There’s somewhere north of a few thousand new stories set to be written this coming September when, as prevailing hope and logic suggest, the heartbeat of the B.C. high school sports world rediscovers its healthy pulse following what will have been 18 straight months of silence.
And wherever you may care to start, the high school football season opener at McLeod Stadium has to be counted as amongst the most substantial of all given the occasion of the home school’s debut of its new nickname.
When Langley Secondary School plays host to the Mission Roadrunners in the third annual Green and Gold Bowl on Sept. 10 (1:30 p.m.), the former Langley Saints become the freshly-minted Langley Thunderbirds, bringing game-day reality to a most thoughtful and purposeful process of school name change.
“Our student population has been changing over here so we wanted to find a name that was more diverse,” explained Sandor Kardos, the ‘Birds phys ed department head who has been teaching and coaching at LSS since 2010.
“We wanted inclusion, diversity, community and togetherness,” added Kardos of what the school’s new nickname needed to most represent coming out of the tumult of the pandemic and all it has come to represent on so many levels throughout society. “We have international students, Indigenous students, Southeast Asian students, a very large Karen nation population.”
Come September, they’re all Thunderbirds, and to all involved in the process of re-branded identity, the hope is that the new moniker does much to both kindle and unite the spirit of a student-body looking for more of a shared identity.
“It’s huge for us, because it’s all about developing culture,” continued Kardos, the Thunderbirds’ offensive and defensive line coach, who began the B.C. chapter of his football life back in the mid-to-late 1990s, playing nose tackle on the UBC Thunderbirds’ 1997 Vanier Cup national championship team.
“We wanted to make sure our students felt proud, and that hopefully things like this translate to their academics and their athletics,” added the 49-year-old Kardos. “We wanted a powerful image for our school.”
Most certainly, that looks to have been achieved throughout a process which Kardos informs took somewhere in the neighbourhood of two years to complete.
Langley Secondary students and staff first voted on whether to make a name change, later submitted potential names, then after several rounds of voting whittled it down.
“But it wasn’t just the staff and students,” adds Kardos. “We presented to our school board’s (District Aboriginal Advisory Committee). We sought their wisdom and they asked us to speak to the four nations in our area. We talked to each one of the chiefs, we presented to them to seek their wisdom and they all agreed this was a great thing.”
The end result, through the talents of artist Brandon Gabriel and muralist Dean Lauzé speaks to the tenets of protection and power that the Thunderbird represents.
There’s even a proud local connection.
Gabriel, a former student at crosstown Walnut Grove Secondary, is the grandson of former Kwantlen First Nations grand chief Joe Gabriel, the latter whom Kardos informs was an LSS student in the late 1950s, at time when the school wasn’t believed to have an official name.
Although no one is certain when the former Saints nickname came into use, various sources indicate that for some time, the St. Bernard dog became the team’s unofficial mascot, eventually morphing into a costumed mascot.
Come September, Langley Secondary’s sports teams will become what is believed to be the third such senior varsity high school sports program in B.C. to use the name Thunderbirds.
The other two?
Duncan’s Cowichan Thunderbirds and Powell River’s Brooks Thunderbirds. (Click here for a list of every high school nickname in B.C.)
Of course it’s also known as the nickname of the grandaddy of all B.C. sports institutions: The UBC Thunderbirds.
“We wanted ours to be original… we wanted to own it,” said Kardos, who was a member of the first committee struck to find the school’s new nickname two years ago. “So when you look at it, it doesn’t look like UBC’s, it’s not like the (Seattle) Seahawks or anyone else’s logo,” he continued. “We are the oldest school in Langley, and the Thunderbird is the ultimate animal in Indigenous creation stories. It’s the alpha animal, but it’s also a caregiver.”
Former longtime Langley Secondary head football coach Ryk Piché, still involved locally as an Aboriginal support worker in the Langley School District, applauded the efforts of everyone involved in the process, including Kardos and current ‘Birds head football coach and LSS athletic director Mark Wyse.
“It makes thunder when it claps its wings,” Piché, himself a member of the Cowessess First Nation, said when asked to describe the attributes of the Thunderbird. “I have a thunderbird and a bear tattooed on my back… Indigenous art for family, protection and overseeing everything that is going on.”
Kardos admits that the June 9 unveiling has left little time to get fully-representative game kit ready for the Sept. 10 football opener.
He adds that the artistic team behind the new logo and all of its variations have still not fully signed off on their work, and so there is still some uncertainty at how fully able every LSS team will be able to rep their new name and logo in 2021-22.
Yet it seems the chances are high of having stickers of the new Thunderbird logos affixed to Langley football helmets heading into their Sept. 10 debut against Mission.
It’s bound to be one of the great stories as B.C. high school sports gets back on the road to its re-birth this fall.
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