GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Two University of North Dakota hockey fans and former English majors are using wordplay to try to find some humor in the pending retirement of the university's Fighting Sioux nickname.
The university has said it will to stop using the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo by April. It made the decision after the NCAA placed it on a list of schools with what the association deemed hostile and abusive American Indian nicknames.
Steve Ekman, an alumnus from Grafton, said he believes the only way to save the name is to change the reference. To do that, he and fellow fan Hans Halvorson started an effort known as Save Our Suhaki. Their mission, as stated on www.suhaki.com, is to prevent the extinction of the suhaki, an antelope that lives in areas of Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
Their ulterior motive is noted in an editor's note on the website: "Suhaki (soo-ha-kee) is often times mistaken for a legendary collegiate ice hockey team located at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, North Dakota, United States of America."
"It's all basically in good fun," said Ekman, a lawyer who first became interested in the "whole legal wrangling" surrounding the issue.
Halvorson, who's also from Grafton, said his feelings about the name change are a bit "more fiery" than Ekman's.
"I'm just extremely disappointed," he said. "There's hundreds of thousands of people who are just very loyal, but to some degree we're all Minnesota nice and the very most anybody has ever done is write a letter to the editor. To me that's not enough.
"We are the only organization that people can associate with to deliver a peaceful and poignant protest against the politically correct NCAA."
NCAA officials did not return a phone message seeking comment.
The tongue-in-cheek protest has the support of several former UND hockey players, including current New Jersey Devils and U.S. Olympic star Zach Parise, who asks fans in a "public service announcement" posted on the website to join the Suhaki crusade and "do it for the kids."
State legislators are considering a couple of bills that would require UND to keep the logo, but Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who considers himself a staunch Fighting Sioux supporter, said the legislation would likely violate the state constitution.
School officials have said they're in no hurry to find a new nickname and will likely go at least a year without one.
UND spokesman Peter Johnson chuckled when asked about the Suhaki effort.
"As an institution that teaches entrepreneurship, we appreciate the creativity," Johnson said. "Beyond that there isn't much we can say."
The Suhaki website went live in November, after 124 people submitted designs in a logo contest. The winning design was a caricature of a broad-shouldered antelope adorned in hockey garb and poised to take off the gloves.
The site features videos with Parise and 1980 Olympic gold medal winner Dave Christian, a former UND player who says in a mock interview that he wishes he was appearing under better circumstances.
"I know this Suhaki situation has us all very concerned," Christian deadpans.
The site's "Suhaki survival kit" features an assortment of T-shirts, jerseys and caps, some of which have been spotted at UND hockey games. Several visitors to the website have suggested UND adopt the Suhaki logo. That's not the purpose, Halvorson said.
"We don't know a lot about Sioux football. We don't know a lot about Sioux basketball," he said. "All we know for sure is that we love Sioux hockey. Or should I say Suhaki?"