Crusaders No More: Go Valpo Dunehawks!

My undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University, has been in the news lately for its decision to retire the “Crusaders” as the name of its athletic teams, as well as the Crusader as a mascot. I see that there’s also been some effort to document past objections to the name “Crusaders,” with one blog post tracing the controversy as it stood in 2006 back to a forum held in October 2000, but no further.

So this seems like a good time for me to republish an earlier piece of my own—an article in which I’d called out the “Crusaders” name as hostile and embarrassing and appealed for something to be done about it.  This originally appeared in the student newspaper, the Torch, on August 28, 1992, and you can read it below.  I’ve corrected a few misspellings and other infelicities, but a faithful facsimile is also available here if you feel you need to experience the original, warts and all.  The next-oldest evidence I’ve spotted of anyone objecting to the “Crusaders” name is an editorial by Erica Kaufman and Danielle Carrig, “Time for a new mascot,” in the Torch of April 28, 2000—it’s available here—though of course I might well have missed something earlier.

One motive I have for republishing my old article is that it brings up a name I’d like to put forward for consideration again now that there’s imminent need for a replacement to “Crusaders.”  Shortly after the United States entered the Second World War, when the university had decided to drop the older name “Uhlans” because of its Teutonic baggage but hadn’t yet settled on an alternative, a writer for the local Vidette-Messenger began referring to the basketball team as the “Dunes Hawks” (for examples, see the issues for January 13, January 15, and January 19, 1942).  Apparently that unauthorized journalistic initiative is what finally nudged a faculty committee to choose the name “Crusaders,” as reported in the Torch of January 22, 1942:

Cajoled into unprecedented speedy action when a downtown sports-writer crawled out on his own little limb and dubbed Valpo athletic squads the “Dunes’ Hawks,” campus big-wigs early this week recoiled in academic shock, promptly decided to redub aforesaid athletic aggregations.

Somehow when I wrote about this part of the story back in 1992, I wrongly put the name down not as “Dunes Hawks” or “Dunes’ Hawks,” but as “Dune Hawks.”  I only discovered my mistake when I searched on “Dune Hawks” for confirmation just now and couldn’t find anything.  But maybe “Dune Hawks” was a happy accident on my part, since out of all the alternatives I’ve seen, I think I like it best—except that I’d rather see it as one word: “Dunehawks.”

If you google “Dunehawk,” you’ll mostly find references to an abandoned 2003 Nissan prototype for the Pathfinder, which is to say that nobody else seems actively to be using it as a name for anything.  “Dune hawk,” as two words, turns up in connection with Frank Herbert’s Dune, but only rarely.  So the name seems ripe for the picking.

“Dunehawks” would be distinctive but not eccentric.  It would link Valpo athletics to the migratory hawks of the Indiana Dunes, a beloved part of the local wildlife scene that anyone in the region can go witness at first hand, helping to cement the bond between community and environment.  At the same time, it wouldn’t be unduly specific when it came time to design logos or mascot costumes: red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, broad-winged hawks, and sharp-shinned hawks all qualify as valid dunehawks.  If we accept “Dunehawks” as a streamlined variant of “Dunes Hawks” (like “Red Sox” from “Red Stockings”), then it already has some solid history behind it—indeed, it’s what Valpo’s teams might have ended up being called by default all along if faculty hadn’t pulled rank back in 1942.  “Dunesmen” had also been one of three choices presented in a poll of 1931, pointing to an even longer-term desire among students for some name invoking the Dunes—one that may have been thwarted back in the day only by a rigged vote (see below).  And if the Dunes connection isn’t good enough for you, and you want to bring Lutheran religious identity into it, well, one of Martin Luther’s own friends wrote that he had “a pure, brave face, and the eyes of a hawk.”

It might look strange for a Dunehawk to be pictured holding the Shield of Character in quite the way the Crusader was, since birds of prey don’t have much day-to-day use for shields, and the Shield of Character has become increasingly central to Valparaiso University branding lately.  But not to worry!  There’s ample precedent in heraldry for birds to hold shields; think eagles, for example.

So there you have my favored replacement name.  Go Valpo Dunehawks!

Now here’s my old article from August 1992, with hyperlinks inserted to many of my original sources.

Crusader moniker just one in a history of embarrassing team names

July 15, 1099: a mob of Europeans has just taken the city of Jerusalem.  They ride around in the blood of the conquered up to the knees of their horses; their luckier Muslim victims are shot full of arrows, beheaded, or tossed from the city towers, while others will be tortured for days and then burned alive, bringing the total to 70,000.  The Jews are rounded up in a synagogue, which is likewise consigned to flames as the Bearers of the Cross weep with joy, thanking God for their victory.  The Crusades were the most brutal and embarrassing event in the history of the Christian church, the medieval climax of religious intolerance and genocide.  But we at Valparaiso University currently call our athletic teams the “Crusaders.”  How did we get stuck with a name so blatantly hostile to Muslims, Jews, and Turks?  Well, there is a history to it.

Back in the late 1920s, when Lutheran occupation was a new development, our teams had no official name.  Sometimes they were referred to by students as “Yellow Jackets,” and local newspapermen made up colorful monikers like “Flying Dutchmen” and “Hillmen” as they pleased.  Otherwise our athletes were the “Brown and Gold” and that was that.

The football season of 1930 was looking bleak.  An old Valpo alumnus and local attorney, J. J. McGarvey, having a military background and vocabulary, jokingly described that year’s team as the “College Hill Uhlans.”  Chances are that you, dear reader, haven’t got the faintest idea what an Uhlan is, but a student reporter for the local Vidette-Messenger, Mr. E. Zimmerman, began using the word in print, first mockingly, then in headlines.  That was right before a winning streak brought Dear Old Valpo to the attention of the Associated Press, and the new name with it.

Uhlans, as described in their heyday at Valpo, “were famous Prussian lancers who distinguished themselves in the Franco-Prussian war.  Their dashing uniforms of blue with gold trimmings, silver helmets, magnificent horses and bannered lances were an inspiring sight.  With reckless tactics and furious charges they struck terror into the hearts of their opponents.”  Uhlans “characterizes strength, nationality, sportsmanship, stature, and victory.”  [I think there must have been some editorial glitch with the last sentence.]

Some students objected to the use of this obscure but very Valpo-specific name, so the editor of the Torch ran a poll in their Oct. 23, 1931 issue: “The name Uhlans exemplifies hard fighting, Dunesmen designates locality, and Cyclops gigantic, dynamic size, plus power,” it explained.  “Write your suggestions on a slip of paper, signed by you, and drop them in the ‘Nickname contest box’ at the book store.  Think what a thrill it would be to you in years to come to see powerful athletic teams of a great Valparaiso winning games under the name you gave them.”  But Mr. E. Zimmerman and his cronies managed, as exposed in a 1936 Torch, to stuff the ballot box, and the name “Uhlan” was retained.  It became as Valponian as Orville Redenbacher and O. P. Kretzmann.  In 1934 the yearbook, up till then bearing the colorless appellation Record, was renamed the Uhlan, which, said its editors, “is derived from an ancient language and signifies merely ‘youth’—not the charging cavalryman of historic fame, though he is the symbol.  In youth, as we have attempted to portray in the Uhlan figure, there is aggressiveness, vivacity, courage, and high ideals.”  And again, “The Uhlan…a colorful, plumed figure on a fleet horse…a spear with a fluttering pennant…the fearless charge when death was certain…dauntless courage in face of defeat…blood of youth tingling in his veins…this is the Uhlan…this is the symbol of the university.”

Then came 1941.  The world scene had changed and was worsening rapidly; no one seemed to remember who had chosen the name Uhlans for our use, but it certainly seemed undesirable all of a sudden.  A definition from the Encyclopedia Britannica [sic, should be Encyclopedia Americana] was circulated: “in the War of 1914-1918 the Uhlans of the Prussian service covered themselves with ignominy by their wanton acts of cruelty, plunder and rapine in the march through Belgium and northern France.”  January 16, 1941, saw speeches given in the Chapel for and against forgetting the old name as quickly as possible.

For: “[People] see only that a University whose religion was first proclaimed in Germany has chosen the name of a German regiment for its yearbook.  They see the Nazis in control of Germany.  Adding all these factors up, they get only one answer: The University is pro-Nazi.”

Against: “If we change the name under the present circumstances, we will be yielding to every base emotion that college people should despise—unjustified suspicion, intolerance, bigotry.  And this should also be borne in mind: the same people who might accuse us of being pro-German if we keep the name will accuse us of trying to cover up our pro-Germanism if we change the name.  It isn’t so much our acts as their pre-conceived ideas that will determine their feelings toward us.”

The next day was an unofficial balloting, the results of which have been lost but are easy to imagine.  Technically, it was for the renaming of the yearbook, which by the beginning of February had become the Beacon, as it is today.  This won out over Valyte, Vox Val, the Brown and Gold, and View, because a “beacon, as a dispenser of light, is most symbolic of Valparaiso’s great purpose for existing—to give light to a darkened world.”  It was expected that a name for the athletic teams would soon follow.  The “dispenser of light” motif encouraged suggestions like “Volts,” “Gloworms,” and “Fireflies.”  But ten months after the blackballing of “Uhlans” no action had been taken.  Driven to desperation, a Vidette-Messenger sports columnist started calling Valpo’s hoopsters the “Dune Hawks” [sic, should be “Dunes Hawks”].  The administration didn’t think too highly of this, and its Committee on Athletics convened to discuss various possibilities, such as “Valparazors,” “Bruins,” and “Saxons.”  It was this group of five professors (not a student vote) that finally decided on “Crusaders.”  The President was pleased; the new name “connotes the courage and devotion to ideals for which the University stands.  In addition it is a constant reminder to the public that Valparaiso University is proud of its religious background.”

Wrote Gus Bernthal soon after in the Torch, “One thing is certain, fellow Crusaders, and that is that all our rivals from now on shall be listed in our record book as Saracens,…and we’re out to make historians record the most successful crusades on record.”

What, 80,000 Muslims this time?  Iraqis?  Libyans?  Or shall we help out with the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina?  If “Uhlans” had negative connotations in the Forties, “Crusaders” seems a lot clumsier in the Nineties.  Something should be done.

PS. A little context for that last paragraph.  I wrote this article shortly after returning from a year of study abroad in Germany (1991-92) and had spent some of that time visiting different parts of the former Yugoslavia and talking with people about their perceptions of the ongoing conflict there—in fact, I had another article about those experiences in the very next issue of the Torch.  So I guess I might have had a different perspective on what was happening in Bosnia than my fellow students did, and it may have made me less willing than they were to accept “crusading” as a harmless metaphor.

The “Wailing Wall” (Зид Плача) at the headquarters of the student anti-government protest movement in the Faculty of Philosophy building at the University of Belgrade, Sunday, June 21, 1992 (see description by Mirjana Prošić-Dvornić here, starting at p. 132).  I took this snapshot almost exactly two months before writing the anti-“Crusader” piece.

5 thoughts on “Crusaders No More: Go Valpo Dunehawks!

  1. The purpose of the Crusades was to protect Christian and Jewish lands from being conquered by Muslim invaders who were forcing the conversion of Christians to Islam. There’s nothing wrong with the original name other than a bunch of people just want to somehow be politically correct. Hypocritical though because the Valparaiso High School mascot is a Viking and they literally went out bent on conquest. Apparently that’s okay though. smh

    • You write: “There’s nothing wrong with the original name other than a bunch of people just want to somehow be politically correct.” You may have a point there about the original name (the Uhlans), but I wouldn’t be too hard on the folks who decided that changing it was the right thing to do back in 1941. The Greatest Generation were hardly a bunch of snowflakes, and given that they went on to lick the Nazis for us, let’s cut them some slack. (Yes, I’m being disingenuous; I know that by “original name” you really mean Crusaders, not Uhlans. But there’s an ironic consistency between the two cases, and it would be anachronistic to brush aside an appeal from 1992 as aiming to conform to modern-day “wokeness,” much less an argument from 1941.)

      I’ll cheerfully admit that my characterization of the historical Crusades lacked nuance. Remember, I wrote that article twenty-eight years ago as a college undergraduate. Some of today’s scholars argue that the victors at Jerusalem in 1099 couldn’t literally have waded through blood up to their knees or ankles, in spite of what contemporaries boasted in their enthusiasm about fulfilling Revelation 14:20. Also that it was then universally accepted that, after taking a city by force, the victors could do as they pleased with the vanquished, so that if you refused to surrender in a timely fashion, you realistically had nobody to blame for what happened afterwards but yourself. But my bigger take-away is that the perpetrators of atrocities can often cite some noble “purpose,” even when the specific actions we remember them for don’t follow from it in any necessary or moral way. The “purpose” of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was presumably to learn more about the disease in the interest of developing better treatments for it, but that’s not the basis on which we judge it, or on which we should judge it. Even the most sympathetic modern historians of the Crusades would not, I think, argue that Christians today put their best foot forward by celebrating them as exemplary of “the sort of thing we do.”

      As for the Valpo Vikings, I’ll admit I never had a problem with that name while I was a student at Valparaiso High School (1987-89), and I can see how this might come off as a double standard. If there’s a legitimate difference between the cases, I suppose it’s that the “sides” in the Viking raids don’t have any obvious modern-day counterparts, while the “sides” in the Crusades do.

      Thanks for reaching out. I hope I can count on your future support for “Dunehawks.”

  2. The only issue I see here is that the Crusaders that Valparaiso University was tied to was the Crusades against the Holy lands. There have been plenty of other Crusaders in History that were for the betterment of society. We still refer to Susan B Anthony as a Crusader for Women’s Suffrage. We also refer to Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall and other greats of the Civil Rights Movement as Civil Rights Crusaders. If the school had focused on the Crusader as a beacon for change this discussion might have never needed to happen.

    • You’re right that the term “Crusader” has also been associated (metaphorically?) with these other movements, a point that was also made in a Letter to the Editor in response to my article back in 1992 ( The problem, I suppose, is that the university has limited ability to control external perceptions — to specify that it means to invoke THESE crusades, but not THOSE crusades. To cite a more extreme example, if someone in twenty-first century America were to adopt a swastika as a symbol, people would react to it based on its Nazi associations, even if the intention were explicitly to invoke its much older religious associations with positive well-being. I guess the university decided that the risk of misunderstanding, if that’s what it is, was too great. Practically speaking, I’m also unsure what a mascot based wholly on the Susan B. Anthony or Martin Luther King Jr. version of “Crusader” would look like, though it’s interesting to ponder.

  3. UPDATE: Valparaiso University has narrowed its choices for a new name for its athletic teams down to eight contenders and has posted an online survey — open through 5 PM CDT on June 15, 2021 — seeking input on them from alumni, friends, and others. The names under consideration are Storm, Beacons, Gold, Sparks, Lightning, Tempest, DUNEHAWKS, and Lightning Hawks. Other popular suggestions such as Kernels, Koalas, and Golden Knights are evidently off the table. If you take the survey, you’ll be asked to rate each of the eight names on a scale of 1 (worst) to 4 (best) according to nine different considerations: (1) uniqueness to Valpo; (2) suggestion of positive ferocity; (3) inclusivity; (4) consistency with Valpo’s identity, history, and character; (5) suitability for marketing and promotions; (6) coolness; (7) visual appeal; and (8) overall excitement and potential. Looking over the list of choices, I sense a marked leaning towards names invoking harsh weather, which I guess would be one way to acknowledge a regional link with Lake Michigan — lots of other inanimate stuff, too, both fiery and golden. “Beacons” feels oddest to me as a team name out of the whole lot (notwithstanding the yearbook), but according to the introduction to the survey, the Focus Group is particularly keen on luciferous imagery, and maybe they’re even thinking of Lake Michigan lighthouses. “Lightning Hawks” could be an attempt at a compromise between fans of bright lights and hawks, although I see that various sports teams scattered from Bowling Green to Dubai are already using that name. In any case, for those inclined to participate, the survey may be found here:
    See also this piece by William Rinker in the Chesterton High School Sandscript, which makes a few additional points in favor of “Dunehawks”:

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