Cut ’Em Down, Swathers: High School Mascot Pays Tribute to AGCO

The Swathers’ football team of Hesston, Kansas, is as tough as its farm equipment namesake.

By Nancy Dorman-Hickson | Photos By Jeff Tuttle

0315swathers1When the Hesston High football team storms the home field on Friday nights, a swather towers on the sidelines in all its big, red and intimidating glory. The swather mascot first came into play in 1970, says Clint Stoppel, athletic director at the Kansas school. School officials wanted to pay tribute to the AGCO Corporation plant (previously known as Hesston Manufacturing) and the crucial role the manufacturer played then and now in the town’s economy.

Just as a swather makes short work of cutting grain or hay, so too does the Swather football team when it comes to the opposition, earning top league honors for five years running. Before home games, an employee of AGCO cranks up the team mascot and tools it just up the road to the school, ginning up team spirit in the process. A caricature of the real-deal swather shows up on pep rally signs, sporting a frightening grin and squinty eyes designed to make competitors quake.

Zack Ledford, a junior offensive and defensive lineman, recalls when the team’s swather competed in a 2013 USA Today state mascot contest. Alas, the Hesston High symbol came in second to the Goldbugs, a Fowler, Kan., team mascot named after an Edgar Allan Poe short story.

0315swathers2No matter, the Swather mascot does its job and “definitely draws attention,” says Zack. “It kind of replicates that ‘mean machine’ look,” agrees Zack’s dad, Donnie Ledford, who is an AGCO employee along with his wife, Andrea. The manufacturing plant, he says, “brings a lot of jobs to town.”

Swather team members are among that number. “I can think of five or six kids from the past 10 years that are working at AGCO now,” Stoppel says of former students.

In turn, the town of 3,700 supports the Swathers. “You can pretty much shut down the town on Friday nights,” says Stoppel, who recalls with pleasure interviewing for the athletic director position 10 years ago. “The principal asked me if I knew what a swather was,” he says, then laughs. “I grew up running one on our family farm. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into with this job.”