(Photo used by permission of Julie Nelson)
Aided by the Cavalier, Baxter announces his return to SCDS by signing an official proclamation to kick off the 50th anniversary celebration in January 2014.

From an egg, Baxter the Owl was born and given the purpose of spreading spirit during the 50th anniversary celebration.

But that was three years ago, and he’s stuck around.

Baxter’s big reveal at a 2014 winter pep rally tied in with the anniversary festivities, which brought back pieces of SCDS history. The owl was the official mascot from the school’s 1964 founding to the mid-80s when it was replaced by the Cavalier, the current mascot, in a student vote suggested by former headmaster Doug Crone. 

According to former teacher Daniel Neukom, the name came from the basketball team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, as the team was popular in the late ’80s when they were regular playoff contenders. 

“It would be like calling yourself the Giants after the Giants had won the World Series – you want some of the good luck to rub off on you,” he said.

However, Neukom pointed out that the Cavaliers – the group that SCDS’s own Cavalier costume is modeled after – were a band of conservative nobles who backed Charles I, the king of England, against the Roundheads, English Protestants who opposed the king, in the English Civil War of the mid-17th century.

Neukom noted that Charles was  an “arrogant and not very intelligent fellow,” and that the Cavaliers were “hardly the most admirable group.”

“Making us the Cavaliers makes us look like we’re the nobility (and) out of touch with the people,” he said.

On the other hand, the owl mascot was inspired by a family of burrowing owls that lived underneath the power poles on the SCDS playing fields.

“It seemed because (the owls) were on the grounds of Country Day and because owls always stand for wisdom that that would be the perfect mascot for the school,” Neukom said.

So it was only fitting that a year of celebrating SCDS history would include becoming the Owls again. 

Hence, Baxter was created, named in a contest (beating out Alice, Bob and Owlfred) and welcomed into the SCDS community, showing up multiple times throughout the year at pep rallies and other events.

When 2014-15 was over, students reverted to being the Cavaliers, and Baxter’s time was over – well, supposed to be. After all, he was simply acting as a figurehead for one part of the school’s history. 

But there was a problem: Baxter had been created, named and welcomed into the SCDS community. 

In other words, he had been integrated into school life.

“Kids loved him,” head of high school Brooke Wells said. 

According to Wells, Baxter has become “our thing” since the 50th anniversary year.

“(Now when) he walks down to the lower school, all the kids yell, ‘Baxter!’” he said. 

So how could Baxter – now such a large part of SCDS – be just taken away?

Acknowledging that Baxter had become a bigger part of the community, Student Council started using the costume, saving Baxter from a life spent in a storage box.

Student Council adviser Patricia Jacobsen said Baxter attends many events where lots of children are.

“Baxter doesn’t roam around the high school,” Jacobsen said. “He goes to the pep rally and other events where littles will be.”

But Jacobsen wants to create a bigger role for him by having tryouts for Baxter to perform at games.

Her idea followed the varsity girls’ volleyball playoffs game against Ripon Christian on Nov. 2, when Baxter showed up to entertain the crowd.

“(The) performance inspired me to ask the school to buy a new costume and have Baxter at more games,” Jacobsen said. 

Richard Mancina, ’73, who chaired the 50th anniversary committee, discovered the Baxter costume online, and it was bought for $1,070 in 2013.

But with its constant use, the costume now has some tattered pieces on the inside of the eyes, senior class president Jake Longoria explained.

If Baxter were to be used more, which would occur with tryouts, he’d need sprucing up.

Although it’s still only theoretical, Wells supports having tryouts.

“It would be fun to build on something everyone already loves,” he said.

But Baxter’s now prominent – and growing – presence has also created a paradox: SCDS is officially the school with sports teams called the Cavaliers but a giant fluffy owl as a mascot.

While the school does have a Cavalier costume, said Patrick Talamantes, ’14, who last filled the role, it hasn’t been worn since Baxter’s pep-rally initiation, according to Wells.

Wells said that changing names to match the school mascot is something that could come from the students, but for him, the current situation isn’t a big deal.

“The Cavaliers can still have an owl as the mascot,” he said. 

“You have lots of strange school mascots in the world. Like with the Stanford tree: they’re the Cardinals, (so) why would they have a tree?”

Longoria and junior class president Luca Procida agreed that having an owl as a mascot while being the Cavaliers wasn’t something that necessarily needed changing.

However, both have also experienced situations where other schools were bewildered by the owl mascot.

“It doesn’t really confuse me to say, ‘Let’s go, Cavs!’ (while having an owl running around), but I know it does confuse other schools,” Procida said. 

“When I was at the playoff game for the volleyball team, one of the (Ripon) parents said, ‘Hey, I thought you guys were the Cavaliers?’”

Procida admitted it was a bit awkward, but the explanation was easy.

For Longoria, the experience was at the basketball section championship March 5, 2015, his freshman year, which Baxter also attended.

“One of the commentators for the game was (joking around and) saying, ‘I don’t know what an owl has to do with the Cavaliers,’” he said. 

But to Longoria, the contradiction makes it all the better.

“It’s a goofy thing, like, ‘Why is there an owl costume there?’ (But) I think that’s the point: to be funny and get people excited.”

Baxter may have come for 2014, but it appears his place is permanent. 

“It was supposed to be a 50th anniversary thing,” Longoria said. “But I think kids like the owl more than the Cavalier.”

Wells agreed, saying it would be silly to force a change now.

“People like Baxter a lot,” he said. “He’s a cool character, being named after the founder of the school (Baxter Geeting). 

“Baxter’s here to stay, baby!”

By Mohini Rye

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