By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
KINGSFORD – A wide variety of animals exist as high school mascots in Michigan, ranging from Bison to Gators, to Eagles and Hawks and to Tigers and Panthers.
You can also watch a variety of fighters prowl the sidelines, from Patriots to Warriors, Titans to Swordsmen, to Nimrods and Roughriders, Crusaders and Fighting Irish, and Knights and Trojans and Gladiators.
There are also unusual mascots like Dux and Chix, Wykons and Hematites, Pharaohs and Technicians, Navigators and Gryphons, Achievers and Dreadnaughts, Saddlelites and Railsplitters, Battling Bathers and Flying Gs, Griffons and Shorians.
But Kingsford is among the few schools with a genuine vehicle for a mascot, which maybe could be used to transport any of these others to the playing field.
The Flivvers are the mascot of the Upper Peninsula school on the northern border of Wisconsin, just blocks from the neighboring Mountaineers of Iron Mountain. Two downstate schools – Boyne City and Perry – have Ramblers as their mascot in honor of the old Nash car.
"This was one of the best days I've had at Kingsford," Flivvers' athletic director Al Unger said of having a restored 1923 Ford Model T brought into the middle school building by the main entrance in September 2017.
The idea began to chug along two years ago when a handful of people were chatting about a school mascot. Unger said the group thought "how cool it would be to have a real-deal mascot" for the school.
The Berlinski/Hosking family happened to have an old Model T and were willing to donate it to the school. Unger's uncle, Clyde Unger of nearby Spread Eagle, Wis., was asked to use his restoration and rebuilding skills to renovate the car. He spent about 1,200 hours tearing it down and putting everything back together.
"The car really came back together," said Al Unger.
The Flivvers have been Kingsford's nickname since the early 1930s, coming from the old Ford Motor Co. plant in the area. The plant, which opened in 1925 and once employed 7,000 people, built cars and later used leftover wood to make Kingsford charcoal barbecue briquettes.
Al Unger said an Iron Mountain Daily News sportswriter during that time began using Fords as the school nickname, and it soon adjusted to Flivvers, or Flivs – a nickname for the old Model T vehicles.
Developing school spirit was one of the goals the group talked about when it discussed finding an old vehicle, Unger said.
The car's renovation included a new paint job, breaking from the standard Henry Ford refrain of all black to a spiffy blue to match the maize and royal blue school colors. "There have been a lot of positive reviews," said the Kingsford athletic director.
The car was unveiled to the students and some community members at the adjoining football field/track, perhaps the first time all of the students in the three buildings were released for a specific event, Unger said.
It was then shown to the public when the Flivvers hosted the Escanaba Eskymos for the regular-season finale football game in October. "It was awesome," Unger said of the night that included coverage from the Upper Peninsula's three television stations.
The vehicle now is displayed in a three-sided glass enclosure with a gate. Unger said plans are in the works to place the vehicle in the community’s July 4 parade "and we will consider rolling it out for special occasions.
"You can't help but walk by and stare at it and feel a sense of pride," he said.
Unger said 95 percent of the project was donated. "We spent a few dollars on the enclosure," adding everyone "has been ecstatic" about the unique mascot.
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) The Flivver, on display at the Kingsford middle school building. (Middle) Kingsford’s restored Model T, a 1923 “Flivver.” (Photos courtesy of the Kingsford athletic department.)