The riding of the horse at the start of each home football game is one of the most talked about aspects of Choctaw tradition. While this tradition does not date back as far as others, it has as many tales to it as any other.
Football coach and athletic director, Wyman Townsel, came to Choctaw in 1965. The athletic program was struggling, and Townsel’s goal was to get the players and fans motivated. His idea was for a student to ride a horse at an outdoor pep rally to get the crowd motivated. He chose a student who agreed to paint himself green to ride the horse. Well, when the band struck up, “Big Green Indian,” the plan fell apart. Seems the horse wasn’t too fond of the song and bucked the student off.
Obviously, that was not the end of the horse, though. Townsel found Jim Hart, a local equestrian and Choctaw fan, to help with the horse. Hart taught several individuals how to ride the horse, and after several years, students “auditioned” to ride the horse. Not only does the student have to know how to ride the horse, but he or she also has to throw a spear midfield. Add to that the football team running onto the field, the crowd is going wild, and oh yes, the band is playing, “Big Green Indian.” It is quite a challenge to ride the horse at each game.
Brian Buckelew, Class of 1987 grad, rode the horse for two years. “It was a thrill and honor to ride the horse at each game. Mr. Ely helped me a great deal in learning how to handle riding the horse onto the field, ” Buckelew said. The horse has also impacted visiting rivals. At one particular school, the football team had to be warned about the horse because a previous trip to Big Green Territory had intimidated, and in fact, frightened many of the players. The Head Coach actually spent valuable practice time going over the horse-riding and spear-throwing so his players would be ready. Legend has it that the team was still awestruck.
Many think that the idea of the horse was borrowed from Florida State University, but according to Townsel, that isn’t true. He said that Ann Bowden, wife of Florida State University football coach, Bobby Bowden, attended a Choctaw football game in the 1970s, saw the horse run, and told her husband that it would be a good idea for FSU.
Over the years, both males and females have ridden the horse. It still incites spirit among current Choctaw students as well as alumni and equally impresses those visiting us.
The Totem Pole
The Totem Pole is an important symbol of school pride.One purpose of the Native American totem pole was to serve as an emblem of a family or clan. The three totem poles Choctawhatchee High School has had in front of the school over the years have served a similar purpose.
The head of the totem pole represents the Big Green Indian with “the sun for his left eye.” Each section of the totem pole represents an aspect of student life. The first Choctaw totem pole happened by accident, according to the school’s first band director, Jim Leonard. He and Bryan Lindsay were looking for a big, wooden Indian statue that was popular in front of stores, but couldn’t find one. A senior student in a woodshop class offered to design and carve a totem pole.
That was in 1957. The first totem pole was relocated to the “new” Choctaw on Racetrack Road in 1966. Since it was made out of wood, it eventually rotted and was replaced by a new one in 1981. The second totem pole was carved out of a telephone pole. Student leaders painted each section. The second totem pole was destroyed in 1995 by Hurricane Opal, and the school went without a totem pole for two years. The Choctaw staff went through hardship wherever they went from people asking about the totem pole.
Alumni were particularly troubled about seeing their alma mater go totem pole-less.
“I couldn’t go anywhere without being asked about the totem pole,” said then-Principal Richard Bounds.
The class of 1997 raised the $3,000 to get the totem pole made by a wood carver in South Walton County. The current totem pole is made of a cypress tree. The tree was left in its natural shape, which has a slight lean to it.
To make the totem pole more stable, a steel pole was placed in the center.
Over 45 years the totem pole has stood in front of Choctawhatchee High School. It has withstood hurricanes, attacks by rivals, and continues to serve as an emblem of the Choctaw High School Family.
When Jim Leonard came to Choctaw that first year as the band director, the new school had no alma mater or other school songs. He wrote the Alma Mater that first year. The tune is a World War I song, “Long, Long Trail Awinding.”
In 1956, Bryan Lindsay came to Choctaw as choral director, replacing Andy Write. He started on the words to “Big Green Indian,” which is actually a spirit song.
“Bryan would bring the words over to me during the school day to ask my opinion. I made suggestions, and we collaborated on the music,” Leonard said.
Most anyone who has ever heard, “Big Green Indian,” remembers it. It has a unique sound that seems to never grow old. Leonard said that the first time he and Lindsay played the song for the students it was an immediate hit.
“I learned it on the piano in three days,” said Peggy Starkey Rice, 1962 graduate.
Leonard said that the song has a beat that makes it unforgettable.
“We kind of have to thank Elvis for the success of ‘Big Green Indian’. He changed music at that time, and “Big Green’ has a rock’n roll base,” Leonard said.
Indeed, in 1963, a group in Nashville recorded the song, that Lindsay had sent them, as a single pop song. The flip side of the 45 rpm record had the song, “The Loneliest Boy on the Beach,” reminiscent of the Beach Boys.
Allison Lindsay Lofe, daughter of Bryan Lindsay, said she has fond memories of growing up singing along with “Big Green Indian.”
“We listened to that song and sang it like other kids sang along with the radio,” Lofe, now a teacher at Bluewater Elementary, said.
“Dad was really proud of all of the songs he wrote,” Lofe added.
Bryan Lindsay died in 1996 in North Carolina. Jim Leonard, with members of his family own Playground Music Center. He retired from Choctaw in 1967, but has helped out with the band over the years.
Since the 2nd year of their existence, the Choctawhatchee Stylemarchers have been recognizable not only by the precision and excellence of their craft, but by their ornate headdresses which have become one of the most treasured traditions of Big Green Territory.
Across the nation this distinguishing feature can be seen at parades, bowl games, and professional football contests, depending on which venue the Stylemarchers grace.
The Stylemarchers’ signature accessory was started during the tenure of Jim Leonard, Choctaw’s first Band Director and has endured for over 50 years.
Each Stylemarcher’s headdress is uniformed but personally styled for uniqueness. Each headdress has 30 large feathers with over 1000 other feathers in green, black, red, and white. Each feather, along with horsehair, must be placed in the headdress frame one at a time.
The drum major’s headdress is even more elaborate and flows the entire length of this student who is charged with the responsibility of being the most recognizable member of the most recognizable band in the South.
Most of the information on this page courtesy of Linda Evanchyk and the Smoke Signals Staff.