Northampton Press

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Konkrete Kids: What’s in a name?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 by Robert Mentzell Special to The Press in Local News

No other high school in the nation has such a unique mascot as Northampton High School’s Konkrete Kid. Of course, it pays homage to the industry that gave the town and the region its prosperity starting in the late 19th century.

The mascot’s story is inextricably interwoven with Northampton.

Apart from the dominating economic impact the cement industry has had on this town, there was a practical aspect as well. Universal Atlas Cement Company donated all the land upon which the current Northampton Area High School and most of the land Northampton Area Middle School were built.

Northampton’s high school traces its origins to 1901 as Allen Township High School, was later called Alliance High School from 1903 to 1910 and finally named NHS in 1910.

For its first decade, NHS’ graduating classes never exceeded 12 students. For that reason, and possibly others, the school had no sports teams, until 1911 when baseball was inaugurated. This was followed by boys basketball in 1914, girls basketball in 1915 and an abbreviated football program in 1924.

During those early years of sports, no mascot existed as can be currently determined. Press reports of games, almost always anonymous, relied on a retinue of reliable monikers used by many sports writers. There were common references to the “Northampton Nine” for baseball, the “Cagers” for basketball and “Cement Towners” used generally. But what of the term Kon- krete Kids?

What is fascinating is that this most ironic moniker first appeared in print not in reference to the high school team, but rather to its older hometown counterpart, the Northampton Athletic Association. The NAA has always provided a program of youth sports for the Borough of Northampton. In the early decades of the 20th century, the NAA also fielded a semi-pro baseball team that competed in a league with many other area towns.

The earliest reference in print to Kon- krete Kids was in a June 5, 1921, article in a local daily newspaper. In this unattributed piece, the Konkrete Kids of the Northampton Athletic Association were defeated 7-0 in a baseball game against the Southwark Athletic Club of Catasauqua. Not until January of 1922 does Konkrete Kids start to be used to refer to the high school team — in this case, the boys basketball team. By late 1922, the daily newspaper applied the name “Konkrete Kids” to all NHS teams.

Interestingly, the nickname was not immediately picked up by the then-hometown paper, Cement News. This was the local newspaper covering all aspects of Northampton from 1903 to 1943. The earliest mention of Konkrete Kids in Cement News was a Dec. 11, 1925, write-up of an NHS basketball victory over Stroudsburg.

The image of a Kon- krete Kid was born from a need for a letterhead design for the newly formed athletic council. In 1961, football coach Al Erdosy and print shop teacher Harry Reiff were unable to come up with a suitable design using the mascot.

Erdosy turned to his high school classmate William Schwartz (NHS, 1938). Schwartz was then an art teacher at Phillipsburg High School. He created a squarish-limbed figure of segmented cement blocks carrying a football. This design caught on and morphed into the current model. Often, the Konkrete Kid is set against a background of a capital “N,” created by former NASD Athletic Director Mike Schneider. Incidentally, it was also Schwartz who gave the Konkrete Kid a human dimension. He made the first Konkrete Kid costume primarily out of cardboard. It resembled an oversized concrete block. That costume debuted during the 1969 football season. Several Konkrete Kid outfits have evolved from that initial model.

The colors sported by the Konkrete Kid are, of course, black and orange. The school colors of NHS did not arrive with the school’s birth. From 1901 to possibly 1910, there were no official colors. Each graduating class chose its own color scheme. However, the Northampton Alumni Association, a large and influential body, from 1904 onward, voted to use the Class of 1910’s colors of black and orange as the official NHS colors.

Then, who is to be credited with inventing the moniker Konkrete Kids — a reporter, the crowd watching? Since all local sports reporting of the time was anonymous, it may be difficult to trace the precise origin of the name.

Perhaps it is as simple as pairing the German spelling for concrete with a “K” and fashioning an alliterative phrase, including the visual repetition of the beginning letter. Regardless, any furtive attempts to abandon the mascot in favor of some other creation have been justly met with fierce resistance.

The nearly century-old Konkrete Kids moniker is a nod to the cement industry that sustained this area. They were kids from the cement town who showed up with their equipment in cement bags — a unique bag, a unique name for a team, the Konkrete Kids.