THE LEGACY OF DIGGER DAN
By Diane Workman
Imagine if you will, the cool September air rustling about you but you don't notice. It's 1985 and your sitting on the Jordan High bleachers with your closest friends, and yet you are not aware of the company you keep. The announcer speaks of the Student Body Officers' Float and your eyes are drawn to the north end of the football field. There is a thrill of excitement seemingly frozen in the air. The contagious buzz of cheering, shouting, whistling, laughing, hooting and hollering is everywhere. The float passes by and you admire the rainbow-adorned trailer filed with its load of brightly colored helium balloons. A banner on the side that reads, "DREAM INTO ACTION." On the float's second pass you see the net released and watch as the balloons soar upward in a whoosh. Then up jumps a seven-foot masked farmer who begins to dance.
Who is this guy? Why is he here? How did all this come
about? The roar of the crowd grows louder and everyone is up and cheering
as if their shoes were attached to springs. This day will go down in the
annals of Jordan High School's history. It is the dawning of Digger Dan.
I am proud to relive this memory with you;a memory I had nearly forgotten until I was given the task of researching Digger Dan's history as part of my responsibilities as vice president in charge of archives for the Jordan High Alumni Association.
Much to my surprise, I discovered that Digger Dan isn't the first personification of the Beetdigger spirit. Back in 1955 a cartoon character named "Topper" decked the pages of the high school yearbook and announced plans to symbolize the Beetdiggers going through their high school experiences. (Perhaps the fact that Topper was a cartoon rather than a living, breathing mascot may have had something to do with his fairly speedy demise.)
Yes, it was the Class of 1986 that started the Digger Dan legacy. The motive was to increase student involvement, show school spirit and liven up the student body at assemblies and sporting events. Well, it proved to be a great success and the mascot has continued through the years.
The first person to play Digger Dan was a friend of mine, Scott Stromberg. He remembers how the student body officers planned the "big secret" for the Homecoming Parade and the assembly where they searched for a name for the masked farmer. When I interviewed Scott recently about his role as the first Digger Dan, he expressed surprise that Digger Dan is still around. "It's awesome to help start such a legacy," he said.
Brance Ammussen, Mel Quinn, and Arron Bell each had the chance to play Digger Dan in the 1988-89 school year. Together they kept the student body on its toes trying to figure out the identity of the masked mascot. Zakary Short, who played Digger Dan in 1998, said, "Dan was a way of bringing the team and the student body together. When the team was down, it was Digger Dan's duty to boot morale. He is the heart and spirit of the game."
Digger Dan's identity is usually a closely guarded secret, consequently I found identifying all of the Digger Dan performers to be an impossible task. Those who admitted playing the role said there were other as well but they couldn't remember who. A few yearbooks included the name of their Digger Dan but many did not. I discovered that during my senior year it was Patty Brown Jake who played Digger Dan at the big game against South High. Silly me, I thought Digger Dan was always played by a boy.
In 1996, Digger Dan changed. He became more fierce and formidable. Some said it was to make the digger more modern; others said it was just time for a new look.
What does it mean to be Digger Dan? According to Trevor Miller, Class of 2000, "Being Digger Dan is a lot of fun but also a big responsibility. It's not only time consuming, it's physically draining. In one game I lost five pounds funning around in that hot suit." He went on to say, "As the mascot I learned a lot of things about what being a Beetdigger really means. I learned about school spirit and pride and why they are important. Being the mascot taught me to push myself to the max. You never know what you can do until you try." He concluded with a smile.
Whether he's flipping, tripping, flirting or cheering, Digger Dan is entertaining. He's one of the most controversial mascots around. A few students said they think it's time for him t go. (Probably the same ones who wanted to trade "Beetdiggers" for bulldog or some such thing.) To me Digger Dan and Beetdigger mean Jordan. The legacy goes deeper than just a name pulled out of the air. Although Digger Dan's voice and face may change from time to time, school spirit and pride always follow him. He is putting our "Dreams into Action." And will continue the legacy for Jordan High for many years to come.