In two weeks, the Freedom High School Eagles of Prince William County will take the field, proudly wearing the black and gold for the first time.
A year later, another Freedom High School, with another group of Eagles, will open in nearby Loudoun County -- also wearing black and gold.
The two schools will add to a sizable flock of Eagles among area high schools: There are the Edison Eagles of Fairfax County, the Osbourn Eagles of Manassas and the Colonial Forge Eagles of Stafford County. Over in Maryland, Charles County will add its own Eagles team next year with the opening of North Point High School in Waldorf.
When it comes to picking mascots, high schools in the Washington area's fastest-growing counties tend to stick with the familiar. Mascots are usually chosen by students, who vote on a handful of safe choices compiled by school staff members. Wildly unusual names don't make the list, generally because common names and mascot images are easy to find on the Internet and transfer to such items as football helmets or book covers.
The process guarantees little controversy, at the risk of uniformity.
"It's become much more commercialized now," said Wayde Byard, public information officer for Loudoun County schools, who added that television exposes students to team jerseys and logos from across the country. "People go to a catalogue instead of to the community."
Byard, a former sports editor at the Winchester (Va.) Star, said that in smaller counties, mascots are more likely to be tied to local people or customs or to reflect an odd choice that struck the fancy of an administrator long ago. A case in point can be found at Virginia's Fluvanna County High School, whose teams are called the Flying Flucos. The name comes from a comment by a sports announcer, said Fluvanna Superintendent Thomas W. Smith. "It's very popular here," Smith said. "It's not something that people normally forget."
But in the Washington area, where high schools open nearly every year in some suburbs, principals present their students with a small group of crowd-pleasing names. Mascot images are pulled off Web sites that offer hundreds of images.
"I think that as [schools] open, they want to be positive" and not offend anyone, said Karen Poindexter, principal of Marsteller Middle School in Prince William.
Poindexter has had it both ways. Marsteller Middle opened in 1963 as the home of the Medics, named after a prominent local doctor and located at the time next to Prince William Hospital.
But when the county decided to build a new Marsteller Middle School two years ago at a different site, Poindexter held a vote among the students to pick a mascot. The students chose the Bulldog and have no regrets.
The school has an easily recognizable mascot costume now, unlike when Marsteller was the Medics. "What could we have had? Scrubs?" Poindexter asked.
Poindexter said it was also difficult to get 13-year-olds revved up about a caduceus, the symbol of the medical profession, which has two snakes wrapped around a winged staff.
In picking the Bulldogs, Marsteller joined two other schools in Prince William County alone -- West Gate Elementary in Manassas, with its happy mascot, and Hylton High School in Woodbridge, whose fierce Bulldogs are depicted with bared teeth. Bulldogs also are found at Fairfax's Westfield High and Loudoun's Stone Bridge High and, in Maryland, at Prince George's County's Bowie High and Montgomery County's Churchill High.
Prince William's other new high school, Battlefield, which opens Sept. 7, also chose an animal mascot, the Bobcat.
Even if a mascot is widely used, principals still like it.
"When I personally heard Freedom High School, I thought Eagles," said Christine Forester, who will lead Loudoun's Freedom High, which will open next year. "I always thought of eagles as majestic and soaring."
Students had other ideas. Some wanted to be the Freedom Patriots. That mascot was already claimed by Loudoun's Park View High School. Then someone suggested "Freedom Fighters." That called to mind an image that Forester wasn't quite comfortable with.
"You have to think: How does it strike people?" she said.
The students were eventually presented three choices: Hawks, Flyers and Eagles. Eagles narrowly won over Hawks.
"I never dreamed it would take the amount of time it took," Forester said. "But it's the first big thing that everyone sees when they look at the school."
An unusual mascot is not always popular. Bruce Sider, athletic director for Glen Burnie High School and a graduate of the school, said there is a yearly debate about keeping the Gopher as the school's mascot. A longtime principal of the 81-year-old school, a fan of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, decided the school should have that mascot, and it stuck.
The students think that "the mascot has to be some fierce, angry type of thing," he said.
But Sider likes it, and he said most graduates grow to appreciate the Gopher, even if they scorned it as students. When Sider talks to athletes and parents, he said, he includes a definition of mascot, which has nothing to do with intimidating opponents.
"It's simply a good luck charm," Sider said. "I emphasize to our new athletes that's our good luck charm."