Photos Provided. By DogDayz Apparel
As a junior high school student in Twin Valley, Minnesota, population 800, Mike Brevik understood the power of the mascot. He knew the Twin Valley Tiger on his t-shirt represented far more than a few stripes. It was a symbol of pride.
“In our community, you took great pride in your school team,” Brevik said. “Everyone in town had a connection to the school mascot. Seeing it always sparked a conversation about that one game or that one memory.”
Then, when Brevik was entering junior high, the school board of Twin Valley found themselves facing a difficult decision — one that was not uncommon for smaller towns with decreasing school attendance. In order to continue providing the school with enough students and resources, Twin Valley would need to merge with their arch-rival, The Gary Bulldogs.
“No one wanted to partner with the enemy,” Brevik said with a chuckle. “There was so much rivalry and independence that we were giving up. But at the end of the day, we had no choice.”
Twin Valley and Gary initially merged to become the Norman County East Eagles for Football and Track. The days of the Twin Valley Tigers were numbered.
Small-town schools across America can tell a similar story. From 1930 to 1970, the United States saw a wave of consolidation causing the number of school districts to fall by 90 percent. And while that number is less drastic today, the past decade has still seen consolidations in rural areas like parts of Minnesota and North Dakota, where merging provides the only way forward and sustains the same levels of education and opportunities as the rest of the nation.
The result is a figurative graveyard of old mascots — cherished, worn with pride, and many laid to rest or even forgotten. As a graphic designer with a dream to create his own apparel designs, Mike Brevik was intrigued at what it would look like to resurrect some of these beloved images.
“I always wanted to create retro apparel or do something that was not only unique but connected back to a memory that meant something to me,” he said. “I think back to my old mascot tees for the local teams that I had as a kid. I always wished I had held on to some of those.”
A few years ago, the thought dawned on Brevik: “I don’t have to wish, I can just make them.”
His first beta test for the concept came when he created a Twin Valley Tiger t-shirt, just in time for the Twin Valley annual small-town festival. (“You know in small-town USA there’s that one time a year you have a festival and main street activities and a car show,” Brevik explained with a laugh.)
Brevik wore the T-shirt as he enjoyed the street fair, wondering if anyone would notice. Turns out, they did.
“Oh my gosh… where did you get that?” A woman asked.
“Did you save that?” Someone else questioned.
“Wow, that reminds me of that one time….” Another said as they shared a story of the old Twin Valley Tiger glory days.
Within just a handful of hours, Brevik estimated he had over 35 people point out the shirt.
“I was trying to get a feel for whether or not a concept like that has a place in the market,” Brevik said. “Not only did it create some excitement but it consistently created positive discussion.”
With his newfound positive validation, the idea came alive. Brevik started researching the lost, no longer active mascots from schools within a 30-40 mile radius of Twin Valley. One by one, the mascots came back to life through his retro-themed apparel; the Ulen Panthers, Hitterdal Vikings, Hendrum Huskies, and Halstad Pirates. Unique mascots emerged like the Audubon Zephyrs, named after the west wind. Or Hallock’s Fighting Bears, featuring a bear with boxing gloves. And of course, the Twin Valley Tigers, featured in its original classic white and green.
“There’s a nostalgia to each piece of clothing because you went there, or maybe your parents went there. It keeps you connected to that memory,” Brevik said.
Each mascot tee comes in a Home and Away version, just like you’d have for the original sports teams, and is available in its original school colors. You might also notice the t-shirts are not exact duplications of the originals, but rather replicas — custom designs that capture the essence of the mascot with DogDayz’ signature retro twist.
“Everything that we’re creating has to be apparel neutral or retro. We’re not following any current fashion trends because those trends didn’t exist in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80’s, ’90s, etc.. We’re trying to stick to the fashion pallet and options of what you’d find back then when these mascots were available,” Brevik said.
Even the name, “DogDayz Apparel,” harkens back to the nostalgia of small- town summers, Brevik said; going down to the swimming hole with your friends, coming back at the evening whistle, enjoying the longest dog days of summer with your friends. It also keeps a connection to Brevik’s other business, a marketing agency called Cyberdogz.
“It keeps up that brand connection, and it still carries that nostalgic mindset of ‘days gone by,’” Brevik said.
Since then, Brevik has expanded the apparel line to include landmark tees that highlight businesses that no longer exist — such as Char’s Cafe in South Dakota, the Fargo Famous 1960s Pink Pussycat lounge, and Twin Valley’s own Kegler’s Lanes, the Friday night place- to-be bowling alley Brevik remembers. DogDayz also has a Lake Life line and a DogDayz Apparel brand line.
Brevik hopes that when people wear the designs, they continue to spark the same nostalgia and small-town pride conversations that he experienced first- hand in his own small town.
“The resurrecting of the memory and conversations about it continues to come up as long as you wear it,” he said. “For me, it’s a way to celebrate where we come from, and bring some respect back to the mindset of small towns.”
Re-investing in Small Towns
In addition to the fond memories, Brevik sees the importance of restoring small- town pride when recent years have seemingly sought to tear that down.
“People have been saying small towns are dying for so long, I think we actually started to believe it,” he said. “But in- between all larger cities, there are miles and miles of land that contain small towns along the way, people that live there and the memories and legacy that time has forgotten. They’re still there, they’re not dying. The problem is too many small towns drank the Kool-Aid and have stopped aspiring for big things.”
Driving around Brevik’s hometown area of Twin Valley, the difference is apparent.
“There are some towns that are oozing with community pride that never gave in to that,” Brevik went on. “Then there are other towns that put the plywood up on all the businesses on Main Street and seemingly gave up. It’s different for every town.”
As a small-town native with an entrepreneurial mindset, Brevik continues to see the potential of small towns. In fact, his dream with DogDayz Apparel is to one day use the profits to reinvest in the small communities; boosting community programs, schools and of course, the annual street fairs and small-town celebrations.
“Years have passed and these small towns are still here. The gas stations are running. There’s still tar being put down every few years,” he said. “Now it’s about maintaining the legacy and history of these small towns — not necessarily to get them back to what they once were but to sustain what they have, restore what’s been neglected and resurrect what’s been forgotten. We’re working to build back that hope.”
Last year was a big year for DogDayz Apparel; the expanded clothing lines were launched, along with the new and improved website. This year is about getting more exposure to the story, seeking support and “doing more good with it,” Brevik said.
As he looks to the years ahead, Brevik’s gaze goes beyond the Upper Midwest. He is especially excited about a little form on the website called “Tee Request”: a submission box where anyone can put in their own suggestion for a laid-to-rest mascot or business logo to be made into DogDayz apparel.
“There is no reason this couldn’t be a national effort of finding little small towns from Texas to Nebraska, and celebrating those mascots,” he said. “If you’re from a small town and your mascot or landmark no longer exists, we’d love for you to submit that idea on our site.”
In the meantime, Brevik continues his own search for old mascots and logos that can be made into designs. And just as each mascot is given new love and life, he hopes to see the same happen for places like his hometown of Twin Valley — a resurgence of community pride in the small-town communities across America.