As a resident of Menomonee Falls, it’s hard not to notice the prevalence of burgundy and gray. Those, of course, are the official colors of the high school and village. Burgundy and gray adorn all the sports uniforms at Menomonee Falls High School, the squad cars, bumper stickers, Indians apparel, and even the flag outside Village Hall.
However, the story behind the burgundy and gray is more than just a relationship of compatible colors. Those two colors, which have come to represent a community, are also a symbol of resolution and compromise.
Why Burgundy and Gray?
Patch started its search for the meaning behind the burgundy and gray by contacting Falls’ living and breathing history textbook, Jim Jeskewitz. Jeskewitz, who coached the Menomonee Falls East Titans football team, didn’t let Patch down. He pinpointed the exact year and season that the colors were chosen.
“I believe it was 1983 when the vote was taken to change the colors because the two high schools were going to be combined in 1984,” Jeskewitz said off the top of his head.
Nearly 30 years ago the Menomonee Falls School District found itself in an economic situation not unlike the district’s present fiscal challenges. In 1983, enrollment and state aid were falling in the district, and school leaders were forced to make a significant cost-saving move. They agreed to combine Menomonee Falls North and Menomonee Falls East high schools starting in the 1984-85 school year.
In fall of 1983, the North Indians and the East Titans football teams renewed their intra-village rivalry for the 15th and final time at Schumann Stadium. The Indians pounded the Titans 30-0.
Just a month later, a combined caucus of Student Council representatives from North and East high schools held several meetings to determine the mascot and colors for the soon-to-be-combined high school. It was a decision that would create a new tradition in the district and village.
The Titans donned gold and blue on their uniforms, and the Indians clad themselves in purple and white. It was a clash of traditions. The colors purple and white were connected with Falls since 1910, and the Indian mascot stretched back to 1945.
“I never realized how passionate people were about their mascot and colors,” said Richard Woosencraft, the former Falls principal whose name graces the street sign on the road leading to MFHS. “I had former students and teachers come up to me at the time and say they bled purple and white, and said we couldn’t change those colors.”
Despite deep-seated passions from the Titan and Indian faithful, the Student Council reached a solution based upon comprise and new beginnings. All students vacated the North building and transferred to the East facilities. Since East students kept their building, they decided to allow North students to keep the Indians mascot and a piece of their identity.
The Student Council members also voted 15-2 to change the colors to burgundy and gray. That way, all students could unite under new colors and start a new legacy together. A council representative at the time said they didn’t want students to be divided during the inaugural school year.
“The mascot was the big issue, and the colors were more of a soothing over decision,” Woosencraft said.
In November 1983, the School Board gave final approval of the new colors on a 4-2 vote. A vote was necessary since the district would need to spend $27,000 on new uniforms.
“After 20 years in the district, the best thing we ever did was to change those colors. The blue and gold were ugliest football uniforms I’d ever seen,” Woosencraft joked.
Woosencraft said the colors don’t signify anything in particular – they were just compatible colors. However, it seems unity and compromise is a fair set of values to attach to the burgundy and gray flag flying over Village Hall. More than a week removed from a contentious election, differences and hostility still remains sharp amongst voters. Perhaps the next time you’re knee deep in divisive conversation with someone, Falls’ burgundy and gray will remind you that comprise can lead to united new beginnings.