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Alumni Mites bite Bears at high school reunion

Bill Folli class of 65 wearing Mighty Mites jacket and Geoff Bender class of 68 with Bears jacket
go mano a mano at the Hometown Fracas, Oct. 5, 2007
photo © 2007 The Record (Bergen Co., NJ) / Don Smith

Saturday, October 6, 2007
By Eunnie Park, Staff Writer
©2007 The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) / North Jersey Media Group. www.northjersey.com

The crowd of more than 100 at the Bergenfield High School reunion Friday night was ready to rumble.

In one corner stood the Mighty Mites -- alumni representing Bergenfield's school nickname until about 40 years ago. Defending it were members of the Class of 1965 and 1966, many dressed in old team jackets and carrying other school memorabilia.

"I never knew what a 'mite' was, but I liked it," said Bill Folli, Class of 1965. "I'd still like to be called the Mighty Mites."

In the other corner: the Bergenfield Bears, Mighty Mites' successor. Promoting the brawnier nickname were the Class of 1968 and 1969.

"A mite you can step on -- a bear, you can't!" said Geoff Bender, Class of 1968.

The district's nickname was changed from the Mighty Mites to the Bergenfield Bears in 1966. Class of 1967 was the swing year -- the first graduating class of the Bears.

This weekend, as the class celebrated its 40th reunion at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Englewood, coordinators planned to have a "Hometown Fracas," a playful contest between the two sides.
 
To compete, alumni from the Classes of '65 and '66 and Classes of '68 and '69 had to attend the event with school memorabilia. For example, wearing an authentic Bergenfield jacket was worth 25 points and showing up in a prom dress was worth 300 points.

There were judges, referees, a scorekeeper, and a rules and protest committee present to keep order during this contest for bragging rights. But cheating was not discouraged -- bribing a judge with a drink was worth 15 points.

"I haven't been offered a bribe yet, so I will have to make that decision when it comes," said Peter Zimmer, a retired Bergenfield science teacher who served as referee. "But I'm not drinking tonight, because I have to keep my head on straight."

According to many alumni, the name was changed from Mighty Mites to the Bears because the new football coach at the time wanted a team name that would "change things around." Unfortunately, the team lost every game for the next two seasons, said Joe DiMaggio, Class of 1967.
With the new moniker, the school had to make some adjustments: The school newspaper, Mitey High Times, had to change its name to Bear Facts.

Varsity cheerleaders ran into problems coming up with new cheers and changing the minds of "hundreds of stubborn fans," according to the 1967 high school yearbook.

DiMaggio said the Mighty Mites fit the spirit of Bergenfield schools -- small but strong.

MIGHTY MITES

"As Mighty Mites, we were unique -- there was no one else in the country who was the Mighty Mites except for us." -- Joe DiMaggio, Class of 1967

Origin: In the early 1940s, soon after Bergenfield High School was first established, a newspaper reporter wrote, "They fought like mighty mites," DiMaggio said. The name stuck, and a mascot was born.

Strength: Distinctiveness -- there doesn't seem to be another "Mighty Mites" in this country.

Weakness: The nickname has been criticized for being a "little insect" and "a bug."

BEARS

"I like the sound of the bears ... something rough and tough." -- Barbara Madoff Hamering, Class of 1967

Origin: The school board voted for the Bear because a new football coach thought the brawnier mascot would inspire the team to perform better. Became official mascot in 1966.

Strength: A bear symbolizes many positive characteristics, including strength and courage.

Weakness: The moniker has been criticized for being generic and "too common."

"As Mighty Mites, we were unique -- there was no one else in the country who was the Mighty Mites except for us," he said. "It defined us, gave us our character. It was our soul. As the bears, we're nothing but another school."

Barbara Madoff Hamerling, Class of 1967, disagreed.

"I like the sound of the bears better than the mites -- instead of the little insects, being something rough and tough, even though our football team wasn't that good that year," she said. "I think people liked the idea of switching over."

"Mites are kind of parasitic," said Michael Devlin, Class of 1966. He said he has a particular disdain for the old nickname because he now runs a garden for children. "I'm glad they adopted the bears. I can't defend the mites, because they're predatory -- they suck the life out of plants."

Late Friday night, the Hometown Fracas was still going on, the result not known.

But one thing was clear: The district has grown during the last few decades to embrace itself fully as the Bergenfield Bears. Superintendent Michael Kuchar said he could not imagine why anyone would prefer the Mighty Mites.

"Who wants to be an insect? Bergenfield Cockroaches? No one wants to be a bug!" he said. "Bear is an animal that shows a lot of courage and strength. It embodies our student population -- courageous and strong. We are not a bug nor do we ever want to be!"

E-mail: parke@northjersey.com

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