Of all the nation’s best mascots, few can hold a candle to the tops in Arizona in terms of sheer originality and a deep historic connection with a school’s past.
A neon sign for a high school team? When you're the Criminals, it feels right — Criminals in Action
Meet the Yuma Criminals. By the Yuma Criminals, we mean the Yuma (Az.) High sports teams, not any group of convicted neerdowells that happen to habitate within the city limits.
As noted by USA Today, which held a contest that organized public voting for the top mascot in each state, the Criminals serve as a nod to a desperate time in the history of the Yuma School District, when the school’s initial home was burned to the ground by a fire.
Mascot Quest 2013 — Flickr
That tragedy came in 1910, and while no one died in the blaze, the school quickly had to look for a new home at a time when such a move was not easily funded publicly. Desperate for a readily available facility, the Yuma School District turned to the Arizona Territorial Prison, a recently vacated facility in Yuma which provided a ready made site for the school to hold classes.
According to MaxPreps, the school held assemblies in the prison hospital and all classes were taught in the old cell blocks from 1910-1913. The sports nickname that came along with the site change was a natural one.
Also, it set the stage for the greatest football team entrance in the country, which you can see above. Fantastic.
The school officially took on the mascot change in 1917, and never looked back. Now the Criminals are a dangerous threat for the rest of Arizona on the field and the court, even if they pose no more of a threat off it than anyone else.
In most states, the Gila Bend (Az.) Gila Monsters would be a shoo-in to be the state’s best, but it’s hard to compete against a group of criminals, even when you’re a near-prehistoric creature.
The Surprise (Az.) Valley Vista High Monsoon might seem out of place in a desert, but then again, the town is called Surprise.