In Texas’ Gobbler Nation, an Missed Mascot Will get Its Due

In Texas’ Gobbler Country, an Overlooked Mascot Gets Its Due

2022-11-23 21:19:23

The nation is stuffed with bird-themed mascots. However solely a proud few have embraced the turkey.


We’re exploring how America defines itself one place at a time. In Cuero, Texas, affection for turkeys extends nicely past a vacation meal.

CUERO, Texas — America is awash in avian mascots, its sidelines overpopulated with flocks of Ravens and Hawks, Falcons and Cardinals, Eagles and Blue Jays. However one burly hen has been all however excluded from mascot consideration: the mighty turkey.

Turkeys are industrious, tasty, good-looking and so distinctly American that a whole vacation is deliberate round them. They’re additionally able to chasing down intruders, vandalizing automobiles and colonizing school campuses, all qualities that might make for a fearsome mascot.

But in a nation brimming with winged workforce names, the Fightin’ Gobblers of Cuero Excessive Faculty in Texas stand practically alone.

For generations, regardless of chuckles and “Roast the Turkey” taunts from opposing groups, youngsters in Cuero have grown up dreaming of changing into Gobblers. They lengthy to put on Gobbler inexperienced, to play underneath the lights at Gobbler Stadium, the place the seating capability is simply barely decrease than Cuero’s inhabitants, and to look at Toby the Turkey cheer them on from the sidelines. Over time, the nickname has develop into a tangible connection to the area’s agricultural previous, in addition to some extent of civic satisfaction that runs far deeper than a extra frequent mascot ever may.

I traveled this month to Cuero, the self-proclaimed Turkey Capital of the World, as Gobbler followers had been celebrating one other district soccer championship and playoff berth. I needed to be taught extra about their unwavering embrace of turkeys, that are painted on the perimeters of downtown buildings and immortalized in a statue exterior the grocery retailer, and to ask residents why they thought so few different faculties had seen the potential in a gobbling mascot.

Angie Cuellar, who leads the native chamber of commerce, recommended that outsiders “simply don’t understand {that a} turkey is a reasonably robust hen.”

“You watch the gobblers,” she stated, “once they fan out their tails, they stroll with their chest out, they’re very proud birds.”

The Gobbler title got here into use a couple of century in the past, when south-central Texas was a middle of turkey farming and the hen powered Cuero’s economic system. Within the fields close by, farmers would increase flocks, after which trot 1000’s of turkeys by way of city on their option to market. The spectacle grew to become ingrained in Cuero, and the city’s love for the gobbler endured whilst turkey manufacturing shifted northward across the center of the twentieth century and the area’s turkey farms had been changed with cattle ranches.

Although practically all of the turkeys round Cuero immediately are wild, the poultry-farming previous lives on by way of the highschool mascot and annual Turkeyfest, throughout which Cuero’s quickest hen races one other turkey from Worthington, Minn., which has staked a rival declare to being the “Turkey Capital.” The Cuero hen, named Ruby Begonia, additionally travels north annually to face its opponent on the streets of Minnesota.

Regardless of the occasional laughs from rival faculties, folks in Cuero insist that the turkey is stuffed with mascot-worthy qualities. Residents spoke with reverence in regards to the communal bonds amongst turkeys, their resourcefulness in skimming meals disbursed by deer feeders and the great thing about a tom, a male turkey, fanning his tail.

“There’s character in a turkey,” stated Cory Thamm, who manages a liquor retailer in Cuero and cares for a small flock that features Ruby Begonia, whom locals insist is the “quickest turkey within the South.”

Although turkey mascots are exceedingly uncommon, Cuero’s faculties should not fairly the one ones to embrace the hen.

Virginia Tech, whose HokieBird mascot resembles a turkey, used to name its sports activities groups the Combating Gobblers and maintain a stay turkey on the sideline. At Broadway Excessive Faculty in Virginia, the Gobblers are cheered on by a mascot named Strut. And in Memphis, the Turkeys of St. Mary’s Episcopal Faculty gained a state lacrosse title final yr, although the Turkey trapshooting workforce might be seen as a direct menace to its avian origin.

In contrast to some rural cities, the inhabitants of Cuero, about 85 miles southeast of San Antonio, has elevated steadily in current many years, to roughly 8,200 residents immediately from 6,700 in 1990. The downtown is busy and architecturally distinct, and the Whataburger on the esplanade attracts a crowd after Gobbler soccer video games. However the booms and busts of the power business, mixed with the shutdown of a longtime textile plant a number of years in the past, have created uncertainty within the native economic system. About one-fourth of Cuero residents stay in poverty, greater than double the nationwide fee.

The general public faculties, the place college students in each grade are referred to as Gobblers, have served as a stabilizing pressure, residents stated. Taxpayers accepted renovations to each educational and athletic services in recent times, and followers collect in big numbers for dwelling video games at Gobbler Stadium, a gleaming facility with a bronze turkey statue that’s nicer than the fields at some small faculties.

“After they come to highschool, we’re the good equalizer, and you then don’t know one Gobbler from one other,” stated Kim Fleener, the principal at the highschool, the place the gown code permits for under collared shirts or Gobbler spirit put on.

On the Cuero Heritage Museum, housed downtown within the previous federal constructing, a whole room is dedicated to highschool soccer and full of Gobbler memorabilia from many years’ previous, together with the 4 state championship groups. Within the museum’s lobby, different turkey artifacts are on outstanding show, together with century-old images of turkeys trotting by way of Cuero and a turkey-feather hat.

Mallory Mills, 15, who roams the sidelines at soccer video games as Toby the Turkey, Cuero Excessive’s colourful mascot, stated rising up on the town inculcated a reverence for the hen. She stated she had realized to shrug off fowl-themed jeers that rival followers direct at Toby.

“They’re like, ‘We’re going to roast them,’ and they are often very aggressive,” stated Mallory, a freshman. “Generally we get lots of hate.”

However Toby, she stated, is a vessel of pleasure, particularly to the youngsters in Cuero. Mallory takes her duties so critically that she makes certain by no means to take away the Toby head whereas round followers, though the sightlines within the costume are lower than splendid.

“You actually need to, like, develop into Toby,” she stated. “You need to develop into Toby’s character. So, Toby could be very robust and he’s very muscular. You need to stroll this fashion — you need to stroll such as you’re very assured.”

In Cuero, Gobblers should not simply on the college. They’re in all places. The foyer of Metropolis Corridor consists of two picket turkeys. Banners downtown promote Turkeyfest. And there are at the least three giant turkey murals, together with one which reveals a stately turkey beside a Texas longhorn, one which reveals two turkeys subsequent to a girl in patriotic apparel and a 3rd that welcomes guests to “Gobbler Nation.”

“It’s tradition-rich,” stated Adam Arroyo, a Cuero native who gained a state championship as a Gobbler soccer participant and returned many years later to show and coach.

Throughout Texas, Mr. Arroyo stated, when folks be taught he performed at Cuero, they ask, “‘Y’all are like a turkey, proper?’”

He responds with satisfaction: “Yeah, we’re.”

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