There are times in life when it must seem that one just cannot get a break. The city of Chapman, Kansas, and its school district must very well feel that way today. This small Kansas school was devastated by a tornado back in 2008. Despite the overwhelming destruction to the school wrought by the massive tornado, students and officials alike rallied behind school chants of the “fighting Irish!” depicted by their fighting leprechaun, and worked to rebuild their beloved school and future. Three years later their long hard rebuilding project was complete, and it appeared that at long last, the sun was about to shine again on a town and school that refused to die in the face of hard times. Then, even before the “new smell” was gone from the school, a second more devastating storm returned to Chapman, Kansas. This time it was not a tornado but the powerhouse college of Notre Dame. It cast its own dark shadow on the little Kansas town. Ironically the major college, as had the tornado of 2008, was determined to strip the school of its identity and morale once again.
As reported by the Associated Press, Notre Dame claimed that Chapman’s long used leprechaun mascot was too similar to the college’s famous trademarked image. Chapman high school, Principal Kevin Suther, told media officials that the school had received a letter over the summer from Notre Dame after the Kansas mascot was observed on the school’s website. Superintendent Lacee Sell stated it was cruelly apparent that Notre Dame was serious about getting Chapman to cease using their fighting leprechaun. Instead of entering into a long, costly court battle with the college, the newly rebuilt Kansas school has decided to change their identity and hope that Notre Dame, like their destructive tornado, will blow on by and spare the school a second annihilation.
From a legal perspective, Notre Dame has the right to trademark and protect their images. The university has its own legal standing to protect itself and the funds it acquires through the sale of university apparel and other images that reflect their particular university name. With that said, none of these concerns appear to apply to the school in Chapman, Kansas. Readers should ponder the validity of such concerns. Is there really a valid concern that the small Chapman school with its similar leprechaun posted in a fighting stance will actually be confused with the well-known University of Notre Dame in Indiana? Can an argument be truly made that this Kansas public school, if it retained its long standing mascot will actually drain economic resources from Notre Dame? The answer is a resounding “No!”
The reality is that the little school in Chapman will be forced to change its longstanding identity because some Notre Dame official happened to stumble upon a little Kansas school website, and a university founded on the virtues of the Blessed Mother Mary, decided that compassion is best served through making threats with lawyers. The truth is that many small town schools across the nation have mascots that could be challenged as trademark violations by powerful universities who may hold trademark privileges. But don’t worry small towns out there, I will never give you up to anyone. Still, you may someday have to face the same understanding and compassion that Chapman, Kansas has received from Notre Dame. Officials of the Chapman School District have decided to sponsor a contest to create a new mascot and logo. On my radio show, “Conscience of Kansas” I submitted that the Kansas school should create its own unique leprechaun doing the “one finger wave” to the mascot trademarked by Notre Dame. While that might not be the proper precedent or lesson to set for school children here in the heartland, I’ve kept my paint and brushes ready in case they are called into action.
Notre Dame in this situation is the heartless bully, and it is a sad and frustrating characteristic to observe. However, the town and school of Chapman, Kansas will endure as they have already with a pride that transcends logos. Notre Dame’s selfish nature may end up erasing this newly rebuilt school’s mascot, but they will not kill the school’s spirit. Here we are all shown a truly important lesson. What a tornado in Chapman, Kansas could not destroy, neither will Notre Dame.