After gathering extensive input, Carthage announced that its 27 NCAA Division III athletic teams will now compete as the Firebirds.
Acting on a recommendation from President John Swallow, the Board of Trustees voted at its Feb. 19 meeting to adopt the new team name. The decision concludes a collaborative five-month search for a unifying Carthage identity.
“We set out to find a team name that represents modern-day Carthage in an inclusive and dynamic way, and this search led us to a name that fits on so many levels,” says Jeff Hamar ’80, chairman of the board. “I know I speak for many Carthaginians in saying I’m proud to be a Firebird.”
Before issuing his recommendation, President Swallow discussed all three finalists with the College-wide task force that coordinated the team name search, as well as students (including student-athletes and Student Government representatives), coaches, and the Alumni Council. Firebirds was chosen over fellow finalists Lake Hawks and Fire.
A mythical creature made of living fire or light, the firebird appears in the folklore of several cultures. In surveys, Carthaginians endorsing the name described it as “bold,” “fierce,” “uncommon,” “majestic,” and “inspiring.”
Many noted the firebird’s ties to the flames in the existing Carthage seal and logo — which represent the torch of knowledge — as well as the College’s primary color, red. Fans also drew a parallel between the radiant beauty of the legendary bird and the natural elegance of the campus, an 80-acre arboretum along Lake Michigan.
“It’s been wonderful to see the excitement that this process has ignited throughout the Carthage community,” said President Swallow. “The new name captures Carthage’s bold history and imagery, as well as its rising trajectory and visibility.”
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The decision concludes the first major aspect of a thorough review that began in November 2019, when Mr. Hamar convened the task force to re-evaluate the College’s team names and mascot. The Task Force on Team Names and Mascot has welcomed stakeholders’ input at every stage of the process.
In a survey taken last spring, more than 3,000 Carthaginians expressed — by a significant margin — their desire for a change. Many expressed concerns that the previous team names, Red Men and Lady Reds, impeded the College’s commitment to racial and gender equity.
The Board of Trustees voted in August 2020 to retire those names, effective immediately, and initiated the search for a suitable replacement. Students, parents, employees, alumni, and other supporters suggested nearly 500 team names, from which a pool of 16 semifinalists was announced in November.
Guided by six central principles, the task force sought to choose a new team name that:
- unifies the Carthage community
- represents positive qualities, ideals, or associations around which people can rally
- holds broad relevance across the Carthage community, student body, and among generations of alumni
- represents the Carthage experience and/or history
- works equally well for women’s and men’s sports teams
- has the potential to translate in a visually pleasing manner
At Carthage, a member of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, about one-third of the undergraduate population competes in varsity athletics. After COVID-19 precautions forced the delay of the fall and winter sports seasons, all 27 teams are competing this semester.
The Athletic Department and the Office of Marketing and Communications have already begun to phase out the former team names from merchandise, signage, and other branding on campus. New uniforms will be introduced beginning this fall.
“This is a huge moment for hundreds of dedicated Carthage student-athletes and athletic staff,” said Nate Stewart, director of athletics. “The introduction of a new team name allows Carthage Athletics to further advance the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives we announced last summer to create a more inclusive Athletic Department where all students feel welcomed.
“I look forward to the day when fans return to the stands so our competitors can hear the loud cheers of ‘Let’s Go, Firebirds!’”
Now that the team name is in place, the College will seek a new mascot that will succeed Torchie. Although the flame-headed character isn’t directly tied to the outgoing nicknames, constituents expressed equally strong support for a change.
After 24 years as Carthage’s biggest fan, he will “graduate” in April as part of the Commencement weekend festivities. Watch for opportunities to share your mascot ideas in the coming weeks!