Travis Jarrard is a staunch traditionalist.
The North Forsyth wrestling coach sees his very career as evidence of that – he’s been at the same school for almost 20 years, which is uncommon in today’s world of high school athletics. That mindset extends all the way down to the singlets his wrestlers have worn during his tenure, which are devoid of purple, which every other team at North has branded around since it was introduced.
When Jarrard was hired at North two decades ago, purple was only an accent color to the school’s main colors of black and silver. Back in the 90s, when the school opened, it was often devoid from uniforms altogether. And years later, Jarrard has held tight to the black and silver, bucking the trend of the rest of the teams. Jarrard’s insistence on keeping things as they’ve been is well known, so much so that his choice to wear a purple jacket to last year’s region duals to change things up was significant.
“It was enough to where people noticed it and made comments about it,” Jarrard said. “And when we didn’t start off very well, I had a parent tell me I needed to take my jacket off. We’re still the holdouts -- don’t I get grandfathered in?”
Despite Jarrard’s holdout, though, North has embraced purple, showing just one of the different paths that Forsyth County high schools have taken in identifying themselves. The county as a whole has learned from those experiences, and with another new high school opening in just two years, it knows that building a school’s brand right from the very beginning is imperative.
That doesn’t mean it’ll stay the same forever, though.
Construction on East Forsyth High School began just a few months ago and is set to open in time for the 2021-22 school year, and that school had colors and a mascot before construction had even begun. East will be the Broncos as a nod to the Bennett Park Broncos, a little league football team that played in the area, and the colors will be orange and blue, like the NFL team.
Having those decisions in place before construction began was the result of a process that the county school system also used before Denmark broke ground. The county’s high school principals came together to discuss and select East’s branding. They focused on colors that weren’t already being used, although blue is a popular color among the group. The discussions ranged from what professional teams use, to personal preferences, to lessons learned from the past.
“It kind of goes back to the preference and discussions about what works and what doesn’t work,” Forsyth County Schools director of communications Jennifer Caracciolo said. “North has struggled with, ‘How do you identify as a Raider? What is that visual for a Raider?’ We had a lot of success with Denmark with an animal, with a dog. So based on the feedback that we had received from (Denmark principal) Heather Gordy, (an animal) was something that the high school principals leaned towards.”
Knowing school colors ahead of time is important, as the county learned when West Forsyth opened in 2007. That school’s interior colors didn’t match those of the mascot and team colors. That led to a school interior of green, and as a result, the athletic programs had to fit that color into their selected gold and navy combination.
Originally, West modeled itself after Notre Dame, but as time went on, the school found that color scheme to be too confusing. The green was never standardized, either – different teams used different shades of it, and with varying results. So in 2015, West decided to ditch green altogether, giving teams two years to make the switch.
“We took the green out of everything and just stayed with the navy and gold, for no reason other than it’s just a little cleaner,” West athletic director Brett Phipps said. “Our colors are really kind of hard to match sometimes when we talk to vendors about clothing, paint, things like that. It was just easier to simplify things.”
But the colors weren’t the only thing West wanted to change. Phipps had heard complaints about his school’s logo from just about everyone, and it wasn’t used very much because of that. When the Wolverines decided to change their colors, they saw it as an opportunity for an entire rebrand, but that wasn’t always an easy task.
“If you look across the country, a wolverine is a very tough thing to draw,” Phipps said. “Every time we had somebody work up a wolverine, it looked like a Disney character or it looked like a rat or something. The Michigan Wolverines don’t actually use an animal -- they’ve just got the famous helmet.”
West ultimately did go the animal route, though, getting their own unique logo to supplement its shift in colors. An alternate logo with a claw scratching through the West ‘W’ was thrown in at the last minute, and that has become a mainstay as well.
“We want our kids in our gear,” Phipps said. “They’re walking billboards for our program -- I tell my coaches that all the time. So to be able to brand yourself is huge, especially in modern high school athletics.”
North’s brand, like West’s, developed over a longer period. When that school opened in 1994, the Raiders’ colors were modeled after the silver and black of the then-Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL. In the late 1990s, then-athletic director Jerry Hogan and lead counselor Bob Carnaroli saw that color scheme as too bland. Inspired by MLB’s Colorado Rockies and Northwestern University, they convinced the football and baseball teams to adopt a small purple trim.
“What they noticed is that that black NF popped,” former North athletic director and current Forsyth County AD Nathan Turner said. “It was very bright, and people went crazy about that. Over about a two and a half to three-year period, it took off like hotcakes.”
The color became a primary one from there, with Hogan even painting some of the school’s walls with purple trim himself later on. But while most of the school adopted purple, the wrestling team didn’t want it, and to this day, Jarrard says his wrestlers embrace being different and haven’t changed that sentiment.
“There was a phase there for a while where people would have lighter colored singlets and white singlets,” Jarrard said. “That’s just not the best color to have on a wrestling singlet.”
In the last few years, some other schools have updated their branding, albeit in smaller ways. South Forsyth introduced a new War Eagle logo to modernize itself last year, and in 2015, Forsyth Central unveiled a new logo set to honor its long history and modernize at the same time, bringing back the FC used in the school’s earliest days.
Sometimes, though, change isn’t needed at all. Lambert’s logos and colors have remained untouched since it opened, and with the amount of state champions the school has had over the years, that school’s level of prestige has just grown.
“It was marketing genius on the part of (principal Gary Davison) and (athletic director Drew Ferrer) to pick that Longhorn because of the alliteration of Lambert and Longhorn,” Phipps said. “As a result, everybody sees it around the state. If you see it in burnt orange in the state of Georgia, you know that’s Kell, but you see it in that burgundy, you know it’s Lambert.”
Logos and colors, as important as they are, are just a fraction of what makes a brand, though. Around those schools lie different communities filled with people that identify with them. It’s an effect the county hopes to achieve again with East, and hopes it will continue with the rest of the schools already in place.
“It’s similar to how individuals are with their college or university that they attend,” Caracciolo said. “It’s an ownership -- you’re part of something.”