and they were referred to in popular culture, e.g. Zane Gray novels.

Those are the Blue Devils from whom Duke took a name in 1922-23. Those are also the Blue Devils for whom Shortridge athletic teams are named.

Blue Devils first appear in The Annual in 1929, the year Shortridge entered the current building and consistent with Gaus’ account. The Annual itself includes no discussion about adopting a new nickname and early usages about color and coaches continue alongside of Blue Devils into the 1930s.

A few other items:

1) Even older than Blue Devils, is the traditional mascot, which was not a devil. In the yearbooks there are references to Felix the Cat as a mascot and Gaus again has a detailed, reasonable description of its origin. During a Shortridge-Manual basketball game in 1925, Manual brought a “a large red mass of canine fur [i.e, a dog] as a mascot… From the stands emerged a cat, cradled in the arms of Shortidge girl.” E. Carl Watson, a math teacher and coach, wrote a poem in honor of the game and the cat.

“The now-famous cat was immediately adopted as the Shortridge mascot, and since he had already proved lucky, the school full of Latin scholars gave him the name of Felix. The Art Department and the print shop pooled their talents to produce his likeness. From that time on the perky little cat always represented Shortridge.”

Gaus, pp. 134-136.

So, later images of a diabolic interpretation of a ‘blue devil’ are not only inconsistent with the origins of the nickname, but also with Shortridge traditional mascot usage. For decades after being called the Blue Devils, Felix the Cat continued to be the mascot.

Felix from Gaus

Felix from Gaus


Felix in1959 SHS Blue Book

Felix from SHS Blue Book

The source version of Felix the Cat first appeared in a Paramount short, Feline Follies, in 1919. Felix was hugely popular in the 1920s until being eclipsed by new characters that arrived with the talkies.

So, it would be entire possible for the mascot to be a cartoon cat or dashing French alpine soldier. The bleus have some nice iconography, e.g. alpenhorn, beret.

2) The big PTA fundraising event was the “Family Frolic”; that name dates back to 1938 and continued in use until at least the late 1960s. The event itself was operated by the PTA at least as early as 1934. In 1933, in addition to buying new band uniforms, the PTA donated $1300 (those are 1933 dollars) to “help keep needy students in school.” (Gaus, p. 176.)

3) It was common for students to self-reference as “Ridgers”. Shortridgers was the more formal moniker used in student handbooks and other official items. It was also common to refer to the school as “The Ridge”

4) Did you know that Willard Gambold was a Vice-principal at Shortridge?

5) And, where is that Sortridge anyway?