A forgotten husky on our hands?

As the awareness of Tito the Henderson Husky’s name declines, is this piece of FCCPS culture fading into obscurity?

A paper mache huskey

A Tito sighting in the 2010-2011 yearbook. A husky was chosen as a mascot for MEH during the school’s inception in 2005, and has remained a symbol of the middle school. Photo by Hunter Hicks

Eli Wildman and Hunter Hicks

If students at George Mason took a survey, a majority of them would correctly identify Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School’s mascot as a husky. However, only a minority of them would be able to correctly state the husky’s name. If you were to poll a class at Henderson, the number of students able to name the husky would be even lower. Even faculty members at the middle school who started there within the past 10 years are unlikely to know the husky’s name.

“After polling my first two classes, I found one student who knew [that the mascot’s name was] Tito. One student out of 34,” said Mr. Ross Mandel, an English teacher at MEH.

It wasn’t always this way. The mascot’s name was a part of the school’s culture during its early years and was even featured prominently in older editions of the Henderson yearbook.

Tito the Husky came to life during MEH’s introductory 2005-2006 school year. The school combined the 6th and 7th grade classes that were previously in the same building as George Mason High School with the 5th grade class that was previously part of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. The mascot became a way to bond the three grades and create school spirit. 

In early 2005, a committee formed to discuss possible mascot options. Many students and community members suggested possible mascots and the committee narrowed down the options to create a final list of mascot options. The student body took a vote and the husky beat out a hawk and a hedgehog among others. The hawk came in a close second place.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary School SCA followed a similar process in 1992, changing the mascot from a dinosaur to a tiger.

A school yearbook cover from 1992
The first appearance of the Tiger on the Thomas Jefferson Yearbook in 1992
Photo courtesy of Ms. Heidi Lang

Once the school settled on a husky as its mascot, a group of rising 8th graders at the then George Mason Middle School worked with Ms. Debbie Baird, the art teacher at the time, to create a larger-than-life paper-mâché husky. The same husky was remade a few years ago and now rests in the Henderson lobby. A few months later, the students decided the husky needed a name. Students offered up a variety of options and the SCA put it to the student body for a vote. Suggestions included naming the husky “Henry,” after Henry Gonzalez, the head of security at the time, or after the school’s principal, Dr. Rochelle Friedman. 

“So we had the traditional technique where people nominate names and then we had the voting down to I believe four or five and then when they had the vote, Tito somehow came out on top and I don’t even know the origin as to how Tito became popular,” said Coach Mark Coffren, who has been a P.E teacher at Henderson for 15 years. 

The students named Tito the husky after one of their employees, Tito Sorto, who, at the time, was a teaching manager of the food service team in the cafeteria. Mr. Sorto worked at the middle school from its opening until 2009. He still is an FCCPS employee, but now works at Mount Daniel Elementary School. Mr. Sorto was honored by the decision of this election.

“There were many names to vote on, but it was really cool to see that everyone voted for me,” Mr. Sorto said.

Two cafeteria workers unpacking boxes.
Tito Sorto, the namesake for Tito the Husky, with co-worker Eng Chuan at his current job at Mount Daniel
Photo courtesy of Mr. Jeremy Ferrara

No teacher could pinpoint when people stopped referring to the MEHMS mascot by its first name, but many speculated that with every change of administration at Mary Ellen Henderson, there were also some cultural shifts. To date, there have been 5 different principals at the middle school. The traditions at Mary Ellen Henderson have shifted dramatically over time. For example, for a while, the school was known as MEH, but now Henderson is the more popular nickname. Another lost tradition is the school song.

A photo of a school song lyrics.
MEHMS official song. Image courtesy of Tish Pugh

In 2011, Seidah Ashshaheed replaced Ann McCarty, the school’s second principal. Many teachers speculated that this was around the time that the awareness of Tito’s name began to decline. 

Additionally, the 5th grade class was part of the middle school until the 2012-2013 school year. The mascot was a part of the fifth grade’s bonding to the middle school and was much more popular among the 5th grade team than among the higher grades. When the 5th grade moved down to Thomas Jefferson, it moved on to TJ the Tiger. 

But why was Tito less celebrated by the upper grades at the middle school? Many students at Jessie Thackery knows their Giraffe’s name is Gerti, and every Mount Daniel student knows their hippo’s name is Danny. Why is the name of the husky so delible? 

Some believe that this is just an effect of a more mature student body, less interested in the personification of their mascot. Yet, many colleges still have mascots with complex personalities and storylines, such as Sparty the Michigan State Spartan and Brutus the Ohio State Buckeye.

It seems it’s not the age of the student that matters, but the traditions that shape the culture at their learning institution. As the traditions at MEHMS evolved, they did not feature Tito’s name. As a result, the name slowly died out. Will Tito make a comeback? Vice Principal Robert Carey isn’t sure.

“It’s hard to say if there will be a revival, but knowing Tito, we hope there is!” said Mr. Carey. 

 “Since his days here at Henderson, and now at Mount Daniel, he is recognized as a staple in the FCCPS community. The name may be in need of a revival, and we would love for our students to take the lead and drive it!” 

Whether or not Tito regains his previous levels of name recognition, he has scratched himself into the hearts of many former huskies.