Sweetwater Union High School District … How It All Began.
Prior to the 1880’s children of high school age living within the present Sweetwater District boundaries were obliged to travel to San Diego to Russ High School (now San Diego High) to complete grades 9-12. In 1882, high school students were taught in a two-story wooden building on 9th Street in National City. The National City High School District was organized September 6, 1895, and the school was accredited to the State University in 1899. By 1907, the artistic, but not too comfortable, concrete structure of Mission style architecture at 933 E Street, later site of Central Elementary School in National City, opened its doors to high school students. Increasing enrollments of secondary students generated interest in the formation of a separate high school district, one that would serve the geographical area from the San Diego City line to the Mexican border. A public meeting was held in September, 1919, to discuss the move, and the eventual result was the creation of the National Union High School District through action of the County Board of Supervisors on January 6,1920. However, at the organizational meeting of the National Union High School District on February 9, 1920, the trustees petitioned the Board of Supervisors to change the name to Sweetwater Union High School District. The Supervisors ordered the name changed on March15,1920. Also, in the year 1920, the voters approved $172,000 in bonds for the construction of a new high school. Bids were awarded for construction of buildings at 30th and Highland in National City to contractor L.E.C. Smith on May 7, 1921. The buildings were accepted by the Board of Trustees on March 8, 1922, and the students and staff moved into the new buildings on April 3,1922, to start classes. Approximately 230 students entered Sweetwater High School. That year, the high school consisted of grades 9-12. The school Bulletin of Information for 1923-24 shows several course offerings that have since slipped from the curriculum: millinery (1/2 credit), housewifery, and home nursing. The California Taxpayers Association, reporting on educational expenditures for 1925-26, found the average cost for teaching each pupil to be $186.52. Contrast that with today’s cost per pupil of $802.31. In 1928 the communities lying within the boundaries of the district voted to construct buildings for junior high school purposes, and the district, therefore, assumed the responsibility of educating 7th and 8th grade students who previously attended schools of the elementary districts. In September 1929, classes started in three junior highs: National City Junior, Chula Vista Junior, and Southwest Junior. With the advent of the junior highs as part of the Sweetwater High School District, the 9th grade was removed from the high school to the junior high. Since that time the district has expanded in students and buildings to its present complement of nine junior high, seven senior high, and three adult schools. (from the Chula Vista Historical Society Bulletin, June 1982)
Why “The Red Devils” Between 1921 and 1933 Sweetwater High School had no official nickname or mascot; however, the name Sweetwater opened the door to students and their local rivals (actually not very local back then) San Diego, Grossmont, Santa Monica, and Escondido to the appellation, “The Sweeties”. During that same period the first cold breakfast cereal “Wheaties” was developed and became a national popular product due to the clever slogan developed by their marketing manager, Knox Reeves in 1932: Wheaties-The Breakfast of Champions. Whether it was parallelism in the time space continuum or just an historical coincidence, the eventual emergence of the Red Devil began as a result of the pep squad at Grossmont High painting a big spirit poster for their game against Sweetwater High. The unfurled poster featured a giant Grossmont player in uniform ready to munch down on a spoon of tiny red and gray footballers, the caption: “Sweeties…the Breakfast of Champions!” No riots broke out and no one was particularly offended (according to a few alumni I was able to talk with years ago) and it probably would have all been forgotten had Grossmont not “kicked our butts” as the kids say today. In the stands, covering the game for the Sweetwater News (now the Devil’s Advocate) was 10th grade journalism reporter Donald Missman. While being a true professional and reporting the facts of the game accurately, he decided to take on a personal mission: convince his peers and ultimately the school to adopt a nickname and mascot that was more substantial in stature, one that could proudly stand by other mascots chosen from myth and legend. Donald Missman began to embed descriptors into his sports stories for the remainder of that year and referred to football players, basketball players, track and field participants using color…such as the” big red line” attacked the opponents for a loss. The SUHI hoopsters, ”those red devils”, tormented the visiting team. While it would never make Sports Illustrated, the phrase “red devils” caught on and by 1933 the Associated Student Body adopted the name Sweetwater Red Devils as the official name for all Sweetwater athletic teams.The adoption of an official mascot and logo both was and is an ongoing process. A survey of old yearbooks beginning with 1934 and up to the early 1960’s show several treatments, ranging from the iconic “Little Hot Stuff”, a cartoon character with miniature pitchfork wearing a diaper, to a variety of neutral body shape adult males in capes and gowns and boots. Many of these were just submissions drawn by members of the annual staff or the newspaper. It is actually the “Red Devil of York”, which in my investigation into the artwork and conversation with alumni emeritus Harlan Skinner as well as Ed and Virginia Hawkin, which was the template for the actual mascot that was the archetype for the current Red Devil of the 21st century.To understand the true spirit and intent behind our Red Devil it is helpful to know about this very real sculpture that to this day still stands in Stonegate, York. Stonegate was actually the named for the paved rode built in ancient times by the Romans and later became the center for a growing mercantile economy in the late 16th century. Stonegate boasted many fine shops, the best of their day and people came in droves to buy books, linens, silver-ware, furniture, livery, edibles, etc. The Red Devil of York sits atop 33 Stonegate, a printer’s shop where fine books, treatises and handbills were printed. In the printer’s trade at the time, a printer’s devil was usually a young boy, a step below an actual apprentice, who was called upon to run the errands, clean-up, in other words, do all the “dirty work”. It was also common to blame any misplaced typesetting on the mischievous devil. To this day and as in 1755, it is considered unwise to gaze into the red devil’s eyes, as it most certainly will bring you bad luck. The red devil attached above is the actual statue as it still exists today.So the red devil mascot that you find in images in old school publications and photos is a variation of this red devil of York. Even though the red devil of York presents with cloven feet, the SUHI Red Devil has never adopted the cloven foot, which was felt to be a nod to something more sinister and moving away from pure mythology. It was a neutral looking character not particularly powerful or large in stature, but complete with black hair a beard and horns and a wry smile and those eyes that could cause mischief or a run of bad luck.With the advent of the late 1960’s, a new football coach, hired to get the Sweetwater Football Program back on a winning track, felt that while he was committed to the task of awakening the “sleeping giant” that he believed was at the heart of SUHI, he felt the image of the mascot should reflect the emergence of power, strength and confidence that are the benchmarks of a championship team. Lucky for us, the coach was also the drafting teacher who worked in collaboration with students and players. This red devil first appeared as the decal on the previously plain helmet, and proliferated via its imprint on T-shirts, megaphones and other spirit gear. This SUHI Red Devil has presided over games from the late 1960’s and continues today. The features became sharper and more refined less sculptural and more architecturally grounded in graphic design. The shape of the head and chest remained the same but the eyes, nose and smile evoke a slightly more sinister gaze and invite the observer to gaze as long as they dare. The intent has never changed. It simply reinforces the prospect presented by that archetype that sits at 33 Stonegate in York: should you choose to look upon me too long you might be in for a long spell of woeful bad luck and unexpected consequences!As I look at the history of many of the mascots at both the collegiate (from which many high schools adopt their mascots) and the high school level, whether human, animal, historic or mythic, they carry with them some characteristic(s) valued in the world of competition: strength, power, cunning, speed, agility, wit, skill and so on. The SUHI Red Devil, I believe embodies many of these characteristics and from its inception in the 1930’s it was never a plot to uplift demonology of any type. To assume so would be to assume that the Spartans of Chula Vista are merciless warriors who celebrate the kill not the capture; the Raiders of Southwest are proud to rape and plunder their opponents, and the San Ysidro Cougars and The Olympian Eagles are predators who enjoy feasting on the weak and unprepared. Postscript: The marble devil in the foyer of the new gym was a gift from a senior class in the 1950’s. They purchased a block of marble and the base and sent the materials off to a well-known local sculptor. After the sculptor had begun to work he discovered a flaw inside the stone. He alerted the seniors on the committee. He offered to not charge them for the work in progress and if they brought him a new piece of marble he would do the piece at the agreed upon price. Well, there was not enough money to get more stone, so the class asked him to do the best he could. The red “stain” on the devil head’s right side is from the flaw in the marble. It is almost comical how some, over the years, have tried to project that the “stain” is blood or some otherworldly sign that has some sort of satanic implication. Just look at the smile under his moustache…nothing could ever be further from the truth!!!Submitted with respect for all things SUHI,Laura Charles