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April 6, 2006

'Warhawks' Offers Grand Ties

The suggested mascot "Warhawks" may have raised an eyebrow or two at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. But selection of the name — it was decided upon Wednesday — to represent the University of Louisiana at Monroe's athletic teams will yet prove to be an appropriate, appealing and comfortable fit on many levels.

"Warhawks" links our public campus with area World War II hero Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault, whose "Flying Tigers" airmen flew the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk to lasting fame in Asia. Northeastern Louisiana should embrace its relationship to the noble Chennault, who once lived in the shadow of ULM in a red-brick home a block from what is now the campus' edge. Area schools should use this new link as a means to teach coming generations about him.

Chennault, a schoolteacher by training, lived at least for short periods of time in many northern and northeastern Louisiana communities that now proudly send their sons and daughters to ULM, including Athens, Gilbert, Kilbourne, Monroe, Rayville, Waterproof and Winnsboro, the last of which was the hometown of his first wife. His children have lived in Ferriday and West Monroe. Chennault was a graduate of Louisiana State Normal, now Northwestern State, a fellow University of Louisiana System campus. "My earliest recollections are of roaming the oak woods and moss-draped cypress swamps in northeast Louisiana. Life in these woods and on the bayous and lakes taught me self-confidence and reliance and forced me to make my own decisions," Chennault later wrote in his book, "Way of a Fighter." Those sentiments are likely shared by young men and women across the state.

That self-confidence and reliance served him well during his military career, when Chennault, a visionary in air warfare, sometimes clashed with the West Point-educated higher-ups as he tried to modernize U.S. air forces.

"He was a rebel and a country boy who liked to do things his own way," Chennault's daughter, Rosemary, said from her West Monroe home Wednesday.

ULM President James Cofer — his was the final decision — also noted that the name Warhawks, "fairly unique among colleges" — evokes images of majestic birds of prey, many of which roam the air over the ULM campus.

"As one of the coaches told me, 'I want to be something fierce'," Cofer said. "We want to strike fear in the hearts of opponents."

Want more? The colors of the campus are often reflected in the various types of hawks that roam the area.

"There are a lot of red-tail hawks around here," said Lisa Taylor, a supervisor at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo in Monroe, describing a bird that bears both red and cream colors. "Cooper's hawks, those are yellow checkered on the breast, red tail on the back.

"With them being on the bayou, I'm sure they see a lot of hawks," she said.

Selection committee members should be proud of their efforts in presenting this grand new name to the campus, a choice that was made after much community discussion and with ample opportunity for local input. Theirs was a good-faith effort that was honest and open with people who revere the campus that has so richly blessed our community and state.

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