Libby Gorillas or Loggers?
Save the Gorilla!
A poster commissioned by former Greenchain wrestler Eric Wilson seeks to raise support for the wrestling squad’s unofficial mascot.
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
January 31, 2008
A decision by school administrators to downplay the use of the Libby High School wrestling team’s unofficial mascot has ignited a campaign to “Save the Gorilla.”
The great ape has been associated with the wrestling squad since 1976, when a Libby wrestler stole a wooden cutout of a gorilla from Havre High School.
“I’m not going to say who it was,” said former coach Larry Hilderman.
Hilderman started coaching in 1974, when the team wasn’t doing well and morale was low. “It was probably the worst program in the history of Libby,” he recalled.
With the gorilla as its new symbol, the team started a turnaround and Hilderman began calling the boys “the Greenchain Gorilla Squad.”
“The gorilla denoting a big, tough, ornery beast,” he said.
The controversy over the fate of the gorilla started earlier this year when a banner depicting the beast was put up at the high school, said assistant principal Jim Germany. Germany said he thought the banner was an old one from Hilderman’s era and took it down, planning to give it to the former coach as a memento. It turned out the banner was new, Germany said, but because the school wants to de-emphasize the gorilla it has been given to the booster club for use at the Little Guy level.
Principal Rik Rewerts questioned whether it’s appropriate for the wrestling team to have its own mascot that sets it apart from other Logger sports. The team already has a different name – the Greenchain – but at least that is related to logging, he said. The greenchain refers to what was considered the toughest job at the plywood plant, the head of the line where workers had to manhandle slabs of green wood.
“We are not getting rid of the gorilla,” Rewerts said. “We are emphasizing that we are the Libby Loggers. Our mascot is not a gorilla, it is a logger.”
That isn’t enough for gorilla fans like Eric Wilson, who has had posters and T-shirts printed with a “Save the Gorilla” logo. Wilson graduated in 1986 and was a wrestler at both the Little Guy and high school levels.
“This has been around for 30-some years,” he said. “Why has it become such a big issue?”
Wilson has heard plenty of stories about the gorilla, including that the wooden cutout still enshrined in the practice room is the original one taken as a trophy back in the 1970s and that a duplicate was returned to Havre – although Hilderman swears that the original was returned and that the one in Libby is the duplicate.
“It’s just kind of dear to my heart,” Wilson said. “I’ve got some kids coming up and of they wrestle, it’s their choice, but I’d like to see them be Gorilla Squad kids.”
Editor’s Note: See the January 28, 2008 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, on Monday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail email@example.com.